People often say that when you dream in a language that you have been learning, you are really becoming fluent. For me, there is something that is much more practical and a better measure of reality if you want to learn Arabic language. That’s when you can work in Arabic. Not just study it, or have casual discussions in academic settings.
Four non-native speakers who used Arabic effectively at work
Over my past 25 years in the Arab world, I have come across four non-native Arabic speakers whom I have seen learn Arabic language effectively and use it in their day to day work. I have definitely met more than these four, but they are the ones that stick out in my mind.
The first was an Arabic teacher of mine whose name is Lisa White. Lisa is a teacher at the American University in Cairo, in the Intensive Arabic Program. When I first met Lisa in 1991, I was shocked to see her speaking Arabic fluently despite the fact that she is American, and even more shocked to find her teaching it. I had previously had non-native speakers of Arabic as Arabic language teachers at the University of Toronto, but in my mind I knew that was different. Lisa’s Arabic was not limited to the academic texts she prepared in advance. She was comfortable in the language, could (seemingly, to me at least) talk about anything in it with her Egyptian colleagues, and could naturally teach and transfer the language to us, her students.
The second person was someone I met while working as a consultant in the Egyptian Ministry of Education. I confess that I do not remember her name, but she was delivering a talk to a group of about 1000 Egyptian English teachers that we were training, and was very effective. She was also very outgoing and funny… in Arabic. Despite the fact that she was British. Although her content was about teaching English, she delivered it mostly in Arabic, and had the trainees captivated and engaged the whole time. She would launch into jokes, side stories, or political rants. This was just before the Iraq war in 2003, and I remember a button she had pinned on her jacket which said لا لضرب العراق (No to striking Iraq). Continue reading “Learn Arabic language on the job”