My life as a language student

18-Feb-2011

When asked why we chose to learn Arabic, my fellow students’ answers were relatively straightforward: my niece is moving to Morocco; I want to work in the Middle East; I attend belly dancing classes and want to understand what the songs are about; I love calligraphy. I, on the other hand, can’t really explain why I felt the urge to learn Arabic but I can tell you about my ELT-related reasons.

During my CELTA, one of the students in our pre-intermediate class was from Iraq. I felt that he was at a disadvantage compared to the Spanish, Italian and French students in the class – the most obvious reason being the different script. It should also be easier for native speakers of European languages to guess the meaning of English words of Latin origin.
I’ve often thought about the fact that, although I have learnt English as a foreign language myself, German is closely related to English. I wanted to see what it was like to learn a language that was completely alien to me and uses a different script.

So let me report, life as a student is hard!

I keep thinking of Jim Scrivener’s wise words, ‘Teaching does not necessarily lead to learning. […] Learning – of anything, anywhere – demands energy and attention from the learner.’

Jim Scrivener: Learning Teaching (2005), Macmillan.

My class is from 6.30 to 8.30 pm on Fridays, when the week has sucked all my energy out of me. I pay attention mainly to the teacher’s body language so that I can avoid eye contact at the crucial moment when he might decide to make me read what’s on the board. Every Friday before class, I start getting nervous: I feel unprepared, I haven’t done my homework and I should have practised more regularly. I resolve to study for at least 30 minutes every day henceforth – and then don’t.

On one of the rare occasions that I did study, I came up with a way to get my brain to successfully store new vocabulary on a week night after work: learning cards! While making the cards, I encountered an interesting problem: I really need three-sided learning cards – for the word in Arabic script, the transliteration and the translation (or picture). For now, I have decided to put only transliteration and translation on the cards and I did, in the end, manage to memorise my 12 verbs. I really need to practise my reading though so I have decided to use post-its to create the third dimension. The Arabic learning card of the future (not a phrase I thought I’d ever use) will have the English word on one side and the word in Arabic script on the other side on the post-it, with the transliteration hidden underneath the post-it.

Hopefully, studying vocabulary this way will eventually improve my reading skills to a point where I don’t need the transliteration anymore.

I also realized that I am a structured learner and the course is forcing me to learn in a very unstructured way. Part of this is due to the fact that I can’t yet read or write the language I’m learning so I never feel like I have mastered a new word completely. There is also the added problem of ‘reading lessons’. Our last lesson focused completely on reading. We got to practise the ten letters we’ve familiarized ourselves with so far. I could feel that focusing on these ten letters for a full two-hour lesson really improved my reading skills. On the other hand, the limitation of using two- to three-letter words consisting of only ten letters, meant that we were dealing with a random set of vocabulary: a word for falling flat on the face in the past tense, an imperative for putting away something secretly, especially poison into food or money into your pocket, and a word for a woman that was never proposed to.

I will continue to attempt to become a better student but I doubt I’ll start blogging in Arabic anytime soon!

Kerstin

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