Category: thought spot

thought spot: my experience with french in morocco

thought spot: my experience with french in morocco

If there’s one thing I’ve learned during my stay in Morocco, it’s that to survive, you’ll need every word in every language you know. I came to this country with what I figured were passable skills in French and Spanish; though I’m learning Modern Standard Arabic and Moroccan Arabic, French has been my saving grace throughout this trip.

Last week, I was reading a chapter from Valérie K. Orlando’s Francophone Voices of the “New” Morocco in Film and Print for my Islamic Society and Politics (more specifically, Chapter 4: “Sexuality, Gender and the Homoerotic Novel of the New Morocco”) when I realized that I could read all of the excerpted French passages with few problems. I knew I had been practicing my French in overdrive since my arrival- it’s the only way I can communicate with my host mom or the people of Morocco- but it was only as I was reading this homework assignment that I realized my French has progressed significantly… dare I say I may even be semi-fluent?

Truly, there is no better way to learn a language than to become immersed in it. Coupled with some study, it’s a sure path to fluency. Once I had this revelation, I went to a local bookstore and purchased Abdellah Taïa’s Une Melancolie Arabe (An Arab Melancholy), a book that has been on my wishlist for years… in the original French. Being able to read Taïa’s words in the language he chose to write in is something truly special. Sure, I have to look up a word here or there, but it takes time and patience to absorb a whole new lexicon.

Writing down some vocab for memory... practice makes improvement!!
Writing down some vocab for memory… practice makes improvement!!

Two years ago, I read a brief article from the New York Times about Taïa; two years later, I am reading his words for my class in a Moroccan university. The coincidence unnerves yet soothes me. Though I’m not sure what the future holds, I feel confident in what I’ve come to accept as a simple truth: I am exactly where I need to be, studying what I’ve been destined to. That in itself is one of the fundamental reasons this study abroad experience has proven unforgettable. I move forward with no regrets, no expectations: just the knowledge that each day is another opportunity to learn something new.

thought spot: language acquisition in a new country

I’m going to take a moment and level with you all about something: languages. Specifically, language acquisition, and how the rest of the world is putting America to shame. A 2006 survey by the European Commission revealed that while 56% of Europeans considered themselves bilingual, only 15-20% of Americans can say the same. [1] Studies have also shown that the earlier someone becomes bilingual, the easier it is to learn additional languages, because the brain creates a language processing network from having learned the first two. [2]

And in Morocco, knowing English is nice, but knowing French and Arabic is much more useful. Unfortunately, I can only claim 2/3 (English + French), but I’m working on the third (Arabic). And what a time it has been!

At Moulay Ismail, I take Arabic four times a week for two hours, in addition to two hours of the Moroccan dialect, Darija. According to my program directors, by the end of the semester, I’ll have had enough “contact hours” for a year’s worth of credit. Imagine that! Arabic is in the Afro-asiatic group of languages (specifically, Semitic), so it presents a stark contrast to the languages I already have a working knowledge of: English, French, and Spanish.

"Alif Baa," my textbook for learning the alphabet. We're almost done with it!
“Alif Baa,” my textbook for learning the alphabet. We’re almost done with it!

There’s so much to learn about this new language: a new way of writing (right-to-left), new sounds (emphatic consonants, anyone?), and built-in cultural phrases. For example, it’s very common to hear the phrases “hamdulillah” (blessings to God) and “inshaAllah” (God willing) in greetings or everyday conversations, something that was very different from what I’m used to. And I have to admit, sometimes I feel like a child again repeating the alphabet and doing dictation, but you have to start somewhere, right? Even if it means practicing sounds over and over again while your roommate (in her second year of Arabic) giggles at your rudimentary skills, not to mention embarrassing yourself by saying shukran (thank you) instead of salaam (a shortened version of hello).

The "copy books" our professor gave us. Yes, they are for children.
The “copy books” our professor gave us. Yes, they are for children.

What I’ve noticed, however, is how much easier it is to pick up this fourth language. It is my fourth week of school and already I can start to piece together the sounds for street signs and a word here and there during the news. And as my knowledge of vocabulary improves, so will my ability to speak Arabic. So far, I can introduce myself and tell people where I live, but I can already feel the world opening up many a باب (“bab” = door).

So, to all of my multi-lingual friends: keep rockin’ on! And to all of my monolingual pals: why not start learning a new language and possibly change your life, or at least your perspective of it?

thought spot: the joys of learning and a new year

Thinking about how amazing it is to learn.

When we are born, we have nothing. We are blank- tabula rasa. Without cultivation, only primal instinct drives us forward. It is pure luck that determines what world we are born into- the life you know could just as easily have been someone else’s, whether better or worse.

All my life, I’ve loved to read, and for most of that time I’ve also loved learning- yet there is so much about this world I do not know. It troubles me, but then I remember that there is room to learn, grow, and explore. Life, in my humble opinion, is meant to be a time where we indulge in our pleasures and joys, but also take the time to be genuine students of the world in which we live. That means making space for learning about culture, history, language, art, music, literature, geography, etc. And yes, sometimes it is hard. We don’t always have the time we think we need. But it is there.

I’m almost always overwhelmed by the amount of things I want to know more about. I never quite know where to begin. So I think up a question, a line of inquiry, a topic of interest. To find answers, I grab a book, read articles or wiki pages, watch videos, talk to friends, pick the brains of online gurus. I aim to see issues from as many angles as possible. Sometimes it ends, but oftentimes I find it’s a working body of facts, figures, and opinions.

Anyways, the conclusion I’ve come to is this: don’t die the same way you were born. Die with something. With purpose, with feeling, with conviction, with knowledge.

I wish all of you well in this upcoming year.