Tag Archives: languages

“Learning and Teaching Language” by Sofia Deak

Before I came to Morocco, I knew that “improving my Arabic” was one of my major objectives, but I didn’t imagine what that would actually look like. Through the extreme patience of my host mom and our daily discussions in Arabic after dinner, I have become confident enough to have conversations in Arabic without relying on English. Using a combination of Standard Arabic and Moroccan Darija (as well as a fair amount of pantomiming) I am improving beyond my previous expectations.

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While I am really proud of the progress I am making, that does not negate the fact that I am realizing how incredibly diverse the Arabic language is, and how truly difficult it is to master. I get discouraged when I spend two hours poring over my vocabulary homework, only to forget the majority of the words the next day. Also, I always knew there were different dialects that were significantly different— however, I did not realize how much the language might differ WITHIN a dialect. In Morocco, diversity is one of the only constants. For example, a Moroccan from Tangier in the north might have a difficult time understanding a Moroccan from Ouarzazate, in the south. Tajine, the famous Moroccan staple food, is pronounced “tajouane” in the north, and this is just one of countless examples of dialectic differences that exist within the Moroccan dialect, completely ignoring how foreign Darija is from Standard Arabic and all other Arabic dialects!

It is easy to get frustrated in trying to learn Arabic, and sometimes I feel discouraged that I will never be able to be as comfortable with the language as I would like. (This happens especially when an earnest Moroccan is trying to explain something to me in Darija, whether at a restaurant or in a taxi or on a train— and all I can offer them is a confused look and a sorry smile.) However, there are shining moments that remind me to keep trying, and that the experience of learning the language is just as amazing as being able to use it. Last night, I learned the word for “tickle” in Arabic and Darija, thanks to my host mom starting some impromptu tickle fights — during dinner!! Lots of spilled water, fits of laughter, and sprinting away from the table later, I don’t think I will ever forget the word, or this moment.

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Another thing that encourages me is the weekly English teaching that I have been engaged in since my arrival in Rabat. My students are beginners, so really new to English. They have so much to learn, but they are so eager and dedicated. Most are adult learners, which itself is a challenge, but being able to say simple sentences excites them so much. This project really reinvigorates me with the understanding that learning a language takes time, and that is sometimes boring and full of flashcards, but also can be really memorable and full of laughs (and not only when learning the word for “ticklish”). Ultimately, I know that I am making huge improvements thanks to being in Morocco, and I cannot wait to learn more!

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Sofia Deak

“Can I get you something?” by Elyse Desrochers

“Can I get you something?”

I wake to the sun filtering in through the window pane above the spot of my friend’s couch where I had fallen asleep the night before. The bright sunlight and the snores of my other friends piled around me are alarming. Where am I?

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AMIDEAST threw students a farewell dinner where we dressed up in Moroccan clothes.

Only having returned to America two days prior, I was particularly prone to confusion of my whereabouts upon waking in addition to jumbling up the trois languages that were running through my head. Where was the bright pink walls of my bedroom in Morocco? The sound of my host mom in the kitchen preparing tea? Arabic soap operas playing on the television? I may no longer have been in Morocco, but my mind certainly was.

I roll over and check the time- 5 in the morning and I show no indication of being able to fall back asleep. So one hour passes. Then two. Then four. Finally, one of my friends emerges from beneath her covers. Eager to be somewhere we can speak without disturbing those still sleeping and famished after waiting four hours for my friends to wake up, I convince my friend to make a coffee run with me. We head towards the closest coffee and donut shop, thankfully just a short drive away.

I walk in and go up to the counter, confident in my ability to successfully order a coffee and donuts. I make eye contact with the lady as she says “Can I get you something?”. It was harsh. Direct. To the point. And for a girl that just got back from Morocco, completely astonishing.

I freeze. My mind goes blank. This was not part of the dialogue I had created in my head. How rude, she didn’t even say hello, I thought. “Ummmmm, hi,” I mutter. The next words tumble out slowly and disconnected as my mind rushes to readjust. “Can I get…. a regular coffee? Medium… oh and hot.” Success. The woman may be looking at me as if I have never before ordered coffee before in my life, but at least she understands the order.

“Anything else?” she asks.

“Can I get some munchkins?”

“How many?” she asks.

Confused, I pause. I don’t remember ordering being this difficult. Can’t you only get one order of munchkins- an assorted box? “How many can I get”.

“Anything. You can get up to 1000 if you want.”

Annoyed because it was quite clear I didn’t want 1000, I answer “Well, thanks, but I don’t want that many.”

“Well you can get a cup of 5.”

I’m exasperated at this point, and so is the lady. I just want a box of munchkins to share with my still sleeping friends. I finally ask, “What about for a group?”

She answers, “How does 25 in a box sound?”

Finally, a box is mentioned. I quickly agree and pay, eager to get of there and flustered at the situation. What just happened in there? Why was ordering so difficult? Why was she so rude?

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My family came to visit Morocco and met my host mom and host sibling. The whole time, I had to navigate the two cultural situations successfully while translating. It may have been harder than my coffee order.

Up until that point, my time since coming back to America had been simple and all together easy. Things were different, but not dramatically so. It was that experience, my inability to order a coffee and donuts in a shop I had visited regularly throughout my lifetime, that brought me back into the reality of reverse culture shock.

My mind no longer operates as it once did. I am an American, but an American that has adopted cultural practices, behavior, and viewpoints from two other cultures. Three different cultural modes “American Elyse”, “American Elyse in France”, and “American Elyse in Morocco” battle it out and understand interactions through their own lens in my head as I try to respond appropriately. American Elyse is craving a coffee and donut because of nostalgia from my childhood, American Elyse in France is alarmed that I’m considering ordering coffee TO GO, and American Elyse in Morocco is astonished that the server did not greet me and ask me how I was doing. To have this all going through my head while ordering is confusing and hard, but I wouldn’t change it. I know that it will allow me to see the world in ways that would not be possible had I decided to stay in the US for my junior year of college. And I know that it will allow me to see myself more clearly as I navigate new situations in the coming months. Let’s just hope that in the meantime, ordering coffee will become easier.

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Filed under Elyse Desrochers, Morocco, Regional Studies in French

“That’s a Wrap!” by Shante Fencl

Five days have passed since I left my life in Morocco behind. This is exactly how I feel, as if a part of my life decided to stay there wandering the streets of Rabat while the rest of me got on a plane. After I said my goodbyes (that are actually just “see you laters”) and shed more than a few tears with my friends, I got on a train to the Fez airport to board my flight. As I made my way through the train cars with my luggage, I continued to think of all the people I met over the past four months. Every face that entered my mind was accompanied by a memory and it made me want to burst into tears. I sat down in my seat and immediately pulled out my headphones to block out my thoughts with music, but as I searched my purse I realized I left my headphones at AMIDEAST! I did not care much about the headphones (that were already broken) but without music I had to face my fear of being alone with the thought of leaving Morocco.

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Rooftop overlooking Casablanca.

At that moment, a woman next to me asked me why I was going to Fez. In Arabic I responded with the word for “airport,” trying hard not to show interest because I did not feel like talking to anyone at the moment. The woman continued to talk to me and eventually her husband entered the cabin. They could obviously see that I was travelling alone and wanted to know my story, so I had to build up the strength not only to force conversation, but to do it in Arabic! The couple spoke no English and I knew within a few minutes I would exhaust all the Arabic I know and they would stop talking to me; but, to my surprise, almost an hour had gone by and I was still conversing without issue! My spirit had been lifted by the realization that I had accomplished one of my most important goals: I can carry on a conversation in Arabic! We talked about culture, food, politics, religion, and family. Each minute that passed made me feel as though I had done something great with my time abroad. This was the ending I needed to wrap up my experience in Morocco. I left the country proud of what I accomplished.

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Me with two of my closest friends Alae and Sam.

I did not return to the US after leaving Morocco. Instead, I am in Italy with my Italian host family from when I went abroad in high school. Every year or so I come back to spend a month with them. I always planned to come to Italy after leaving Morocco and then return to the U.S. from here, but one of my best Moroccan friends invited me to celebrate the end of Ramadan with his family. Yes, this mean I will return to Morocco in less than two months!!! Now that I know I will be back in Morocco so soon, I have something to look forward to. But I am afraid to see what happens after I leave the second time. I don’t know where my life will take me after graduation next year, but now I know I have a place in Morocco if I choose to return. These four months have given me so much. I am so grateful for the opportunity.

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My little Italian cousin Beatrice and I finally reunited

Now that I have completed the program, and therefore this blog, I want to thank you all for following along. It has been an honor to share my experience, and I hope I have inspired those reading to do the same! Until next time!

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Filed under Area & Arabic Language Studies, Morocco, Rabat, Shante Fencl

The Language of the Hour

I came to Morocco because I wanted to improve my Arabic. There were more complex reasons for choosing this country for sure, when it came right down to it that was my goal: learn more Fusha. Now, after over ten weeks in Morocco, I can say that I am successfully accomplishing this goal but not at all in the way I expected. The Fusha I am learning is just one facet of a wide range of linguistic experiences that I have either enjoyed or struggled through, depending on the time.

The Moroccans I have met are generally incredibly linguistically competent. I, like many Americans, was raised speaking just one language. I started learning French in middle school, and that felt like such a huge step to me. My host brother, a middle schooler, speaks French, Darija, Modern Standard Arabic, and even a little bit of English. At twelve years old, he already knows more languages than I do, which sometimes feels a little bit embarrassing since I spend so many hours each day learning vocabulary words! Simply by virtue of the way life in Morocco is structured, most people are easily bi- or even trilingual. Darija, the dialect of Arabic spoken here, is used in daily life and interactions, while the news is in Fusha or French. Here in Rabat many restaurants seem to operate in French, and people often speak to me in French when they see me, assuming (rightly) that I will know how to respond.

Working on Arabic homework in the student lounge.

Working on Arabic homework in the student lounge.

Needless to say, my language goals have changed somewhat since I have been here. Nobody actually speaks Fusha when buying bread at a hanout or haggling for scarves in the medina. Thus, though it was never my explicit intention, I have been slowly but surely picking up Darija as I hear it so routinely in daily life. My language skills have reached the strange place of being able to understand a fair bit of Darija but only being able to competently respond in Fusha.

I have recently had multiple very interesting but absurd discussions with my host family conducted in this odd jumble of languages. Our host parents speak to us exclusively in Darija, or in French when I look too thoroughly confused, so oftentimes I still struggle to follow the conversation. Especially when my siblings start arguing rapid fire with each other – when Yousra speaks quickly, all hope is lost. However, when my host parents discuss topics like their extended family or news events, I can usually understand them. Then comes the struggle of forming a thought in Arabic and communicating it in my Fusha with Darija verb conjugations and simple vocabulary sprinkled in.

While visiting the Rabat zoo last weekend, I had fun reading the names of  animals in both Arabic and French.

While visiting the Rabat zoo last weekend, I had fun reading the names of animals in both Arabic and French.

The stark range in the level of language I use throughout the day is another peculiar fact of my life here. My Fusha professor once had me explain my summer astronomy research to her in Arabic and in my French Literature class we talk about issues such as gender stereotypes and homophobia. However, in the evenings when I want to ask for a clean towel or talk about the weather, I have to prepare in advance the Darija sentence I want to use. The language barrier can be frustrating, I won’t lie, but despite the many times I have tried to explain myself and drawn a complete blank I still look forward to returning to the apartment and conversing with my family each night. The constant language struggle is overshadowed by the dance parties I have with my host sister and the endless adventure of living with a family.

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Filed under Mika Chmielewski, Morocco, Rabat