Friday, April 30, 2010

It’s All Greek to Me

Actually, Arabic. I’ve been taking Arabic lessons at work for the past few months now and the little bit of Arabic that I have attained has assisted me tremendously. I can converse somewhat with local Omanis, cashiers, tour guides, and follow side conversations better. I found this to be true in Thailand; knowing another language just opens up a whole new world and enhances one’s experience. The past two lessons has seen our class begin learning the Arabic alphabet and today, our ever patient instructor began teaching us how to read and write in Arabic. For starters, reading Arabic is the opposite of reading English. One reads Arabic from right to left and the letters……. There were quite a few times in class where I was completely lost, completely! So lost that my brain began to hurt. One of my classmates who is an elementary teacher remarked, “Ryan, just imagine, this is probably how your son feels as he is learning his A,B,C’s.” This comment struck and has stayed with me. But, the people I most thought about were immigrants who migrate to English speaking countries with little or no command of the English language upon arrival, learn English, and then thrive in their new country. Many of my fellow countrymen give immigrants a hard time for not speaking English, but how many Americans can speak another language? There is a common joke among non-Americans that I have heard repeatedly that goes, “If you speak two languages you are bilingual, three languages trilingual, one language you are American.” Learning to speak a language (let’s forget about trying to write and read) is an incredibly humbling experience. I can’t remember the last time I felt as helpless as I did yesterday trying to decipher the hieroglyphics (Arabic) that was before me. I’m confident that I will not feel as lost during next week’s lesson. If you are a non-native Arabic speaker and you can read this, please thank whoever taught you.

1 comment:

Kittie Howard said...

Salam alekum! You're back! Thank God! I was getting a bit worried. But, after reading your previous post (and this one), I truly envy you. I know exactly what you're talking about, being so cut off from gadgets and stuff that these things/events are meaningless. And it's glorious. When we lived in Egypt I quickly learned enough Arabic to bargain, order in a restaurant and so on because our landlord's family had a 12 year old daughter who needed to practice English. So we traded languages. Kids have the patience to pull you ahead fast. And I couldn't agree more with your little joke about Americans and languages. We lived in Macedonia for 2 years. I worked long hours to make sense of that language and when I did fellow Americans wanted me to translate. HA! But in the process of learning the language I made so many Macedonian friends. Oh, I'm so happy you have this opportunity, Ryan! I was briefly in Muscat years ago, hub and I stayed at the Holiday Inn. Did you know the current issue of Travel and Leisure has a huge spread on Oman? Anyway, look forward to your posts (and hello to your lovely family).