Keef backee…?




Keef backee? Literally means “how do you say…?”

One of the many parts of studying abroad I was excited about is learning Arabic. I have been fascinated with learning languages for a while. Throughout my academic journey, I have sought to learn as many languages as possible. Unfortunately, this journey has been impeded by scheduling conflicts and lack of course availability. Arabic is one language that I simply could not take while in the United States. My current university does not offer it and my previous university wouldn’t allow me to test into the beginner’s course. I am excited to study this language while being among native speakers.

In my previous experience of learning other languages, the basics of reading and writing came quickly, while I struggled with conversation. This experience gave me a boost of confidence that I would be able to pick up Arabic fairly quickly.

I was wrong.

Learning the basics of Arabic is very different than learning Spanish, Latin or German.

A major difference: the letters are different.

Arabic letters have a name and an initial form. However, this form changes depending on the position of the letter in a word. More importantly speaking Arabic is about sounds more so than individual letters that combine to create a word/sound.  One letter can make four sounds depending on the accent marks around it. Depending on where a letter is in a word it can look different than its initial form. Also, some letters may look the same but have different accents around them that differentiate them from one another and make a different sounds.

Did I mention that it is also written from right to left?

As you can imagine, I am struggling with Arabic.

I am struggling to grasp the various parts of Arabic from the different letters, their positions, surrounding symbols and sounds. Studying in a country where everyone speaks Arabic is encouraging and overwhelming at the same time. Just before I wrote this post, my taxi driver got lost taking me home because he did not speak English and I don’t speak Arabic. He had to pull over and ask a stranger to translate for us. Unfortunately, that was not enough and I had to call my host brother who directed the taxi driver home.

I have decided to reevaluate my studying habits to learn this language. When I was learning German, I made flash cards to learn words and their meanings faster and it helped.

I will put in the same practice for Arabic. Instead, I will have to make flashcards for the letters, their different sounds according to the different accents, and necessary words for daily conversation, in Arabic and transliterated. I have already asked my host family if they can help me learn Arabic through speaking and they have all agreed.

I have high hopes that with a little tweaking to my study habits I should be able to sound out words and be able to read before I leave.