Written by Charlotte Armistead, (University of Mississippi), Student Correspondent for CET Jordan: Internship, Spring 2020
After over a month of living in Amman and abiding by a language pledge, Arabic has started to feel seamless and natural for the first time- albeit infuriating and headache-inducing at the same time. Living life in Arabic is not only challenging me to think, read, and speak in the language, but it is teaching me humility and perseverance as well. Every day, I learn how to express myself with new phrases and words that I learn from either the classroom or my own experiences.
While I am gaining priceless knowledge and experiences on my journey of learning Arabic, there have been a handful of cons to the language pledge (as there is with anything). While the pros are seemingly obvious, I will outline some of the less obvious ones as well.
I find it easy to forget that this could be one of my last chances to immerse myself in an Arabic-speaking culture with peers who are required to speak in Arabic. Truly, it is an invaluable time in my life. Every time I feel annoyed by or exhausted from speaking in Arabic, I have to remind myself of this. When will I have the freedom, challenging Arabic classes, and friends I have now, all in Jordan, again?
I try to make the most of it by sticking to the language pledge as much as possible, enjoying the people around me, and engaging in the local culture- whether it be through attending religious services in Arabic or making friends in the cafes I frequent.
Living in Arabic challenges you beyond the language- it confronts your character. Failures, which are inevitable, are quick to both humble and challenge you to study and go deeper in the language. Failures in speaking Arabic can also spur deeper character analysis. Generally, it is humbling to be mediocre or even bad at something that you both love and pour unprecedented time and energy into.
While learning Arabic is generally humbling and challenging beyond measure, it can also build confidence in the meantime. Speaking in Arabic to locals and friends, even when it’s awkward, builds confidence- although it may not be inherently obvious at first.
Locals try to speak in English to you.
It depends on the day- sometimes my barista will speak solely in Arabic to me (this is a victory!). However, it is more common for locals to speak in English to you- especially if you look American and your mannerisms agree. While this is not necessarily a con in and of itself, it can be frustrating when I go to the grocery store and ask for something in Arabic- only to be responded to in English.
Some days are “victories,” others are not so much. Again, learning Arabic is a humbling process. Last night, for example, I had to go buy meat for my cooking class today. After interning for nine hours, I was exhausted and ready to go home- I had a lot to do and this errand did not fit into my plans (I’m learning to be more flexible, inshallah). I went to one of my favorite restaurants in my neighborhood to ask if they could sell me raw meat, but my friends who work there told me they could not sell it to me. However, after catching up in Arabic, they gave me a note and directed me to a butcher down the road who would sell me the meat I was looking for. While our conversation was a rough mixture of Arabic and English, it felt nice to be treated seriously as a non-native Arabic speaker.
Lastly, speaking in a new language for several consistent hours every day can be highly exhausting. Add speaking in Arabic to 9 hours of Arabic class, 2 hours of Arabic office hours, 3+ hours per week with your language partner, an internship, independent research, and an elective course in Arabic, and you will soon understand why. E.g., I usually come home tired and short-tempered. No different from training to run a half marathon, it’s all part of a wider growth and training process and it is both demanding and wearisome.
Overall, the process of adjusting to living in Arabic has been challenging, wearisome, infuriating, and victorious all at once. Some days are harder than others, but I would not change my current situation for the world.