Kalimatna: Arabic to Arabic Translation

I started studying Arabic during my sophomore year of college six years ago.  Arabic is a very difficult language even for the most gifted language-learner, and given the fact that I am not a gifted language-learner, I think I’ve come a long way.  I spent last year in Jordan reading and studying a variety of classical Arabic texts, which ranged from pre-Islamic poetry to Quranic exegesis.  Sounds pretty impressive, right?

Given the high level of my reading abilities, you might assume that I can speak and understand Arabic with equal facility.  Unfortunately for me (and for the vast majority of Arabic students) that is not the case.  In fact, whenever I open my mouth here in Nablus, I am barely able to utter a sentence without someone breaking into laughter.  “What is so funny?” I have demanded numerous times.  “You sound like a child,” or “you sound like a cartoon character” is often the response I get.  The secret about Arabic (that very few people tell you when you start the language) is that in order to be able to both read and actually communicate with people, you have to learn what are essentially two different languages: fusha (classical Arabic) and amiyya (the spoken dialect).

Unfortunately for me and for other American students of Arabic, fusha is pretty much the only language taught in universities in the U.S.  So when we come to the Arabic speaking world bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and eager to practice our Arabic, we find that no one can understand us, we can’t understand anyone, or that we just sound ridiculous (like the characters in the cartoon programs or like someone from the Middle Ages).  Needless to say, this can be endlessly discouraging. That’s why I’ve decided that the ability to laugh at oneself is the most important attribute for any student of Arabic.  Otherwise, you are doomed for severe depression for the rest of your life.

During my interviews for the Kalimatna Initiative these past few weeks, I’ve tried to keep in mind this “most important attribute.”  It helps me feel not too bad when I ask my questions in carefully prepared Arabic and the interviewee stares at me blankly, blinks for a few seconds, and then turns to Hassan (my Palestinian partner) who then “translates” what I said from Arabic-to-Arabic.  “That’s exactly what I said!” I often squeal after he has re-posed my question.  He smiles back at me with laughter in his eyes.  I glare at him for a second and then sigh, secretly nursing my hurt pride.  At least he could understand me.

-Mary

Mary is an intern at TYO Nablus and a participant in the Kalimatna Initiative.

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Meet Haya!

This week the members of Kalimatna Initiative completed our first set of interviews.  In addition to wandering around the Old City and An-Najah University talking to falafel sellers and bookstore owners, we interviewed each other!  To learn more about our wonderful team member Haya, read Bieta’s interview with her:

Where are you from?

I am from Jaffa.  We are refugees here and we live in Nablus. I am Palestinian with a Jordanian passport.

How many brothers and sisters do you have?

I have five sisters and no brothers, unfortunately.  It’s unfortunate that I have no brothers, not unfortunate that I have five sisters.

Describe yourself in three words:

I am kind, open-minded and teachable.

Describe your country:

It is boring.  It’s not boring for you [Bieta] because you are not from here. It is boring because I don’t travel overseas.  It is nice geographically, meaning the weather and the land.  It is occupied.

What do you do for fun?

Facebook, reading and filming.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

I want to go to London, get experience there and come back to teach in Palestine. I want to go to Goldsmith College at the University of London to continue my MA in filmmaking.  I want to use film to talk about human rights in Palestine.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about my friends, friendship, family, work and study.

What is the most important thing in your life?

My bedroom because I grew up there and my mom read me stories there so it’s special. My family wants me to bring my bedroom with me when I get married.