We met with Joanne Seymour, Polyglot & Translator from the UK. Joanne studied Arabic & Anthropology at the U. of Kent and then Education Studies at the U. of Bath.  In an interview with Joanne we asked her the following questions:

Tell us about yourself (name, origins, current degree/studies, academic background, university & graduation year, professions, etc.)

My name is Joanne Seymour from the UK and I have always been interested in languages. At university I focussed on anthropology at undergraduate and postgraduate levels, but an ERASMUS year in Germany gave me the opportunity to study Igbo and Yoruba, and my passion for non-European languages started from then. After I graduated, I worked in an entry-level position at a university and lunchtime googling lead me to reading more about short courses to learn MSA in Morocco. I packed my bags and set off for a 3-week course to Fes in 2004 and I haven’t looked back since. I ended up staying there to complete 4 courses and fell in love with Morocco in the process. The institute itself was great, the teachers were very knowledgeable and a lot of fun – something we all need when learning Arabic!

How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?

After I left Morocco, I moved to Dubai and worked in the UAE government for over 10 years, which improved my Arabic enormously. During my time there, I spoke Arabic with colleagues every day and proofread Arabic to English translations of technical documents, as well as general texts. Since I returned to the UK last year, I started a company for translation and proofreading, and have worked on a number of interesting projects, my most favourite being translating textbooks and phrasebooks for the Al Ramsa Institute for Emirati Arabic.

What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture?  What & who inspired you?  What were your motivations?

At university I had lots of Arab friends but I never once thought I would learn Arabic. I had learned a number of European languages, branched out into African ones, and then realised I had developed my own system for learning. When I first looked into Arabic classes, I thought it was just going to be an interesting trip to Morocco for a few weeks where I would pick up a bit of Arabic – I never expected that it would have taken me on all of the amazing adventures that it has! The teachers I met there really helped, they were so supportive and the learning was structured in such a way that we had a good combination of grammar plus vocab learning plus fun stuff.

Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

Of course! Just with any language, you have to find your own groove. Don’t spend too much time sweating over grammatical inaccuracies you make – if you focus on it, it just won’t go in! When I would feel bogged down with grammar, I would take myself off and listen to an Arabic song or read something fun or an interesting article and, hey presto, grammar rules would seep into my brain slowly that way. The ups are way too many to mention. Being an Arabic speaking Westerner in Dubai meant I had a very different expat experience to the norm. I truly believe speaking Arabic opened so many doors for me, both on a professional and personal level – from people remembering me for many years as the Ingliziya who makes silly wordplay jokes in fusHa and dialect, to being invited on family holidays with very conservative and traditional Emirati families.

What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?

At the moment, I do translation on the side and work at a university in a position where I am lucky enough to be student-facing in a very international department, so I get to use Arabic on a daily basis. While it isn’t needed as such, it is very helpful and makes such a lasting impression on students (and their families). My colleagues are jealous that they don’t get packs of homemade zaatar sent from students’ mums back home!

What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?

Use the vast array of materials in the outside world – songs, poems, TV series etc. Embrace the differences between dialect and standard and don’t let it overwhelm you. Learning Arabic is probably one of the best academic and professional decisions I’ve made, it has truly given me the best opportunities and adventures. I’ve made friends with people from all over the Arab world and make it a point to go and visit their home countries, and I don’t expect to be finished any time soon! Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun with your learning.  

“My Journey to Arabic” is a blog to capture learners’ stories and their fascinating journeys towards mastering the Arabic language and culture.