Language is a playground and a job. At least for us right now it is. It can be a source of laughter and play. And at the same time it can also be a frustrating exercise in humility and discipline to learn and use and relearn and try again with sounds and ways of saying things that just don’t “feel” like they are communicating what I want to communicate. Yet. That three letter word is the key. If I can just remember “yet” when I feel like I can’t do it…it keeps me in a learning mindset that turns whatever the situation is into a chance to keep learning.
Language can feel like a job some days, especially when we are working through exercises like the one in this picture. Figuring out how to conjugate our verbs, nouns, pronouns, adjectives…and getting them all strung together correctly isn’t too much fun and it makes me wonder, “Will I ever really be able to remember this stuff?” Just take a gander at the board in this picture…for your pleasure (or pain!), here are some conjugations of some really common verbs (“to can,” “to want,” and “to have”). Looks like fun, right?!
The interesting thing about language learning, though, is that language is different than learning any other subject, like history or biology, for example. Language, technically, isn’t new “knowledge,” it’s a new way of communicating what you already know. When you can’t communicate well all of the wonderful things you “know” in and about this world…well, that’s when the fun starts! One of my outlets for outside-the-class practice is with taxi drivers. They love to talk, often don’t speak English (especially if someone who speaks Arabic orders one for me), and are they ever willing to help me learn! And that’s why I feel like I have a bucketful of funny (and frustrating) stories that include taxis!
So, the other day, I got in to catch a ride back from a meeting…and I started my normal routine of seeing how far I can make it on the trip before they catch on that I don’t understand Arabic very well yet. :) Usually it takes about 2 minutes. So then I say (in Arabic), “I am learning Arabic!! Can I practice with you?” They always say “of course” and then we’re off. I ask about their families and how their day has gone. I ask what their opinion of the weather today and yesterday and last week. And then I run out of things I can say really well…and we’re on to stringing together phrases I’m not very good at yet.
On this particular trip, though…the driver really got into helping me learn once we got to the awkward stage. He would point and say in Arabic: “Car“, or “Parrot“, or “Monkey” (we drove past a pet shop with some caged ones), or “Road,” etc…almost all words that I already know…but the game is fun, so I kept playing. Well, we got to Hamra St…in the picture below and he said a word (“sajra”) and pointed out the window, at what I thought was a building. I thought I’d test out my hypothesis about “sajra” and pointed to a building out on the other side of the car…and he nodded his head. “Sweet!” So, I tested it out one more time on and asked him if the place he picked me up at was also a “sajra.”“La’,” he said, and then he pulled the car to a stop in the middle of this crazy mess of traffic. The cars behind us started blaring their horns, people started to pull up on the curb to get around us…all while my driver jumped out of the car, and marched straight over to the “tree” on the side of the street, and clarified that “sajra” means “tree” and not “building!”
It was all I could do to keep a straight face. He jumped back in the taxi and, “yalla“, we made a couple turns and I was home. Shokran jezilen (thank you very much!!), my taxi-driving friends!! You help keep my work fun. I don’t understand everything. Yet. But I will soon!!
posted by: caleb