Learning Arabic

I’ve been taking Arabic lessons this past month (I’ve had 8 one hour lessons so far). Doing them about 2-3 times a week depending on my schedule, because surprisingly even just a month in, I have a busy schedule! Two kids will do that to you!

But back to Arabic. I’m taking lessons in the Egyptian dialect of Arabic. This is more useful than Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)  for daily life with cabbies, shop keepers, etc. Most countries have their own dialect and someone speaking Arabic in Morocco probably won’t be able to understand someone speaking it in Saudi Arabia. The Egyptian dialect actually gets you a bit farther because Egyptian film and music is so popular everywhere.

Learning a new language is HARD! You probably already know that unless you happen to be one of those gifted people who just pick up languages at the drop of a hat. I am not one of those people. I do ok memorizing written things and vocabulary, but speaking and listening comprehension is really hard. I can still read a lot in Spanish, but ask me to talk to someone and I’m lost.

Arabic is even trickier because it has a whole new alphabet for me to learn and sounds I’m not used to. We spent the first 6 lessons going over the alphabet and numbers through 20. There are 28 letters, but each letter has 4 forms–the stand alone form, and how it’s written at the beginning, middle, and end of a word. But then there are variations or combinations for a couple. And there are special lines or dots (taskeel) that go over or under letters to change the vowel sound. Many of them look a lot alike except one letter has a dot and the other doesn’t. My teacher is really good and made memory cues for me to remember things. Like in the picture below, those three letters are the 3 sisters because they look the same except for the dots.  The /b/ sound has one dot on the BOTTOM, the /t/ sound has TWO dots on the TOP, and the /th/ sound has THREE dots on the TOP.

Learning Arabic in Egypt | www.carriereedtravels.com

Two lessons ago we started working on greetings and basic conversations. Lots of ways to say “good morning” or “good afternoon/evening” plus things like “what is your name?” and “where are you from?”  What is fascinating for me when learning a new language is hearing the stories or literal translations behind phrases.

For example, the phrase “ahlan wa sahlan” is used to mean “welcome” when welcoming guests. But, “ahlan” means “family or kinfolk” and “sahlan” means “easy” which means it translates to “family and easy.” My teacher says this dates back to when travelers came via slow methods (like camel) and so guests stayed a long time. Guests were either hard guests who you couldn’t wait to get rid of or easy guests who fit right in like family. (That hasn’t really changed much over the years, has it?). Anyway, welcoming a guest by saying “ahlan wa sahlan” is telling them, “you are like family and an easy guest” which is a huge compliment. The response is “ahlan beekee” or “ahlan beek” depending on if you are speaking to a female or male. This translates roughly to “family with you” aka “I’m family because of you.”

The other cool translation is for the various ways to say “good morning.” “Sabaah el khair” means something like “wishing you a good morning.” The response to it is “sabaah el noor” or “wishing you a morning full of light.” Other phrases can be things like “wishing you a morning full of jasmine” or “wishing you a morning full of sugar” (aka a sweet morning).

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