The Sea of Holes

I have been struggling with my Arabic ever since classes started in the middle of August. It's like all of the vocabulary from my first year is floating around in my head, but I lost all of the connections over the summer. I will think of an Arabic word but it won't be connected to the meaning in English or the Arabic spelling. Or I'll remember how to spell a word, but not how to pronounce it or what it means. Or I will know that I should know how to say something in Arabic - that we learned it just last semester - but it won't come to mind. So at any given time I might know "al-imtihan", "the test" and "الامتحان" but not that these are all the same thing.

We have an assignment in every chapter where we must listen to sentences for each of our new vocabulary words on the DVD that goes with our book, then write out the sentences. Since I have huge holes in my vocabulary now, the process goes like this:

  1. Listen to sentence on DVD.
  2. Guess the spelling of one word (if you do not understand the first word of the sentence, return to step 1).
  3. Look word up in the dictionary to see how to spell it (if you can't find the word in the dictionary, you may have heard it wrong. Return to step 1).
  4. Write word down. If you then realize that you forgot to figure out what the word meant. Return to step 3.
  5. Return to step 1 and repeat for approximately 10 words per sentence.
  6. Repeat the entire process for all 27 vocabulary words and their sentences.

If I knew what words meant and how to spell them, that would cut out an awful lot of work and and awful lot of re-listenings. I'm not sure there are are enough hours in the day for me to be listening to these Arabic sentences 270 times. That is a lot of listening. So I usually get frustrated at my lack of ability, give up after a few sentences and go to class unprepared, hoping that even if I can't retain the old vocabulary, I'll be able to pick up on the new stuff. But the lack of old vocabulary affects all of my understanding, so I spend the class hour with a furrowed brow, frustrated again because I'm just as lost in class as I am at home and embarrassed when the professor calls on me and I have to say "لا اعرف/la aref/I don't know." That phrase is from last semester, too, but I've had plenty of opportunities to repeat it this year.

I've been really frustrated with myself. On one hand, I feel guilty because the truth is I could be working harder. And on the other hand, I feel like no matter how hard I work, it doesn't make a difference. And as new vocabulary and grammar is poured on us, I'm still drowning in the old stuff.

I really hate asking for help. It is one of the things that bothers me most about myself, academically, that I would rather fail and complain than ask for help. I think it comes from years of being told that I was "smart," and I feel like having to ask for help says that no, I'm not actually just naturally brilliant, I am flawed and I have to ask for help because I am less than perfect. Insufferable pride!

Today I finally sucked it up and went up to the teacher after class. I'd been avoiding him for weeks, usually because I hadn't finished the homework assignments, but I approached him and asked if we could have an out-of-class review session over what we learned last year and told him that I felt lost and needed help. He said that although he hadn't expected to have this problem, a lot of the students were in the same situation as me in terms of the loss of last year's vocabulary over the summer. So next week sometime there will be an evening review session and we'll start weekly tutoring hours. In the meantime, it's good to know that a) I'm not the only one who feels this way and b) there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

srah - Wednesday, 12 September 2007 - 9:38 PM
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Comments (4)

gravatar Noor - September 12, 2007 - 10:10 PM -

Arabic is tough! It's so tough that even some people who were born in the Middle East and studied there for ten years can barely read it or write it (ahem, I wouldn't happen to know any of these people).

I really admire you for sticking with it. I also think the prof is an idiot for not spending a class session or two reviewing what you learned last year. It's not like you can readily practice your Arabic in the middle of Ohio (wait, I think there is a big Arab community in Toledo).

Oh and I totally identify with you on not feeling comfortable asking for help. 502 anyone?

gravatar srah - September 12, 2007 - 10:15 PM -

The professor has really high expectations for us. When our Model Arab League went to DC last year, students from American University of Cairo apparently praised our students' Arabic language abilities, and most of those students were in 102 with me at the time. So apparently we are learning pretty fast and pretty well, compared to a lot of other Arabic students. I think his expectations were just a little too high for 201, though, and it's taken him several weeks (and lots of frustration on his part, too) to realize that we need to take a step back.

I guess I will have to teach you some Arabic once I learn it myself! ;)

gravatar jamelah - September 13, 2007 - 9:08 PM -

Arabic is so hard. I've been out of class for a month and I can feel all the stuff I worked so hard to learn evaporating from my head a little more every day.

gravatar srah - September 13, 2007 - 9:13 PM -

Don't do it! Go take a look at your notes tonight! Don't let it slip away! It made me feel so stupid when I was trying to write in Arabic for Language Week this year and I couldn't remember what I'd taken an exam on a month before.

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