To give some context of my experience, I am attending CET’s summer internship program in Amman, Jordan. The program includes language classes, activities, and a language pledge. The structure of this program includes immersion – you’re in an Arabic-speaking country taking Arabic classes in Arabic all while pledging to only speak Arabic to the other students with few exceptions. This is where my previous experience with Amman and Arabic has put me in a position to help and lead the other students. This comes out in three ways.
Helping bridge the gaps between the professors, the curriculum, and the students
I specifically stated to my professors that one of my goals in the class was to help the other students with absorbing the local dialect. I am cognizant about answering too many questions or speaking for the other students in the classroom. When there are bumps in communication between the teachers and the students, I will ask pointed questions or request clarification. One example of this was, after learning the colloquial word for “what,” the professor proceeded to use the other word for “what” to the students! I simply asked how to spell the other word. The professor then explained it and we smoothly moved on to the next topic.
Pictured: A happy class after a great meal made together (not pictured: my smile).
Being a challenging, but useful, language partner
I see myself as an unofficial language facilitator for the students. This is because I am often speaking with students who have less experience with Arabic. I’m conscious if I’m making sense to them and I double check whether I’m mistaken or they just don’t know what I am saying. If they do not understand what I am saying, then I find new ways to express an idea. I can then challenge the students and improve my Arabic by explaining and correcting their mistakes. I recently found a clever way of explaining the word “plan” with using a synonym like appointment by saying “making a specific time.” It is fun to see the other students’ face light up when they are getting it.
Assist the students with integrating with the community and culture
This is hard for people that are not very extroverted. Even then, it takes courage, confidence, and vigor to walk out of the apartment. Out there, I often mess up, have to ask for help, or am otherwise at the mercy of those I interact with. But if I put in the work, I am always satisfied with my efforts, connections, and lessons learned. My modeling this can benefit the other students by showing that progress can be made. And really, everyone in Jordan has been patient and friendly with me as an outsider learning about them, so there is little to fear with minor embarrassments. Outside of modeling this, it’s important to also encourage and build up the students considering how hard this work can be.
This is not to say that I have all the answers – far from it. There are many times where I tell people I don’t know or that I only know a partial answer. I just want to show students the difficult, but necessary, steps of making mistakes and learning from them.