Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Globetrotter's Guide to Learning to read Arabic

I have been living in Kuwait for two years (18 months if you don't count summers in France). During this time, I haven't had a single lesson in speaking, reading, or writing Arabic. I can say "chokran" to thank someone and that's about it. 

Yesterday, I looked at this word on the sign outside the grocery store... and read it. M-R-K-Z. Merkaz.

Hmmm. I call my Lebanese friend Amal to ask her what "merkaz" means. "It means "center", she says. Of course, the Sultan Center, the name of the store where I'm getting my groceries.

So there you have it, everyone. Congratulate me! I am now reading Arabic without having taken any lessons at all. Just 18 months of a constant barrage of signs for McDonalds, Burger King, Zara, and GAP, etc. and I'm catching on.  Who says illiteracy can't be beaten?

Can you make out the letters M-A-K-D-O-N-A-L-D-Z ?



Applying my newly-discovered Arabic reading skill, I'm starting to make out more actual words in Arabic, not just brand names. I have learned the word STOP in Arabic just by reading the Arabic part of the sign.

Q-F (/kef/) is the word for "stop"
And take a look at this sign out in the desert. I can instantly recognized the words "Al-Kuwait" just by recognising the "K", but what about the word for "city" (which, incidentally, precedes the word "Kuwait" in Arabic, reading right to left. Let's see: M-D-I-N-A. So the word for city in Arabic is "medina" (just like the city of Medina in Saudi, I guess).

Of course, I'm going to have to check all of this out with my Arab friends. The tricky part is that the letters change depending on where they are placed in the word, so I have to get used to remembering a letter three different ways depending.

Meanwhile, the Bambina has 45 minutes of Arabic at school every day. She's better at it than I am (for starters, she can actually say something more than "Chokran") but she says it's very hard. I would be thrilled if she learned to speak, read, and write Arabic competently before we left Kuwait. Even if she doesn't get to take it in lycée when we return to France, she may get inspired enough to study it again later on.

The week before, I had an email from her Arabic teacher complaining that the Bambina only got 4 out of 10 and that she needed to try harder!