“The limits of my language means the limits of my world” – Ludwig Wittgenstein
There is nothing more beautiful or humbling than a conversation with a friend, or maybe a stranger, that is satiated with anecdotes, provoking thought, and challenging insights. I have long relied on language as a guide through art forms like music, novels, and poetry, adapting my vocabulary in a way that allows others to see me as a genuine person – a person who chooses every word decisively in conversation acknowledging the power that words possess in impacting others.
This decisiveness in speech that I have always valued as a monolingual English speaker, has been challenged in this program where I participate in a language pledge that holds me accountable to speak only Arabic. Initially, I was overcome with excitement as I swiftly signed my name across the paper and continue to remain disciplined in this commitment, speaking Arabic bes in almost all conversations with roommates and friends. However, despite all the progress that I have made and obstacles I have overcome, I can still find myself speechless. literally.
It was not until my pursuit of Arabic in this context that I realized I could no longer be as decisive with my speech, manipulating words and sentence structure to communicate stories or ideas that I craved to share and rather, I felt trapped by the limits of my Arabic comprehension – conveying only the simplest ideas in a jumble of Modern Standard Arabic and Jordanian dialect. It was in these moments of uneasiness that I found it most important to remain rooted in my original intentions for studying Arabic and would relive that moment of signing the language pledge – feeling grateful and excited for all that I would learn and overcome. If I wanted to be able to do more with Arabic, I would need to work hard while simultaneously pushing myself to integrate more in the Jordanian community, utilizing the locals – no more silent taxi or uber rides.
At first, I was afraid to put myself out there fearing that I would be misunderstand or mispronounce words, failing to realize that I was not trapped by the limits of my Arabic vocabulary but rather by the limits that I had placed on myself — lacking the confidence to speak rather than the ability.
I look back on my time in this program and I am shocked by how much I have learned in such a short amount of time. On the day of the short trip, I traveled with my language partner who has been one of the greatest resources in this program in addition to my Jordanian roommate and teachers. My language partner and I had spent the day together and after 10 hours I realized that I had not broken into English once, despite discussing topics that I would struggle to articulate even in English.
I realized that in this moment that I was capable of this and proved that I deserved to be here and study. Although at times I feel that for every new idea or concept that I learn, there are 100 that I don’t, I choose to remain positive and hopeful that language acquisition is an extensive process and after hours of classes and conversation I am improving even if I don’t realize it, throwing in Arabic phrases or words when speaking with friends and family at home.
The ability to communicate, especially in a cross-cultural context, allows you share stories of your lived experiences with someone who may perceive the world much differently than you. Learning Arabic in a fully immersive environment has allowed me to garner a deeper understanding of Arab and Jordanian culture – highlighting the interconnection between language and thought. This experience will be most appreciated by those whose dreams to communicate on intimate levels with people of a different culture outweigh the everyday battles that can test you and make you feel that you are not enough. I promise that if you maintain the language pledge and put yourself out there, you will improve and in return, attain more spaces to engage with others and enhance your world.