Written by Caitlyn Aldersea, (University of Denver), Student Correspondent for CET Jordan, Fall 2021
I am always struck at the versatility of the Arabic language. Words and phrases often have more than one, two, or three meanings depending on context, time, and location. One of my favorites is ليش لا. Essentially translating to “why not,” I probably use it more than I should in all aspects of my life: grammar lessons, the coffee shop, soccer games, making plans with friends … you get the point. But, in all my uses, there are three that stand out as a point of reflection in my time at CET Jordan.
Learning to say ليش لا is a lot harder than you may think, but seeing your progress (personally & academically) at the end is so worth it – just like climbing to the top of a rock face for this photo!
1. Know your “why”
When in Jordan, it is nearly a guarantee that you be asked the same question by every single person: Why are you studying Arabic? Of course, you may have already encountered this question amongst friends and family when you broke the news that you are considering study or already committed to study in Jordan. Personally, this question always throws me off because, while it may be enough to say ليش لا, it might actually help you long-term to think why am I actually doing this? The most important thing you bring to Jordan won’t be a pair of sunglasses (necessary), a warm winter jacket (it does get cold, I kid you not), or a camera (duh!). The most important thing to bring with you is an understanding of why you are doing what you are doing. For some, it could be a curiosity about the culture, for others it is a pathway into a specific career, or it even could be you just like the sound of the language. Whatever it is, internalize it before you even step on the plane to Amman. Because what will help you get out of bed every morning, encourage you on your worst days, and start conversations with locals is your why. And as much as I love ليش لا, it doesn’t cut it long-term.
My reason to study Arabic was simple. I love learning about cultures, religions, peoples, histories, so why not the Middle East?
2. Say yes to everything but also know it is also ok to say no
While cliché, I think it is true that there is something so uniquely freeing about being spontaneous. While CET Jordan certainly is intensive, it is also an extraordinary opportunity to do the extraordinary. If you can learn just one thing from your time in Jordan it is that time is a precious concept. Different to U.S. time values, quality over quantity matters in Jordan meaning that you may hastily get involved in last minute plans with someone, but those last-minute plans will turn into some of the best memories. Whether it is eating mansef in a sketchy downtown restaurant with your hands; passionately trading political opinions over coffee with a local friend you just met; or spontaneously deciding to visit the Roman Amphitheater 30 minutes before closing, Jordan is the time and place to just say ليش لا! It is a time to stay present and learn how to go with the flow while simultaneously balancing responsibilities and personal barriers. The best thing about the “ليش لا” culture is that you can always say it another time. Have an assignment due? Want to study for an exam the next day? That’s ok and people understand because ليش لا can also be the motto of tomorrow. Knowing that balance helps you appreciate the linguistic and cultural immersion that much more.
Bedouin food cooked in the ground. Why not!
3. Make mistakes
“ليش لا!” As one of our many inside jokes, you can often hear my class passionately exclaiming this phrase every time we learn something new about Arabic and cease to understand it. Just when you think you understand مصدر patterns or verb positions or case endings, one exception unroots the entire foundation and threatens the little comprehension you had. Or just when you get the hang of speaking with non-CET Jordanians, you are thrown amidst an entirely new set of vocabulary or accents or pronunciations. While certainly frustrating, all you can really do is laugh because why would the Arabic language do this? ليش لا! That is the one thing you come to realize you need when learning the Arabic language – the ability to laugh at your mistakes. Learning a language, especially Arabic, is a challenge (understatement of the century). You will get knocked down but what matters is how quickly you pick yourself up and try again. Whether you are practicing speaking with a barista at Dimitri’s or going over grammar rules in office hours, make the mistakes so you can make yourself learn. A semester is Jordan goes by faster than you think, so take advantage of the time you have. So just remember ليش لا!” Why not make a mistake?
CET wants you to (correctly) learn how to use the language and without failure there is no opportunity for growth.