Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Arabic Lessons

One of the most amazing benefits of my job here is that Jenna and I receive free Arabic tutoring. This is one-on-one instruction with a trained linguist (who has an advanced degree and teaches in AUC’s Arabic Language Institute). How much tutoring am I allowed? As a relocated faculty member, I am entitled to up to 100 hours per month (about 5 hours per day)! If I want more than 100 hours per month I can get more as long as I have the authorization of my department chair. That is a lot of training. I just began and think I will be averaging around 20 hours per month—I have three 1.5 hour sessions per week.

My teacher is quite good. She tries to emphasize the relationship between language and culture in ways that I mostly appreciate. So during our first session, instead of having me only memorize a series of greetings (and other courtesies) she explained how they are used and why they are so important in Egyptian society. A big part of her explanation was about hierarchy in social interactions—how you are supposed to address someone in a certain situation. Greet someone with a Qu’ran more formally (but never interrupt their reading). Don’t ask for directions without an exchange of courtesies first. Understand that a student may address a fellow student differently than the professor. To a large extent, this is also about social class, which became apparent when on the second day of class, she began teaching me commands. Before questions! And although commands don’t seem to have the same impolite denotations that they do in US English, I still don’t really feel comfortable with this construction and prefer to use interrogatives.

I am doing well with my numbers, which I practice in my head on the long bus ride to campus. I stare out the window, listening to my ipod (if I remembered to charge it), reading the numerals on license plates and repeating the Arabic and English names in my head.

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