Quarter 1 Benchmark- Adowa Mohamed

Arabic or “Arabic”

My friends and I came into our fourth grade class and we couldn’t help but notice a new kid. I asked my friend if she knew who the new kid was but she was just as clueless as I was.

“I dare you to go up to her and say hi,” said one of my friends while laughing.

So I walk up to the girl,  said hi and introduced myself, but she sat at her desk with a blank look and finally responded in Arabic saying, “Ante ba tihikee arabi?” (Do you speak Arabic?)  

At that moment I responded saying, “Ayi, salam.” (Yeah, Hi.)

She asked me what my name was and where I was from, then told me her name was Abeer and she moved here from Iraq. I then went back to my friend, after this little exchange.

“So what did she say?” she asked all excitedly.

I translated the conversation to my friend that was exchanged between me and Abeer. I felt so eager and proud of myself for being able to talk to someone who only spoke Arabic, then being able to translate to my friend.

Eventually, my 4th grade teacher ended up sitting me next to Abeer to help her with her English but I started to notice that her Arabic wasn’t the same as mine. I mean I understood her but the way she worded her sentences and the words she used were different. It felt as though I wasn’t making sense to her. Sometimes I would find myself asking her to repeat things over and over, trying my best to grasp the familiar words I understood. Then one day we got into an argument and she told me that she doesn’t even understand me half the time and that I spoke some other type of Arabic. This was not the first time I came to the realization that not all Arabic I knew, was the same as everybody else’s Arabic.

I felt really bad and it had me thinking in frustration, it took me some time to realize that the type of Arabic she was speaking wasn’t the type of Arabic as I was familiar to. The way she combined words when she spoke and how the words were pronounced with a strong thick accent. After a couple of weeks I went home and asked my mom what kind of arabic we spoke. She told me that all Arabic was the same, but I still didn’t get it. Was the type of Arabic i’ve been speaking all my life fake? My dad came home from work and I paid close attention to how he spoke Arabic. It was no different than how I was speaking to Abeer. I remember asking him why my Arabic sounded so weird. He would tell me that it was no different from his but the dialect. Every Arab country has a different dialect. Yemeni people talk different than people from Iraq or Sudan would.

I remember going to Arabic school since I was three years old. I’ve been to eight different Arabic schools over my lifetime. One day I came to school and I had a bit of a cold and one of my teachers noticed and asked,

“Ya bintee ante ayana?” (Sweetheart are you sick?)

I was a bit startled by what she asked because I thought the teacher said, “iryan,” which means naked because I’ve never heard of the word “ayan” so I quickly responded saying

“La.” (No.)

Then shaking my head in disbelief and shock.

At the end of the day my teacher was talking to my mom telling her how I was doing in class, then mentioned that I might have a little cold. When we got in the car to go home I told my mom, “Hakee moo alima sal atnee lo ana iryana.” (My teacher asked me if I was naked.) I was a bit confused so she explained that my teacher thought I was coming down with a little cold  and that she didn’t ask if I was “iryna” but if I was “ayana” which meant sick in the Sudanese Arabic dialect. Ever since, I started to notice the different types of words that people around me would use compared to the ones I used. Little things like pronunciation and words that have different meanings in different cultures.

As the oldest child my mom relied on me a lot when it came to translating because my dad would be at work for most of the day. Everywhere she went, I went. I would be that little girl who would stand by my mom translating and explaining every word that was said to her. I was her mini personal translator. I remember once when I was around the age of ten, I went to the hospital and had badly injured my arm after being pushed in a soccer game. My mom’s english was slowly improving over time but her accent was a bit of a problem because it was pretty thick and broken. Then when it came time to give your information and answer questions, it took awhile for the nurses to gather the information needed, but they later on found a translator. Me. It’s these little scenarios that got me thinking about how much language was important in society. Without it, going about daily tasks in our everyday lives would become a bit more challenging.

There are different scenarios and situations where dialects are found and can cause some confusions like in “All American Tongues,” the people in the movie all spoke english but each and every person had some sort of different dialect and pronunciation. Some of the accents were so deep that it was a bit of a struggle to understand what the person was saying. Our brains play a role in this by catching different speech patterns we're familiar to at a young age. For me that meant learning different dialects over time because as a child I was accustomed to one type of Arabic. Slowly over time I began to recognize them more and more.  In the Arabic language there are many many different types of dialects, just like the English language, and every other language out there. Today I can fluently speak and understand almost every type of dialect the arabic language has to offer.