How I’m Spending My Summer Vacation

A few months ago, I wrote a post about language, which was inspired by the fact that I was, at the time, applying to a summer language program. I never did any follow up to that post, but yes, I did make it into that program, and so I have been a student of the Arabic language for a week and a half. And what a week and a half it has been. Other than the fact that I’ve been out of school for six years, so having to retrain myself to think academically has been a bit of a challenge. (What do you mean, I have homework?) Nevermind the fact that Arabic? Yeah, it doesn’t really have vowels. Vowel sounds, yes. But actual letters dedicated to the work of vowels? Not so much. Except for the one, unless Y is a vowel, which is debatable.

Anyway, these days I am in class for 20 hours a week and so far, I have learned to read and write an entirely new alphabet, along with a few hundred words, and how to string those words together into rudimentary sentences. Reading is a laborious task, and I try to remember back to my early childhood, to see if I can recall if it was this difficult before. Probably yes, though now, glossed over by years, it seems like that couldn’t be possible.

Despite (or perhaps because of) the challenge, this has been a fascinating experience. As I said in my previous post on the subject, I have a thing for language. And I am enjoying getting all these tiny pieces and figuring out how they all fit together. Finished with the alphabet, we’ve moved into the thrilling world of grammar (no, really), which is the best part, since it is through learning the grammar that I get to learn how the language thinks. This is the part that I love.

By the end of the summer, I will have completed the equivalent of a year of Arabic study. It’s an exciting thing, and I’m glad I’m getting to do it. I don’t have anything particularly literary to add at this point, but I thought I’d just follow up what I wrote before with a little something on how nice it’s been to get out of the repetitive simplicity of my usual everyday life and do something difficult, just for the sake of pushing myself. A good way to spend my summer vacation indeed.

8 Responses

  1. Moving along brisklyYou’ve
    Moving along briskly

    You’ve learned a lot in a short time, it seems. You must be good at this kind of thing.

    I think it was easy for me to learn reading & writing in the first grade because I sensed it was an access key to a new dimension, which I wanted to be a part of. Kind of like crawling and seeing bigger people walk. Now that I’m an adult, learning a 2nd language seems like more of a challenge.

    If I may ask, do you have specific plans for this language, such as a visit to the Middle East? To translate Arabic into English, or English into Arabic?

  2. Hey Bill. Not much choice in
    Hey Bill. Not much choice in the pacing of the course. Every day comes fast with lots of new information, and it’s either swim or die. As for future plans, perhaps some grad school a little further down the line (I am remembering how much I like school), but honestly, my bleeding heart has always been with the Middle Eastern immigrants, many of whom I’ve known since childhood. I think ultimately I’d like to teach English as a second language and help serve as a translator within this specific population. Whee!

  3. I figured it was time to
    I figured it was time to learn the language of my father. And some other stuff, which I wrote in reply to Bill.

    But mainly, just because I love learning languages and I wanted to do something new and I figured eh, what the hell?

  4. A second language not your
    A second language not your own

    I studied French in high school and college. Then it lay dormant for years. I picked it up again as an adult, going the Alliance Francaise of Chicago. I though I was hot shit. Then I moved to Paris. Talk about sink or swim! There are a lot of people who speak English in Paris. But I was determined to speak French. So I learned things like: not everyone has the nice Parisian accent of my teacher in Chicago; people speak really fast, especially in Paris; everyone speaks in an incomprehensible slang, and drops whole words out of a sentence when they speak (just like English).

    Also things happened where I had to speak French. My computer broke and I had to call the tech support hot line and speak in French. It was that or not have a computer. Speaking a foreign language is very, very difficult on the phone. Especially a cell phone. I had to find an apartment. Very few of the landlords that I talked to spoke English, or if so, very little. When I got laid off by the American company I was working for, I had to register as a self-employed person to continue to work in France. So I had to deal with French bureaucrats and fill out forms that were written in French bureaucratese. Then the government started sending me tax forms written in bureaucratese. The language was unintelligible but the demand for money was quite clear.

    Needless to say, I didn’t think I was hot shit anymore. Just another immigrant with a bad accent. I’ve been here for over two years now. I can speak on the phone. I can carry on a conversation with most French speakers. But I still have an accent. Oh well.

    But I did become a teacher of English as a second language, and that is really a good gig. It doesn’t pay very well, but I learn more about French culture and life in France than I could ever have working for a big corporation, unless maybe I worked there for years.

    Definitely do the teaching English as a second language thing. Not only do you meet interesting people, you learn a lot about English, too.

  5. I really admire anyone who
    I really admire anyone who can do what you did. I think of those Hemingway books, A Moveable Feast and The Sun Also Rises, and I realize that YOU did it, man! You are the real thing.

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