[bren nɑt wərkɪŋ təde]

Yep, that’s IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) for “Brain not working today.” 

I have hit a linguistic wall. We have 10 hours of Arabic class every week (4 Egyptian Dialect, 3 Modern Standard grammar, 3 Modern Standard comprehension) and so far I haven’t had significant issues except for my terrible memory for vocabulary.  Once grammar is broken down,it’s usually not a problem.  Same with conversation–as long as I have enough confidence not to get self-conscious about my mistakes, things usually turn out just fine.  I can hear the sounds I am supposed to produce, I can tell the proper order in which my sentence is supposed to go, I can even ask clarification questions all in Arabic.  But still, a month’s worth of information is fiendishly difficult to digest.

Usually, it’s fairly easy for me to synthesize and memorize new information.  I can sit in class, listen to the professor, participate and take notes for reference later, but I might only need to look over them a few times before I really have it down.  This has been  my system for learning languages up to this point.  As long as I spoke in class and made sure everything was thoroughly explained it wouldn’t matter much if I drilled vocabulary for 4 hours or had a half-hour conversation–the end was about the same. With this new language, I am not as lucky.

Arabic is hard.  Really really hard.  As a native Indo-European language-speaker, there are almost no referents from Arabic words back to what I already know, except for the few borrowed words used in Egyptian Dialect (thank goodness for business attire and tech terms!).  This means it takes me about three times the effort to learn new words and retain them as compared to my study of French or German.  Even Gaelic was easier to remember!  In Arabic you get the triple nutbusting combination of a new alphabet, a different grammatical system and words that do not connect to Indo-European roots like the Italic or Germanic language families.

Here’s an analogy: for me, French goes down like creme brulee–smooth, sweet, sometimes with a hard exterior, but still easy and fun to crack.  German (because of my experience with Dutch) goes down like water– a little too familiar at times and always with  a basic structure to fall back on, even with some exceptions.  Arabic is like trying to eat a block of concrete– first you have to chip away at it and when you’ve managed that, trying to swallow the gravel and sand that remains is extremely tough and hard to do in large doses.  Even if you end up getting it all down, it may not sit well in your system and you’ll have a very hard time digesting it fully.


I am very grateful to my professors for the patience and kindness they have shown me for this past month.  With their expertise and creativity, I am sure I will get through this temporary roadblock, insha’allah.


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