Learning Arabic in its cultural environment: All About… Morocco {a cultural project}

“All about…” is a series of culturally-driven posts by guest writers who have lived, worked, or studied in a culture different than that of central Pennsylvania. These essays are not comprehensive cultural guides; rather, their purpose is to expose misunderstandings, clarify stereotypes, and highlight the similarities between familiar and unfamiliar cultures.

This week’s post is written by Jennifer Boum Make, a native of France and graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From May-June 2014, she studied Arabic in Rabat, Morocco, with Sprachcaffe Rabat; here, she shares a few words about her linguistic and cultural experience.

henna time at Sprachcaffe Rabat, Morocco, May 2014
Henna time at Sprachcaffe Rabat, Morocco. May 2014

Why are you studying Arabic if you are already fluent in French and English?

When it comes to learning a language, people take on the challenge with different goals, perspectives, and life needs. As a PhD student in the Department of French and Italian at the University of Pittsburgh, I’m focusing on the literature of the Maghreb. Before I began learning Arabic, I had never questioned how knowing the language would boost my research, but I’ve been surprised at how much more I’ve learned since then! In Morocco, I was able to taste the language in one of its many cultural environments, and beginning to learn Arabic has greatly expanded my literary horizons. I’ve also discovered some of the numerous aspects of Moroccan quaintness.

Rabat, "Les Oudayas" 05/21/2014
Rabat, Morocco: “Les Oudayas.” May 21, 2014

Why did you choose Morocco for studying Arabic ?

Shortly after I started to look into study-abroad destinations to learn Arabic, I quickly got in touch with a local company in France that offered three destinations amongst Arabic countries (the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, or Morocco — all were so tempting!). I briefly investigated each study-abroad program but mostly relied on my intuition. Going to Morocco wasn’t an entirely random choice; when I was five, I had traveled to Marrakech, Morocco (I am now 23). It’s possible that I picked Morocco as my study-abroad destination for sentimental reasons, even though my original memories of the country are very scarce. Overall, it was the best choice for me in regards to total cost, traveling ease from France, and the length of stay.

I chose to learn Arabic by studying abroad because I am convinced that studying a language in a country where it is spoken is the best way to maximize learning. I wasn’t proved wrong! Being a teacher myself back in the States, I have always told my students that going to the country is the best way to make rapid progress in a foreign language because you get to be fully exposed to the language and its cultural reality. In the same way, I chose to go to Morocco and study with an organization called Sprachcaffe Rabat not only to have the chance to learn Arabic with native speakers but also to make sure I would hear Arabic everywhere I’d go. Classes aside, I most enjoyed staying with a host family in Rabat; living with a family really enhances your learning goals and challenges your linguistic and cultural capacities!

Choosing to live in a Moroccan home was delightfully surprising as my daily activities took a new turn. While expanding my flavor horizons, I also saw myself attempting to juggle between French (my mother tongue) and my broken Arabic, mumbling random words here and there. While I was far from having a full understanding of what was going on in every conversation I had with my host family, I was always able to appreciate these few happy moments that we all experience as beginners in a language when we first can recognize single words in foreign sentences that never seem to end! The same was true in the classroom with my wonderful teacher who would always take my nods and shyly mumbled نعم (“yes” in Arabic) as لَا (“no”) as signs of comprehension. My teacher was the first to appreciate and value the fast progress I had made.

Couscous time at Sprachcaffe Rabat language school 06/17/2014
Couscous time at Sprachcaffe Rabat language school. May 17, 2014

What are your feelings about your language trip experience?

I had never heard of Sprachcaffe schools before, but I really believe in the personalized lessons that I received there, as well as the attention that was given by the staff. Having a couscous party at school was a first! Studying abroad with Sprachcaffe included solid classroom instruction but also so much more; it taught me to find comfort in what became my second home.

Now that my study abroad experience is over, I wish not only to keep up with my learning of Arabic, but I also hope to live in total cultural and linguistic immersion again. I’ve not at all explored half of the possibilities in Rabat, and I sincerely hope that I’ll have the chance to come back sometime soon with Sprachcaffe Rabat! Learning a language is a lifetime commitment, and I wish to commit. Besides that, it only takes a minute to pack your suitcase and go!

Sprachcaffe Schools : http://www.sprachcaffe.com/francais/accueil.htm

Sprachcaffe-Rabat : http://www.sprachcaffe-rabat.com/

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