Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Language Diaries, Three Month Update

Considering I spent my break between third and fourth period face down, on my desk, crying the entire time, with all of the pleasantries of tears and snot accompanying me, I figured it was about time for a language update.

I've been in full time Arabic language school for almost three months now.

It's really hard.

And that's probably an understatement.

I spend 25 hours a week in class, then about 10 hours studying, and 5-10 hours trying to apply the language each week.

I've mentioned on here before that the State Department ranks Arabic in the "most difficult language," category for English speakers to learn, along with only four other languages, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, and Korean. That means, to reach a level of fluency in, say Spanish, an English learner may take six months, but for the same level of fluency in Arabic, it would take two years.

The reason being, for each of the five "level four," languages are different. For Arabic, it is all wrapped up in the fact that there are, essentially, two languages that must be learned.

Foosha, or Classical Arabic is written (like in the newspaper,) and heard (like on the news, or in the call to prayer,) but never spoken. EVER. All grammatical points can be found in foosha, because it is the language that is written.

Almaya, or dialectical Arabic, is spoken but never written. EVER. (except when you are trying to learn it, then it's written in our text book.) So all spelling and grammatical rules from Foosha don't necessarily apply. And vocabulary is probably different.

It's like, in English, if we did all of our school work in "English," but outside of class you had to exist solely on the use of text messaging English. Things are squished together, terms mean different things, and you never get to practice your school English outside of school, because no one uses it. Or knows it.

It's awesome.


Our school has four periods a day. Three are Almaya (spoken,) and one is Foosha (written.) They don't overlap and they don't interact. It's odd. I really understand the system for learning for Almaya. It's practical, it's hands on, it's applicable.

Foosha and I?

We're not on speaking terms.

{HA! I crack myself up. Considering it's not "spoken!"}

It's like my brain says "Hey, there is only room in here for one new language at a time, and I'm only going to keep what you desperately need to survive." So, in one ear, out the other goes the Foosha.

Learning wise, language learning has been quite a challenge.

First, you should know that anything you thought you knew about your learning style/personality goes out the window when it comes to learning a language.

In the States, I was a top of my class, over achiever, Dean's list, graduate in 2 1/2 years of college kind of student. All learning styles applied to me. Lecture, hands on activity, visual, anything helped me work well. I loved learning. I was a leader and I was more outgoing in the classroom.


Just call me Hermit Mck"slow and steady." Don't give me group work, because I won't be a leader, and I probably won't learn a thing. And please, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat!

I definitely feel like an idiot 9 times out of 10, which, in my life, has never happened before.

It doesn't help that the classroom environment is as it is.

Out of the nine students, six of the students have had a year or more of immersion (lived in,) Arabic. Two out of the other three students are #1 Korean (awesome work ethic, they study for at least 3 hours a night.) and #2 have traveled extensively in the Middle East before, exposing them at least to the language in some respects.

That leaves me. A pregnant newbie to the Arab world, who tries as hard as I can in class, comes home and crashes for 2-3 hours (mentally dead,) then tries to pick things back up in the evening for another 2-3 hours of Arabic interaction.

I'm always behind. I'm always last to understand. I'm always needing more time.

That brings you to today. Our Foosha test. I was prepared as I could be, giving the circumstances. I worked the entire hour on my test, moving past things that weren't jumping right out at me, knowing I would return to them.

Out of five exercises, I completed 2 in entirety and was working my way through translation of a Cloze exercise. Leaving 2/5 of the test entirely untouched. The bell rang. No big deal, seeing as we don't actually get grades at this class and I've been told taking the test home to finish (without the use of the book, of course,) is done alot. Well, my teacher came to me, and I said, in Arabic, "for home!" and she said, "no. not for home. It's a test." Long story short, I fought back tears because now the entire class was listening to me try to explain that no, I didn't want to cheat and use the book, but yes, I did want to at least have the chance to finish it! (I embarrass very easily.)

She and I went back and forth for a minute or two and then she finally looked through my test and saw that I still had alot to go and reluctantly agreed. As soon as she left, I lost it. I have such a hard time with the fact that I can't keep up with the rest of the class. I may know the material, it just takes me alot longer to get there.

After I calmed down, I did send Ian up to our administrator's office to ask if it was okay (I thought, maybe I heard wrong, and no one actually takes their test home!) and our administrator didn't even let Ian finish explaining before he said, "Of course you can take it home, whenever you want!"

I'm learning alot and I love seeing the progress I have made. Before the bell rang, I was so proud of what I had figured out on the test, and what I had finished! I just have to hold onto those little victories, I suppose. I'm learning, slowly, to stop comparing myself to others and accept my new "language learning styles."

I'm also learning to stand up for myself, academically.

I would have never "talked back," to a teacher three months ago, or made a scene. But now, I realize that's what I need to do in order to help myself learn.

I also would have never contradicted another student, if they asked to do an activity that I didn't see as beneficial. I would have just let it slide and let myself "melt," into the background.

I hope this didn't sound like a giant post about me complaining. I'm really not, it's more of a fact of the matter situation, and I'm accepting that. It is what it is, all that I can do is control how much work I put into it and what attitude I bring into it!

Anyways, that's where I am, three months into this crazy adventure that is language learning.

I'm excited to see where I am at the end of this semester, or even into next semester, when I'm on maternity leave and get to take a slightly different approach to language learning!


Lauren said...

Oh you poor girl! I guess a brightside is that you've learned to stand up for yourself--I would never have done that!

Jessica said...

Aww, you poor thing! That must be so difficult and overwhelming. I had no idea Arabic was like that: 2 languages in 1. Sounds so difficult! Hang in there! Hopefully it will get easier as you go :-)

Holly said...

Wow! That sounds insanely tough! Good on you for standing up for your self though! :)

Stephanie M. Page said...

Oh!! So hard! I lived in Ukraine for awhile so understand the frustrations of language learning and I was immersed, and It was Arabic, which is way way harder. AND your pregnant!! So your emotions are on overdrive!!!!! hugs hugs to you!!