To Speak Arabic, You Must First Speak (Arabic)

I studied Arabic for years–years!–before I finally spoke it. I was so worried about it! I wanted to be sure my accent was right, that I knew all the words, that I could put a sentence together properly before opening my mouth. My peers were native speakers! I didn’t want to get anything wrong. I practiced with Alif-Baa for hours every day to get the sounds right. I put Nancy Ajram on my iPod. I repeated the unpronounceable sounds as I walked to and from class.

After 6 weeks (my first intensive program), I returned to the UAE ready to bust out my language skills, and you know what? People laughed at me. My friends (!)Β laughed at me!

That was in 2006, the start of my 2nd year of college. I didn’t speak again until the summer I graduated in 2009, when I moved to Jordan and had to speak to get by.

It took me 3 years to learn that they weren’t laughing at me. They weren’t laughing with me, either. Rather, they were laughing at my Arabic. They had never heard me speak Arabic before, and they had rarely (some had never) heard Β an American make the ΨΉ sound before. It was so foreign, so unexpected. Of course they laughed.*

It would be like hearing the cast of Harry Potter speak like Americans–oh wait:


Harry (start at 9:17):

And my favorite, Draco Malfoy:

(because how much did you LOVE hearing him say, “We’re going to Jersey Shore, bitchesss!”)

Don’t take it personally. Really. Having an accent gives you personality. It’s interesting and it’s unique. Speak with pride.

And while you’re at it, spread a little laughter:

For the rest of us.

*I laugh now, too. I’m sorry, beginners and tutees.

Just think of it as initiation into the club.

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