Our family has had the privilege over the last year or so of learning Arabic from native speakers who started as friends and are now family.
Our family has had the opportunity to experience how badly your brain can hurt from learning Arabic.
There’s a reason it is considered the second hardest language for English speakers to learn.
Many of the sounds are different. Sentence structure is often different. Greetings are very different.
Let’s start with the alphabet.
My girls have been painstakingly working their way through the alphabet as well as adding vocabulary. My lessons have not involved written Arabic, rather, I am trying to sort out the spoken.
Turns out Arabic has 18 conjugations for almost every noun and verb. By way of comparison, Spanish has 6 verb conjugations.
And Arabic has these greetings that not only said at specific times for specific reasons but also have particular answers. I’ll give you an example with it translated into English.
You come home from work and have been busy, I say–“God give you strength.” You say, “God strengthen you.” There are many others. My favorite is “Kaif Halik (how are you)?” “Alhamdhallah (Thanks be to God) or Ashkurallah (God is good).”
I enjoy seeing how they all fit together, but I find it hard to remember what I am supposed to say when and how.
Yesterday, Caitlyn was struggling to remember her new words for this week’s lesson. She is used to everything except math coming very easily. Arabic had her mad. How dare it be so hard? I totally relate!
Today in history we were studying the tower of Babel where the people on the earth had gotten very proud and decided that they could build a tower that would reach all the way to heaven. Rather than letting the people be destroyed by their own pride, God introduced many languages, so the people no longer could talk easily to one another, rather, they had many different languages and communication was instantly more complicated (Genesis 11:3-9).
3And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. 4Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” 5And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. 6And the Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. 7Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.” 8So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city. 9Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth. And from there the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth.
And it has worked, hasn’t it? Things are much more complicated than they would be if we had just one common language.
So Caitlyn, building on what she had said yesterday about it being hard, said, “see it’s a curse!!”
But is it?
Yes, it definitely makes things harder, but our language is also part of our identity. It is part of what makes us who we are. It is not just a bunch of sounds strung together. It is how we see the world, how we do things. It is the respect we show, the respect we expect.
It is also a way to bond with people. If you even just try a little to learn someone’s language when it is not your own, you have instantly shown them honor, that you value them. And when the words don’t come out right–you can bond over laughter–like the day I told a lady, I would bring her a house (bayt) when I meant to say I would bring her a book (ktaab).
Yes, learning Arabic is hard. Really hard, but that first time I was able to tell one of my friends that I loved her in Arabic, it was all worth it.
So, while Caitlyn may be convinced it is a curse to learn Arabic, it will continue to be part of our