September 25, 2009 | Arabic

Alwan for the Arts, Plus Arabic Grammar

I take a field trip to an arts organization.

I have been doing a lot of work on oral skills. For example, for the past few days I’ve been listening to VocabuLearn in the shower. (I mean not that I have been taking a shower for the past few days, though it is such a great shower that it is really hard for me to leave it, but rather, that when I am in the shower, VocabuLearn is part of the experience.)

In addition, today I did a run with Pimsleur, then later did more Pimsleur, this time on the massage chair in our office. In lesson 19 (this is still Level I), I learned Nehna minheb nishrab, which means, “We would like to drink.” 

Our Office Massage Chair Comes With a Handy Drink Holder in the Arm

Compare that to:

  • bitheb tishrab – she would like to drink, you (male) would like to drink
  • biyheb yishrab – he would like to drink
  • bheb ishrab – I would like to drink
  • bithebi tishrabi – you (female) would like to drink

Both the auxiliary verb (the first in each pair) and the main verb (the second) change form for each person. I mean, is it necessary to change the form of every verb? Isn’t that a lot of unnecessary work? In English and other languages I have studied, you change only the first verb if there are multiple verbs in a row. Life is much easier that way.

This is a crazy language.

Much less crazy: when you say “my husband and I,” according to Pimsleur lesson 19, you should say ana u jozi—which is actually “I and my husband,” the reverse order of what you would say in English. The same with “my wife and I”—Pimsleur says to render it as “I and my wife” (ana u meurti). It’s a funny custom in English to put the speaker last. The Arabic order strikes me as very logical.

Everything I say about Arabic has to be qualified by the knowledge that there are many different Arabics, some of them radically different from one another. Today I learned that meurti is “my wife.” Well, on the old Pimsleur I had learned that it was zojti. Also, instead of zoji for “my husband,” which is what I was taught in the old lessons, I am now being taught that it is jozi (so the consonants reversed).

“Yes” and “no” in Arabic are tough for me. La (no) continues to sound like “yes” to me. Na’am (yes) continues to sound like “no.” Ma means “not,” but it doesn’t sound to me like anything that could mean “not.” So I keep making fundamental mistakes.

In the evening, I went off in search of Arabic culture at an organization called Alwan for the Arts, located downtown at 16 Beaver Street. It puts on arts events and also offers language classes. I reflected, as I walked through the largely deserted streets of downtown, passing a homeless elderly man asleep amid cardboard boxes, how this adventure keeps taking me to neighborhoods where I feel less safe than in my usual haunts. And then I wondered how I was going to get back home safely, since things would be even more deserted after the performance I was going to see.

Daytime Shot of the Block That Houses Alwan for the Arts

I found the building that houses Alwan, on the fourth floor, and it was kind of creepy and deserted. No doorman, no guard, no nothing. I looked up and saw lights on the fourth floor, but no visible sign of activity. I loitered in front for about five minutes, then people started showing up. Among them, by coincidence, I saw my main contact at the Arab American Association of New York, whose name is Jennie. We went in together.

The performance was “Leyya Tawil’s Dance Elixir” with clarinetist Kinan Azmeh. I enjoyed the clarinet, but I found myself wishing that Leyya’s hair did not so often end up covering her face, and thus her facial expressions. Overall the organization seems like a neat place with varied offerings.

I studied my Easy Arabic Grammar book on the subway both to and from Alwan for the Arts. It did not go well.

I simply do not have a good basic grammar guide for this language. And for me that is a critical component of an effective language-learning program.

Comments (1)

Holly • Posted on Wed, February 11, 2015 - 4:25 am EST

I’ve enjoyed flicking through your blog so far. I just wanted to say that I have done EXACTLY the same stupid thing with Arabic. I got the Pimsleur course out of my local library and learnt it, but found it inexplicably rubbish compared to my beloved, wonderful Pimsleur Japanese course. I was aware that it was very old (it’s in tape form, and so crackly that I have to strain to hear any of it!), but I didn’t want to stop. Now that I’m onto Part B (a newer version), I’ve realised there are a lot of words I didn’t learn in the Part A that I’m expected to know. The little arabic voice in the back of my mind has been bugging me, saying, ‘pssst… you really ought to redo a newer Part A’, but I’ve been ignoring it out of stubbornness. But after reading about you being in the same boat, I think I will try and track a new version down.

Shukran, Ellen! Great blog and wonderful project. Keep on language-lovin

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