Growing up in Saudi Arabia, I would often find my curiosity sparked by Arab culture. When I would leave the company compound I grew up on to go to downtown Rahima, I would see signs reading “tailor” or “jewelry” in both Arabic and English languages and I would feel thankful that there was an English translation. Due to a variety of reasons, I was unable to learn the language while living there. After returning to the U.S. I would tell people about my background in the Middle East and it would immediately spark the question of whether or not I was able to speak the language. Time and time again I would reply sheepishly that no, while I lived there much of my childhood, my surrounding life in the desert was very westernized, most prominently being that the language that we spoke in schools and around our small compound was English, not Arabic.
When I began working with Al-Bustan I learned of our Arabic language courses. Suddenly, entering a point in my life where I had free time and a job wherein I could use the knowledge of Arabic, I knew that I had to enroll in the beginner course. When Arabic courses first started, I was surprised by how many rules applied to the alphabet alone. Each letter is written differently based on where it is placed in a word, not all letters connect to others, and some letters take on completely different sounds in certain words. Twenty-eight letters and five vowels later I was on my way to reading Arabic script. Looking at words whose meaning I was already familiar with such as “halal” or “yallah” were suddenly decipherable to me in its Arabic script. During one afternoon of work, I was admiring a tea set that an artist we had previously worked with had recently posted on their store which was listed as “shai cup set of two” (shai is the Arabic word for tea). Looking at the beautiful Arabic calligraphy written on the tea set I began sounding out the letters to see if I could decipher the meaning of the script before me.
“Sh… shy… Sh-a-ee, shai!” I shouted, “It’s a shai cup that says shai over and over again, I can read!” I exclaimed eagerly. My coworkers laughed at my enthusiasm.
I could finally look at a word and sound out the letters which was an entirely new experience for me. Throughout the course, we also began to learn introductory language words such as colors, numbers, and even family members (who knew there were so many specific terms!). New words and their meanings began piling up in my Arabic word bank and my confidence in the native language of my home grows with it. While there is still a very long way to go in my Arabic journey, I am finally able to comprehend the language in a way that I simply could not before. As the next sessions of Arabic courses approach, I cannot help but get excited about the new things that I am going to learn and share with my Arabic-speaking friends and family.