Stupid Things I Say While Learning Arabic

When learning a new language:

You know when you’ve been using a certain word with such confidence, but it never seems to get the response you’re expecting. They crease their brow, nod their head, but then give you that face that says, “I don’t know what you just said, but I’m just gonna nod so that we can move on with this conversation.” This happens to me quite often. The other day I asked a friend how to say, “provide” as in to say, “God provides for you.” He gave me the word, “يدعم” (Yeda3am)… I went and promptly forgot the word, but another, similar one came to fill its place. Shortly after, I was praying for a family in their home. I was trying to say, “God please provide everything for this family” but instead of using “يدعم” I used the word, “يتدمر” (Yetdamir), which means to destroy. So, here I was, with all sincerity, praying that God would destroy everything for this family. I open my eyes, look at the family and smile. Their faces are saying to me, “we’re smiling out of respect, but we don’t know what to make of your prayer” … their words do not match their faces, “God bless you, habibty, thank you for your kindness.” On my way home, I try running through my words in my head, trying to find the culprit… “يتدمر” … dang it. Hopefully they realize sometimes, I have no idea what I’m saying.

Another one of these instances was also in prayer. I never formally learned how to pray, but I just generally try to imitate other people’s forms and translate what I would be normally praying in English. Let me tell you, Arabic prayers sound so poetic and pretty… usually my own prayers are not so poetic, but for the sake of practicing the language, lets try out some of these pretty forms. “رب الارباب” (Rab al-Arbab) I heard quite often. (The meaning: “Lord of Lords”). When I tried it, I remembered the rhythm, but I inserted another word that I knew I had used before… “رب الارناب” (Rab al-Arnab) sounds right. After my prayer, I began to think… “Where did the “ن” (the “n”) come from? The word “رب” doesn’t have a “ن” in the root. Then it hit me…. I had prayed to Jesus, “Lord of the Rabbits.” Granted, He is Lord of Rabbits as well, being Lord of all creation and all.

Today in Arabic class, my teacher corrected me with a certain word I have been saying incorrectly for over 3 years. It was as simple as changing a “ح” to a “ع”. Now hopefully people will stop looking at me funny when I tell them I will be sending them a text on Whatsapp (before I had been telling them I will research them a text on Whatsapp). Sometimes I feel like I’m trying to hit a target, and my words are a handful of pebbles. I enthusiastically spray the pebbles in the general direction of the target, and hope at least a few of them hit it… with the help of a lot of exaggerated body language and smiles that say, “If I say something stupid… I at least don’t mean you any harm… please just understand me… please.”

Other times I’ll walk into a shop and ask for something, and the shop owner will give me this stupid, blank face. I’m like, “Come on, dang it! I know for a fact that I just said that correctly. You’re just making that face cause the second I walked in here, you got it into your head that anything coming out of my mouth will be complete gibberish.” I ask again and the shop owner will kinda start, as if coming out of a trance… but will still look as surprised as if an elephant began speaking Arabic to him. He will invariably then say, “Wow, your Arabic is so good!” I will scoff and think to myself, “Only because you expect all foreigners to not speak any Arabic at all.” But, I also smile to myself and only slightly let myself believe him. There are so many moments in learning a new language that you feel like a complete idiot and failure, you need to take the compliments, wherever you can get them, just to keep up the morale.


About sarjb

I am from Brasil, specifically a town near São Paulo called Atibaia. My parents are from the US and lived in Brasil for around 23 years. I came to the US when I was 18 to begin college. Just a few weeks after moving to the US, I met Gary while swing-dancing at OU (the University of Oklahoma). He later became my husband. I studied Arabic in college and have lived in Jordan for a total of around 2 years (both as a child and during my college years).
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