February 15, 2010

Learning Language The Classic Way

To start, I love the idea of being fluent in a language. Unfortunately, I am not nearly the linguist I am in my distant dreams. I am not bilingual. I am not a polyglot. I am fluent in exactly one language: English. After twelve years of frustration trying to learn Spanish, I went to college and decided I needed a major change of pace and began studying Arabic. To some people this might seem crazy. I ask myself every time I’m studying for a test, why did I decide to give up a romance language?

There are millions of people who have a challenging time learning a second language, let alone a third or fourth. I’m the person that hears stories of someone else knowing 7 languages and fumes jealousy. For all of us that are more language-challenged, there is no need to worry. A desire to learn is all you truly need. Immersion and a lot of practice are critical. If nothing else, finding patterns (particularly in a root based language like Arabic) is your saving grace. As a high school student driving 20 miles to school everyday I became fascinated with the pattern in California license plates: seeking out the pattern and trying to discern the car’s age. This type of pattern seeking and recognition let me finally “click” with Arabic and the basic linguistic structure finally made sense to me. The bottom line is that language learning is a lifelong process and you need a lot of patience and the ability to laugh at yourself to make it enjoyable.

Thousands of college students study foreign languages every year; some to connect to their native land, some to be more marketable, some to work and make a difference in the future. For me, it was the last two. If I were a student during the Cold War I would have studied Russian, and if I were a student during Colonial times I would have studied French, the language of diplomacy. But I am a student of the 21st Century and in such Arabic became my language of choice. Given the climate of the world today this was the smartest and most interesting option for me. My opinions of current events have been shaped by my knowledge of Arabic.

This past summer I traveled to Amman, Jordan and put my Arabic to the test. This experience humbled and inspired me to continue learning Arabic. As I continue to blog for Leximo, you will hear much more about my personal experiences in the Middle East and language, as well as, experiences of my friends studying abroad.

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