I have started an entirely new subject from scratch. Language is always tricky, and Arabic is known as one of the more difficult languages to learn. I’m fortunate enough to have patient teachers and dedicated classmates that spur on my learning here in Ibri. As a result, on the ten-minute bus ride home, I’m in a whole new world as I sound out the Arabic script on all the buildings and billboards. In class, I’m giddy when I get something right and turn beet red when I say a word the wrong way or say something ridiculous or completely inappropriate by accident.
I had forgotten how rewarding learning a language can feel. These lessons are refreshing compared to the rigorous, stressful experiences I had in my Spanish classes. Often, I was an anxious, ball-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach student who studied for days toward the next test and then forgot what I had learned the next week. I stopped studying Spanish because I associated it with failure and frustration and hit a plateau in learning. Now, the child-like atmosphere (while sometimes reduces me to toddler age) rekindles confidence in my abilities. The language is beautiful to write and I’m excited to say after two weeks I’m able to form sentences with the all-new Arabic alphabet!
That is not to say I’m not exhausted after five straight hours of Arabic every day. Sometimes I go to sleep sounding out every word I’m thinking. “I’MMMM TYYYYEEE YERRRRD”. Other days, I’m massaging my temples after attempting to correctly pronounce the letter ع (“ein”).
Many of the students here have been studying Arabic for years and still have trouble with reading and pronouncing words. But, the atmosphere of encouragement and hard work ethic is contagious and so we carry on in Ibri learning and practicing Arabic.
One of these opportunities to practice is with my language partner. We meet twice a week for an hour to speak Arabic, hangout, and work on my homework. She is sassy and encouraging and I’ve loved hearing about her husband and her daughter. Every time I open the door to my apartment she looks excited to see me, flashes a full smile of turquoise braces and we kiss on both cheeks before I lead her inside. Today, she brought homemade Karak tea and we sipped and shared about our days while munching on biscuits. I have not met many Omani women and feel so blessed to hear and share stories with such a patient friend — even if she is tough on grammar.
My favorite aspect of Arabic by far is the writing. Last week, we had a lesson on calligraphy from an artist named Mohammed. We all watched in awe as his wrist and fingers slowly and carefully moved his pen over his paper. Loops and curls with such intentionality formed letters and words in six different styles of Arabic script. Arabic is as much an art form as it is a communication device. We attempted to repeat and replicate his letters but came up empty handed compared to his beautiful pattern. Because of these experiences, I am feeling confident and optimistic about learning a foreign language again —- and و (pronounced “wow”) it feels good.