Whenever I travel abroad, I always try to find the time to learn as much of the language of the country I am visiting as I can. I think doing so is important on so many levels.
First of all, it shows the locals that you care enough about them to learn a little of how to speak to them in their native language. Only on rare occasions have I met people who aren’t thrilled by my efforts to communicate with them in their language.
Second, I think learning a new language is invigorating for the mind and the mouth. Twisting your lips and tongue into the various ways required by foreign languages is exciting for me, and I love to do my best to try to imitate the native pronunciations as best I can. And memorizing things can never be bad for the brain! It’s mental exercise!
Learning a new language requires time and tenacity. It also requires a good ear. I think my training in music helped me tremendously on this level, and I believe those with a facility with foreign languages share this trait. But I also know plenty of people who butcher foreign pronunciations, and you know what? I don’t think it matters! I’ve never been upset with a foreigner speaking English to me with an accent. In fact, I’ve always found it exciting to meet people from other countries who speak my language better than I could ever speak theirs, despite their imperfect and/or accented pronunciation. If anything, I think their accent adds character to the conversation! So I can only imagine that most people in other countries feel the same about our attempts at speaking their language. (There is always an exception, I know, and I have encountered some people in other countries who seem annoyed by my attempts to speak their language. I do my best to ignore their ingratitude and rudeness.)
On my last trip to the Holy Land in May, I learned as much as I could from our local guides. I learned how to inshallah (God willing), saba hal hair (good morning), and abouna (Father) in Arabic, while my Jewish guides taught me todah (thank you), boker tov (good morning) and bevakasha (please) in Hebrew. This time around, since I would be spending quite some time in Jordan, an Arabic-speaking country, I wanted to try my hand at learning a little more Arabic. I used two methods: Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur.
Rosetta Stone offers 3 levels of Arabic, using their fancy computer-based software. We own a few of Rosetta Stone CDs in different languages–French, Italian, Spanish, and German. While David bought German to work on his native skills in that language, I’ve focused on the romance languages, making it really more of a review lesson for me. When David tried his hand at Spanish–a language in which he has no skill–he complained that the application was confusing and difficult. Nonsense! I said. It’s easy! Ha. Little did I realize I was coming at it from the perspective of someone who speaks some of the languages. When I started to Arabic lessons, I came at it from David’s perspective–completely green–and felt the same thing.
The app starts out the same in every language I’ve tried–they teach you how to say man, woman, boy, girl, drink, eat, run, read. Interesting, but a random vocab lesson that can be frustratingly useless if you’re learning a language for a trip. (I don’t know when I’ll ever say, “the boy runs” to anyone. I don’t know the last time I said that in English…)
That’s where Pimsleur comes in.
Before my trip to Portugal last October, I bought my first Pimsleur MP3s. I chose Pimsleur because, for some bizarre reason, Rosetta Stone only offers Brazillian Portuguese and not European Portuguese. Weird. My online research indicated that the languages were different enough to merit buying the language I would be speaking, so I went to Pimsleur because they do have European Portuguese. For a mere $42 I got 10 lessons in Portuguese–compared to the high prices of Rosetta Stone, this was awesome. Then I listened to them all and learned how to say useful things like, “I only speak a little Portuguese”, “Do you speak English?” “I would like something to eat, please” and “How much does that cost?” Granted, my Spanish background made it easier for me because a lot of the language is similar, but I was able to learn enough Portuguese to make complete strangers think I was a native! I was so proud of that!
In Fatima, I walked into a store and picked out some books–in English, of course. I wanted to ask the shopkeeper about something in a cabinet, and she and I got to talking about it. Nothing complicated, but simple things. Then, I handed her my books to check out. She looked at them quizzically and said, “But these are in English!” I got to use the phrase taught to me by my Pimsleur course: “I only speak a little Portuguese!” to which she replied, “I thought you were Portuguese!”
Ah, she made my life.
One of the guides who travelled with us would warn others when we’d meet them, “Be careful what you say in Portuguese! This one will understand you!” HAHAHA. I loved it. And I did understand a lot.
This time around, since I had limited time, I bought the first 5 lessons of Modern Standard Arabic (they also have Eastern and Egyptian!). Granted, learning this language is much harder than learning a language that uses our alphabet. For instance, I can’t just read a word and figure out how to say it. It’s all memorization for me on Arabic. And let me tell you, they have some FUN words!
Some of my favorites:
- speak: tatakelamo/tatakelamina/atakelmao (male/female/self)
- how are you? kay fal hal? This always reminds me of Caiphas bc it sounds like his name.
- station: mahatut
- ok: tamam
- please: min fad lick
- drink: ashuraba
- no: la
David made the joke that singing Deck the Halls must seem very negative to someone who speaks Arabic. Fa la la la la la la la la translates to Fa no no no no no no no no! Not very merry! (Fa very well might mean something too, I just don’t know it yet!)
I have to say, of the two language learning methods, I prefer Pimsleur for travel, but I think Rosetta Stone will come in handy later when I try to learn the basics.
I really love Arabic. I think it is both a mellifluous and staccato language that sounds amazing when spoken. And I love how much they throw God into the conversation! Instead of saying, “maybe” or “we’ll see!” they say inshallah, if God wills it. And aint that the truth?! I love saying al ham dulelah, which means thanks be to God.
I look forward to trying out my Arabic skills in Jordan and with my Arabic-speaking friends. I’m sure I’ll be butchering the accent, but I’m sure they’ll all be thrilled that I’ve done my best to show that their language is worth learning.
Al ham dulelah.