Why don’t you try English?

Note: All followers and readers are thanked from the bottom of my heart. To those readers wondering if this was turning into a photography blog, writing was, is and will always be my first love. 

This article was originally penned down for http://gulfnews.com/opinions/offthecuff/why-don-t-you-try-english-1.986539

There’s one thing I like about Frenchmen (and no, it’s not just the fact that they are generally quite easy on the eye). When you try to speak in French with the French, broken as it might be, they encourage you, and prefer that you speak in French rather than English, even though they generally do know a bit of English.

Iranians however, revere their language with a fierce passion and do not like to see it get maimed at the hands (read: tongue) of a non-Persian speaker. Persian is a beautiful language, deep and with a rich history spanning centuries. It can also be complicated and difficult and once, a few years back, I decided to learn it. I began to get acquainted with the language, and I was thrilled when I found myself next to an Iranian woman on a flight.

Eager to practise my newly acquired Persian skills with a native, I tried to make small talk with the lady. At first she spoke a few sentences, and then began responding to me in monosyllables. Undaunted, I continued with my Persian, and her answers kept getting shorter and shorter. After a few minutes, the woman, wearing a thoroughly exasperated expression on her face, turned to me and said, “Why don’t you try English?”

I laughed off her response, but thank goodness I had the sense to belt up after her lovely, encouraging comment. ‘Why don’t you try English’ is different from saying — ‘Let’s talk in English’, because it implies the fact that the person hardly trusts your language abilities. Perhaps this woman is completely pathetic with English too, she thinks to herself, and hence the thoughtful suggestion of ‘trying’ English. Needless to say, all I tried after that was the insipid flight food and, to her relief, decided to keep mum.

Classical Arabic

My experimentation with languages comes from a natural passion for learning new languages. Arabic, of course, is another exquisite language that I love, rhythmic in its harmony and perfection and far more profound than English could ever be. My love for this language comes not only from the fact that it is the language God chose to reveal His last book in, the Quran, but also because Arabic, superior in refinement to almost all other languages, sounds quite pleasing to the ear.

As for my progress with the language, I have to say it could have been better. I learnt the language by taking a classical Arabic course, which, it appears, is very different from the Khaleeji (Gulf) Arabic spoken in Dubai. When I enthusiastically spoke in the newly learnt language with an Arab friend, she snickered and although she did boost my confidence, she said, “Arabi al fussaha? (Classical Arabic?) That sounds really different —has to be the first time I have ever heard someone talking like that!”

I felt a strong urge to settle things with my Arabic instructor, but I’m thankful for the fact that I can at least pick tenses and grammar and I suppose the dialect and vocabulary should follow naturally.

Except that they don’t. Which brings to me to a rather sensible piece of advice — perhaps I really should ‘try’ (to stick to) English. On second thoughts, learning to parlez vouz a bit more would probably not be bad idea either — what with Frenchmen and all!


24 thoughts on “Why don’t you try English?

  1. I can go on forever about my woes of trying Arabic out with the Arab. I started with fusha and when I was speaking with my husband’s family members, they made fun of me which did wonders for getting over my shyness with them in general and then with speaking. I got a tutor to teach me spoken Arabic in the Lebanese dialect and even though I don’t think I am bad and I have seen major improvements, they all would say otherwise. My flight back from Lebanon, I sat next to a Saudi woman that was so impressed with my Arabic. She even gave me a gift! That’s when I decided not to give up!

      • Yes, he is. It is not easier at all! He has learned that he is not the best teachers out there (not just with me) – he lacks the patience necessary. And he is never around enough for me to practice with…but yes he is better than nothing. And I do not know it perfectly – I am trying so hard to reach that kind of fluency – but I’m learning it will take having to live in an Arabic only environment.

  2. I think it’s great that you make such an effort to speak other languages. It’s so easy to get by with English just about anywhere that it often makes native English speakers (me, for example) really lazy. I love the Arabic script, it’s just beautiful.

  3. Hi Mehmudah! I found you at last here:) I read ur column this morning in the paper and I instantly liked the easy flow of words. Beautiful thoughts, observation and wonderful narrative. Just thought would let you know I enjoyed reading it.

  4. Its really great to know others who share the same passion to learn new languages!! I too am trying to learn French and Spanish! Being an Indian makes it all the more easier to learn new languages.. we have so many here!

  5. Stick with it! It’s definitely easier said than done, but worth it eventually. I’m so glad that I haven’t forgotten my dialect, but would you believe I used to be completely fluent in Arabic. It was my first language, actually, and when I learned English, it disappeared (thanks to no one ever speaking to 3-yr-old me in Arabic anymore). Learning a new language is such a beautiful skill to acquire, just wish is was so much easier. At least you’re immersed in the environment; I imagine it’s easier to grasp it that way than if you weren’t.

    And confession: Sometimes I like to speak in Spanish, Arabic, or whatever language I fancy with such confidence that you’d think I knew what heck I was saying although I’d only be saying one or two actual words. Confidence is key! And…you know, real words and stuff.

    • Hehehe! Real words and stuff. Now that’s some confidence! Gotta hear you talking in ‘your’ Arabic or Spanish.

      Yeah I suppose environment helps, but in the UAE if you know English you get by easily. Sticking with it though, insha Allah!

  6. I am glad that you have written something on the subject of languages. In our family most people speak 3 ~ 4 languages but, no one is closer to Dadajaan who used to speak 6 languages not just spoken but written. I speak 4 + a couple of dialects. My Arabic is OK ‘coz of my background of living in Dubai for a long time. But, not as good as my significant other who studied in the Arabic medium schools in Dubai and she speaks Nahavi — classical Arabic. Whereas, mine is more Khaleeji.

    I realized that whenever and wherever you speak correctly and with good accent, people respect you. I make grammatical blasphemies that is because I did not learn my Arabic and French at schools but from the street, short courses at the bank and from dealing with the customers. Whereas my colleagues in the bank used to stuff “Haza Fi” in every sentence combined with Urdu words and phrases and used to think that they speak fluent Arabic.

    Once I went to Ras Al Khaima for some official work and one of my colleagues joined me from RAK to show me around the properties of the Shaikh. In one of the buildings my colleague saw some local kids going up and down he lift for fun. So,he called the Natoor and said something very funny in Arabic and I could not control my laugh, then he turned to me and said, I told him that he is a Natoor …… I will write here what he said, it is hilarious.

    “Anta Natoor Fi? Anta Maloom nai fi? Haza Atfaal Fi dakhil Fi lift Fi, Tahat Fi, Faoq Fi, Faoq Fi, Tahat Fi, Haza lift Kharbaan Fi, Anta Maosool Fi, Anta Gul Fi Atfaal Haza Mamnoo Fi. Anta Fahem Fi?”

    “You are the Janitor here? Don’t you know, if the kids go into the lift for a joy ride they go up and down several times the lift may stop working, since you are the janitor here and you are responsible here so, you must stop them by saying this is not allowed. Do you understand?” 😀

    • Lol @ repetitive Fi in the sentence.

      I think the best way to learn a language is to speak with the locals — books can only teach you so much. Khaleeji Arabic though is very different from Fussaha, my ears are only just starting to decipher it.

      Oh and I love the way Saudis speak in Arabic. It’s much closer to what I know anyhow.

  7. “Obscurus fio. i.e., when I labor to be brief I become obscure.”
    It is so true with me and because I can type very fast, I have no problem in blogging or writing project reports related to my business and banking. I wanted to write one more point related to languages but, that comment was already too long and your readers might have lost interest in reading.

    The point is about Frenchmen and Francais. I think you are wrong about saying how nice they are. Like you can’t judge people by appearances or, by colour, caste, creed, nationality etc., you have to live with people and deal with them for some time to know them. Like you know about the people you are living with over there, there are different facets, likewise here in Montreal, its not all that rosy picture as you see it from a distance. “Paas Aye Tou Bikhar Jaye Ga Afsoon Sara, Dooor hee Dooor say Suntay Reho Shehnayee Ko.”

    Shehnayee sounds very sweet and very melodious when you hear it from a distance when you come very close or near it while it is being played, Kaan Kay Parday hee Nahee, Sofay Bhee Phutt Jayenge, So, Dooor Kay Dhole Suhanay!

    Would you believe that here we have a Language Police? Yes, we do. And what they do is, they go around measuring the signboards and billboards to check if the French is on the top and English is below it or not? Not just this, but they measure it with a tape that whether English letters are half the size or not? If they are 1/8th of an inch larger than the approved size, you get a ticket. One of the Indian Restaurants was fined for keeping Air India coasters in his restaurant because they were in English and what was written on it, Fly Air India. That is it. This is not a joke.

    I have passed the level six exam in French from the Ministry of Education and I can speak well but, sometimes when people insist me on speaking in English I become a Dheet and pretend I don’t understand or speak a word of French. Once someone came and started talking in French and I kept looking at him and I knew that he is not going to talk to me in English, I said, “Me RaaShunn, NO UnderStand Anglish.” He was so cheesed of not because I cannot speak English but, because he thought I am speaking in French and this idiot Russian thinks I am speaking English? 😀

    A few of them are nice but, mostly people who are in the fifties and above are very conservative and snooty, because they hated the Anglais and whoever speaks English is Anglais, I keep telling them that my mother tongue is not English I have learnt it in schools just like I have learned French here. Some appreciate and some don’t.

    As far as Urdu, I always say, “Aati hai Urdu Zubaan Aatay Aatay.” Aur ye Bahot hee Gambheer Baat hai, jo her ek kay samajh may nahee aati. I love Urdu more than Pushto and other languages because it is rich, it has words from Arabic, Farsi and Turkish + spoken Hindi.

    Thanks for liking the new thread on our blog.
    All the best to you in your future photographic endeavours.

  8. OK, one more about my Chinese customers. They all know English, at least 99% of them understand and speak English but, when it comes to business, they pretend that they don’t know and they bring a interpreter to translate. It is just a trick to borrow time.

    One of customers came along with his interpreter and I told him, before we start dealing with him, I want to obtain a credit report on him and his business so, please ask him if it is OK with him?

    They both started talking cheen choon chwa chwa Cho Chaiye wung fu shu shi yang shi poko yuan bao hua AND, blah, blah, blah for at least 8~10 minutes and then he said, my friend says “OK”.

  9. Pingback: Why don’t you try English? | Tea Break

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