It’s been a week now since I started my course in Syrian Arabic on Italki. At first I was sceptical about learning with an online tutor, but after just two classes I’m convinced it’s an excellent method.
I’ve learned more vocabulary and grammar than I did in attending 10 weeks of in-person group evening classes, and I’ve spoken more Arabic than in two years of living in Qatar. So what have the classes been like?
Well, it’s a bit intimidating at first, being face-to-face with a stranger over Skype video chat and compelled to speak the language you’re learning. My Arabic is still basic, so I had to drop a lot of English into the dialogue with my teacher, Fadi.
Fadi is from Syria and lives in Italy; an experienced Arabic teacher. The best thing about the class was Fadi’s determination to keep me speaking Arabic as much as possible. He spoke in English only when necessary (and his English is top-notch) to help me understand, or when I asked him to do so. This Arabic-first approach was challenging and could be tiring at times, but it’s what I wanted and it certainly makes me learn faster.
After the first class I’d already remembered many of the long-forgotten words from my days in Qatar (although some of these were entirely different in Shami). Fadi gave me an extensive homework task of conjugating two verbs; to find and to look for, followed by using those verbs to create as many example sentences as possible. My sentences were pretty short, but at least I managed to construct some. I’m getting faster at reading Arabic now, which makes the overall learning process easier.
The second class was better because I’d become more familiar with Fadi and his teaching style. I was ready to speak in Arabic, even if it felt strange, and I was already starting to understand most of the words he was speaking to me. But Syrian Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) differ in many ways, all of which I’ll have to learn (and unlearn) during this course.
For example, Syrian Arabic has a distinctive word for ‘please’ (iza btreedi), that’s completely different from the usual min faDhlak, as found in MSA. And the language has regional variations within Syria too. Between classes I tried practicing my new skills with friends via Facebook.
One friend, originally from the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor but currently living in Damascus, told me that his own Shami language isn’t perfect. He explained it’s because the people of Deir Ezzor have their own dialect, different from Shami, which includes two letters not even found in the Arabic alphabet! People who want to use the letters need a special app to input them on phones or computer keyboards.
This is fascinating and I can’t wait to learn more Arabic. There’s a entire hidden world waiting to be discovered. In the current climate of intolerance and bigotry, with idiots like Trump creating anti-Muslim policies, it’s important to expand cultural understanding and ability to communicate. Perhaps Arabic can help me do that more effectively.
Here’s my second homework, a dialogue at passport control in China.
صباح الخيرات جواز السفر اذا بتريدي
شكرا. شو اسمك؟
أنا اسمي سام/ سامنثا Samantha
و انتي منين؟
انا من بريطانيا. انا صحفيَّة
طيب تفضلي، هي بسبورك، اهلا و سهلا فيكي الصين!