Alif… Baa… Taa: A Language and Writing Odyssey in Amman

By September 21, 2012Writing about Writing

The UCWbL’s Peter D. is studying in Jordan this semester.  Tune in here for this exciting series on language, learning, and culture.

I scrambled to explain to my O’Hare security-line neighbor, a businessman from Amman, why I would be studying intensive Classical Arabic for the semester.

“You know, I’m Arab. I’ve spoken Arabic for forty years and I’ve read the Qur’an since I was ten and I still have problems with the language! You’re in for a journey, my friend.”

I was going to study Classical Arabic at the Qasid Language Institute in Amman, Jordan as a part of my Religious Studies and Islamic World Studies track at DePaul. My inherent interest in studying the language is to be able to access the text of the Qur’an and the works of classical Islamic thinkers such as ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali and ibn ‘Arabi. While this would be my focus, I also sought (and still seek) a well-rounded fluency in Arabic – speaking, listening, reading, and writing. I knew that immersing myself in an Arab country and taking advantage of opportunities like volunteering would allow me to expand rapidly in these areas.

While I had taken a year Modern Standard Arabic at DePaul and supplementary Classical Arabic courses through various groups, my training did not prepare me for the rapid-fire my friend offered at the airport.

Ma raqim abwab?

I was stunned by the one-second phrase that I was sure I read in my textbook but could not process one bit.

What? I asked with a nervous laugh.

Ma raqim abwab?

I tried to process the words but instead resigned to a reserved, I don’t know.

What number is our gate?

I had a 13-hour plane ride to look over flashcards, study grammatical structures, and go over sentences in preparation, but I also had time to reflect on some other questions – how will my learning of a second language affect my knowledge of English? Will my focus on writing in Arabic – with different syntactical and morphological rules for meaning-building – affect my knowledge and skill in writing in the English language? How will we be taught to engage in the intertwined systems of writing, speaking, listening, and reading, and how will this differ from my own upbringing as a student of the English language? These are the questions I am invested in exploring and engaging here in Amman.

I hope to use this blog as a way to not only reflect on my skill-building in another language, but to see the affects of intensive and cross-cultural language and communication study has on the holistic writing and learning process. As a Writing Fellow, I am obviously invested in the writing process of not only DePaul students but everyone who wants to communicate with the written word. I extend this concern to myself and my peers in Amman who are having their conventions shaken up by an entirely different world.

I look forward to offering further reflections as my classes, volunteering, and interactions with the community progress.

 مع السلامة (Farewell for now!)

Peter