Monday, April 27, 2009

More Arabic lessons

I haven’t blogged about my Arabic studies in a while probably, as I reflect, because they are going relatively well. It is still very very slow—I don’t seem to have much capacity for vocabulary memorization despite putting in a reasonable amount of time and effort. My conversation skills remain pretty weak. There have been some nice developments, mainly in my ability to read and write.

My teacher from last semester is not available this term, so I had to switch it up, which I think has been fortuitous. My new tutor is much better organized and more focused. We work from a book and she wisely does not allow my millions of questions take her off track. The main change has been one that I was considering for a while—I am learning to read and have stopped working with Latin-script transliterations. I am focused on reading and writing in Arabic (3ammiyya, or Egyptian colloquial), which makes everything quite a bit different. I feel like I am making progress and am able to better understand things like verb conjugation, possession, and gender, which is really hard to do when working phonetically.

Overall I am thrilled to be doing this. It has created an obsession—whenever I see a street sign or advertisement or tshirt, I stop to read it. I am pretty fluent at this task. I can, for example, sound out the name of a street sign I have never seen before well enough to find my way. Of course, most of Cairo doesn't have street signs, but you get the picture. Vowels, which are frequently implied or understood, and therefore not written consistently, remain tough. Still, as well as I may be able to sound something out, I rarely have any idea what it means. There are some exceptions resulting from the increasing popularity of English here. Businesses and their signs often use English-to-Arabic transcriptions. For example, “Honest Brokerage Corporation,” which appears on a sign I pass on my walk to the bus stop, is translated phonetically into Arabic script. (I need to learn how to type in Arabic and I can share some more of this.)

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