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Meet Prof. Hugh Goddard! | My Journey to Arabic #16

We met with Prof. Hugh Goddard, Honorary Professorial Fellow & Former Director of the HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Centre, University of Edinburgh. In our interview, we asked him the following questions:

 

 

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

I was born and educated in the UK, and as an undergraduate elected to take a course on Islamic History.  This involved about 20% of my time being spent on learning Arabic, alongside studying the history, politics and religion of the Middle East.  I then worked in the region for a couple of years, in Lebanon, Jordan, and Egypt, before returning to the UK to study for a PhD on Egyptian Muslim perceptions of Christianity.  Since then I have taught Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations in different institutions around the UK, most recently in Edinburgh.

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

I began my studies of written Arabic in 1972, and then of colloquial/spoken Arabic in 1975.  All of the sources which I used for my PhD were in Arabic, and I have taught Introductory Arabic at different stages of my academic career, but my current level is probably best described as ‘rusty’!

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

My studies of the Arabic language were very much motivated by my desire to develop a better understanding of Islam and its relationship to Christianity.  Being able to read the Qur’an in its original language was therefore extremely important, especially because of the difficulties of interpreting some of its statements about different aspects of Christianity (e.g. 4:157-8), and so too was developing the skills to enable me to have discussions with Muslims today  about how they view Christianity as a living religious tradition.

Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

The Arabic language is tough to learn, initially because of the script and then subsequently because of its wide range of vocabulary.  The two most demoralising moments in my learning the language were (a) realising how different the written language, especially of the Qur’an, is from the spoken language of today, and (b) realising, when I moved from Jordan to Egypt, how different the dialects of the Arab world today are from each other.  These should be taken as challenges, rather than insuperable difficulties, however.

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

I have pursued an academic career in Islamic Studies, in the contexts of both Theology and Religious Studies and Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies, and in both of these disciplines knowledge of the Arabic language is hugely helpful, not to say indispensable.

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

Al-sabra jamil (patience/perseverance is beautiful).

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

Meet Mr. Leslie McLoughlin! | My Journey to Arabic #15

We met with Mr. Leslie McLoughlin (FRGS,  FRHistS) Arabist, Scholar & Honorary Research Fellow at the Institute of Arab and  Islamic Studies, University of Exeter. In an interview, we asked him the following questions:

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

My name is Leslie McLoughlin. I was born of British parents in 1935 in Ormskirk , Lancashire, a market town near  Liverpool . My secondary education was at St.Edward’s College, Liverpool , from 1945 to 1951. I then had what is now called a Gap Year when I worked locally to earn enough to fund the travels which I planned for 1952 .

In that year I travelled with a fellow-student to the Olympic Games in Helsinki, Finland . We sailed from Tilbury , UK to Gothenburg in Sweden . From there we hitch-hiked to Stockholm and arrived there on the very day, 23 July 1952, when the Swedish press had the story of  Gamal Abdul-Nasser and the  “ Free Officers“. They had announced that King Farouk’s reign was at an end and he would be sent into exile.

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

In September 1952 I began a 3-year degree course in Medieval and Modern History at Manchester University. It was at Manchester that I began to take an interest in Arabic and Islam, inspired by fascinating lectures given by Charles Beckingham: he later became Professor of Islamic Studies at SOAS, University of London.

After graduation in 1955 I began my 2 years of National Service in the Army . Most of that period I spent near Hamburg in Germany , where I learned German to “A” Level . I have since then continued to work on  improving my German , which has been essential for the study of Arabic literature. German is necessary, for example , for the study of the  “ Mu’allaqaat “  since the German commentaries on pre-Islamic poetry have not yet , I believe , been put into English .

After National Service I was commissioned into  the Royal Army Educational Corps ( RAEC ) . The RAEC assigned me to learn Arabic at  Durham University with a view to my teaching Arabic to military personnel in the Army’s school for Arabic in Aden , known as CALSAP ( Command Arabic Language School , Arabian Peninsula)

The year at Durham was followed by 6 months of intensive study of Arabic in Lebanon, where the Foreign Office had established a school for Arabic , known as MECAS  i.e. Middle East Centre for Arab Studies. MECAS was invaluable for making progress in Arabic, as we were in an entirely Arabic-speaking environment. 

All the instructors were native speakers, either Lebanese or Palestinian and we had continuous exposure to Arabic in all the mass media and films as well as mingling with the villagers of Shemlan where MECAS had been established in 1944. Its founder was Bertram Thomas, the famous explorer who made a remarkable journey in 1930-31 through the vast desert known as the Empty Quarter, the “ Rub’ Al – Khali “.

Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?  What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?  

After MECAS I taught Arabic for 2 years in Aden where I met my future wife. We married in 1964. In 1964 I had my first official assignment as an interpreter for military matters and since then I have used Arabic in all Arabic – speaking countries with the exception of Algeria. 

In the period since 1964 I have used Arabic on a daily basis in one way or another. Naturally, there have been difficulties in the process of learning Arabic , as is normal with any learner of a foreign language. However, the student will find that through insisting on using Arabic on all occasion he/she will continue to improve in the skills of listening, speaking , reading and writing. 

The student should above all appreciate that native Arabic speakers who are Muslims are enormously impressed that the foreigner has made efforts to learn  the language of the Koran. It is impossible fully to understand Muslims without knowing Arabic and it is impossible to have a deep knowledge of Arabic without understanding Islam and in particular having a good knowledge of the Koran .

The student will also find that a good knowledge of Arabic is invaluable in Arabic countries which have a Christian population, such as Egypt , Lebanon , Syria and Iraq.  It is important to remember also that a knowledge of Arabic and of Islam means that one can be in touch with Muslims in all parts of the world .

To return to the story of my progress in Arabic …. Because I was  by around 1980 familiar with many Arabic dialects I felt comfortable to be asked to be the interpreter in London for HM The Queen, Prime Ministers, Ministers and the Ministry of Defence from 1983 to 2009. 

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

Naturally, I have given much thought to the best way to learn the language. My main recommendation is that the student should be placed in an Arabic-speaking environment as soon as possible so that the acquisition of Arabic should be as close as possible to the process by which anyone acquires the mother-tongue. With the use of modern IT it is perfectly possible to simulate total immersion in the target language. 

A  further recommendation is that when students are actually in the Arab world they should ideally live with an Arabic-speaking family. A very useful extra activity,  of course, is to have an occupation ( possibly as a  temporary worker, say, in a bookshop ) in which he/she is obliged to use Arabic. 

 

Related Links: 

  • University Profile
  • From Arabia to Exeter: a family’s story:The delicate language of international diplomacy is well known to Arabic Interpreter Mr Leslie McLoughlin who has lived a life more akin to scenes in James Bond films.The daring escapes, assassinations, riots and civil wars were part of life for Leslie and his young family, who have lived in numerous Arab countries since 1961.

Publications

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

Meet Catherine! | My Journey to Arabic #14

We met with Ms. Catherine Cobham, lecturer and translator of #Arabicliterature from the U. of St. Andrews. In an interview with Catherine, we asked her the following questions:

 

Who am I?

My name is Catherine Cobham and I’m from the UK. I’m a lecturer in Arabic language and literature and literary translator currently at the U. of St. Andrews. I obtained a BA Arabic and English from the U.  of Leeds and an MA by thesis (on the short stories of Yusuf Idris) from the U. of Manchester.

How long have you been studying Arabic?

I have been studying Arabic and learning it through translating and teaching it for many decades in one form or another, and with just a few short breaks for domestic reasons. I went to university to study English literature and picked up Arabic as a subsidiary subject in first year, changing to a joint degree in second year. This was a 3-year degree, so I did effectively 2 years full time Arabic study and have been catching up ever since!

What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture?

The reason I had an interest in Arabic was because I lived in Paris for a year, met Algerian students there and was annoyed when they talked to each other in a language that I was unable to understand. I quickly found that the Arabic I learnt at university was no help in communicating with them and they were on one hand impressed that ‘une petite anglaise’ was bothering to learn Arabic, but on the other hand upset that I could soon read and write standard Arabic better than them. I did my undergraduate dissertation on French colonialist policy towards the use of Arabic and the imposition of French in Algeria to try and understand the background to this.

 

What & who inspired you?  What were your motivations?  Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?  

I was fascinated by, and hooked on, the Arabic language from when I first learnt it, but I did often learn more by going through texts with Arab friends at university than from my teachers. The language teaching was patchy and erratic, and from text books that were already old-fashioned. The readings in both classical and modern Arabic literature were usually given without any context or explanation, just as random isolated texts to practise different kinds of Arabic. I remember that the photocopies of Quranic Suras (chapters) for the final exam were in parts illegible! So my main motivation for compiling a reader of modern Arabic short stories with Sabry Hafez later on in my career was to provide students with some good stories and a context and introduction to the stories and writers. I quickly developed the habit of using material from print newspapers when I first started teaching Arabic, and even procured some Arabic news videos with the help of Jonathan Featherstone, now of Edinburgh University. However, the range and accessibility of material online is a huge and positive change that could not have been envisaged a decade or two ago.

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

I was grateful to my dissertation supervisor for drawing my attention to the works of Yusuf Idris, whom I had never heard of, whom I still believe to be one of the best modern Arabic writers, and with whom I was able to have many inspiring conversations. Interestingly, his writing was to some extent rediscovered by activists in Egypt in the Arab Spring and even short films were made of adaptations of some of his short stories on YouTube. My aim was always to translate Arabic fiction, as literature rather than language was my main interest, and I was shocked by the few and not always very good translations of Arabic novels available. I was also shocked by the reactions of people who asked me whatever made me want to study Arabic, and by a generalised, misinformed ignorance of and even hostility towards Arabs and Arab culture, and I naively thought that translating Arabic novels would go some way to overcoming this ignorance and prejudice. For years I did hourly paid Arabic teaching as it paid more than translating literature, but eventually decided to apply for a job as a university lecturer. I did this reluctantly at first, but came to find it an extremely satisfying job. Students of Arabic tend to be highly motivated and passionate about their subject, and it is a pleasure to see them developing their enthusiasm and analytical and linguistic skills, and questioning their preconceptions about the Arab world. As a lecturer in the subject, I find that my passion for the subject grows rather than wanes, so in that sense teaching Arabic is a privilege and a continuing source of enjoyment.

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

To study Arabic, you really need to be committed to the subject, and I find that most students realise whether or not they are committed/hooked within the first few months of studying it. You have to go from learning how to read and write to studying and translating and speaking about quite sophisticated topics in a few short years. In addition to a creative and imaginative approach to the topic, you have to be prepared to be self-disciplined and study and attend classes regularly. It’s not possible to cram it all in just before a test or exam. (No pressure!) It is important to visit Arab countries as often as you can, whether as part of your course or in the vacations, and whether to do immersion Arabic language courses or to work in some voluntary capacity – e.g. under the auspices of Unipal or the Sudan Volunteer Programme. Incidentally, the job prospects of students with Arabic degrees are good: prospective employees are impressed that you have the discipline and perseverance to study what they perceive as a difficult language and unfamiliar culture, whether or not the job in question involves Arabic. However, I hope that a lot of you will go on to an academic career in Arabic as we need you!

 

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

 

 

Meet Kate! | My Journey to Arabic #13

We met with Kate Kutrovo, from California, USA, who has studied Arabic at the University of East Anglia as part of her undergraduate studies (BA Film from San Francisco State University). She is currently taking an MFA in Creative Producing at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. In an interview with Kate , we asked the following questions:

 

 

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

 

My name is Kate Cotruvo. I was born and raised in California and now live in London where I am in the second year of my MFA in Creative Producing at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. I have a BA in Film from San Francisco State University, with one year of that degree spent at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. I had a long break in between my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees where I became very involved in directing and producing independent film and theatre in San Francisco.

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

 

 

It’s been 10 years since I completed my year of Arabic study at UEA. I can still read and write Modern Standard Arabic, but my conversation today is essentially limited to asking how you are and telling you I like movies.

 

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

 

In the early 2000’s in America, I noticed a harsh shift in attitudes towards Arabic language and culture from the media and from people around me. When I had the opportunity at UEA to join the Arabic course, I knew I had to take it. I thought if someone like me could learn a language that people wouldn’t generally expect me to learn, then I could assist in dispelling a lot of the ignorance back in my own community. (It was also extremely fun to visit Morocco and order my dinner in Arabic instead of English or French.)

 

Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

 

Learning Arabic was an incredible experience. All the challenges were so exciting, from learning to read from right to left, to sounding very silly trying to make brand new sounds with my voice. It was difficult, but it was always joyful.

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

 

 

My current career goals stay mainly within the Arts, but it doesn’t mean that I won’t be able to use my Arabic skills in the future. Today it is more important than ever to be multilingual in all industries. It is my intention in my career to simply be an advocate in the Arts for ensuring inclusivity of all cultures.

 

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

 

You don’t have to be an academic to join an Arabic course – you can simply just be a person like me who wants to make a connection with even more people on this planet. To be an excellent student of the language, you just need commitment and a bit of bravery. It’s easy to deem the language too difficult to learn and it’s very easy to be embarrassed when you are practising the brand new sounds – so just stay committed to the journey of learning and have the courage to make mistakes.

 

 

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

 

 

Meet Kai! | My Journey to Arabic #12

We met with Kai, a PG Arabic alumni from the UK & Japan who has recently completed an MSc in Advanced Arabic at the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department, University of Edinburgh.  In an interview with Kai, we asked the following questions:

 

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

My name is Kai Kamei and I’m half English/Japanese. I’ve obtained a BA Arabic and Politics from SOAS (2011-2015) followed by  MA Advanced Arabic from the University of Edinburgh (2016-2017). Currently, I’m working at Ground Truth Solutions, which is an NGO in Vienna, Austria.

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

I’ve been studying Arabic since 2010 when I completed a language course in Damascus, Syria and I’m reached an advanced level.

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

I was interested in Middle Eastern politics, literature and culture and I decided that learning the language would give me a better understanding of these fields. I initially began with an Aamiyah (speaking) language course in Damascus which focused exclusively on learning through speaking the living language. Living with a host family during the course also triggered my enthusiasm for the living form of Arabic. I subsequently enrolled in the BA Arabic and Politics course at SOAS which also had a strong focus on being able to engage in Arabic in a natural and practical way.

Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

Being able to function in a language which you started from scratch is extremely satisfying, and does make all the hard work feel worth it. A particular highlight has been conducting telephone interviews with refugee women in Vienna which otherwise would not have been conducted as there were no other female Arabic speakers available. It definitely made all the role plays and conversation practise classes worth it!

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

To become an excellent student of Arabic, I would say that remembering why you chose to learn the language is a great way to stay motivated. If you’re interested in Arabic literature, then join a Arabic book club. If you want to be able to communicate, then get a language buddy. The point is that remembering why you are learning the language will keep you make all the complex grammar rules and extensive vocabulary a little easier to digest.

 

MJTA is a photoblog to capture learners’ stories across all spectrums and document their journeys, motivations, struggles and successes towards mastering the Arabic language and culture.

Meet Maria! | My Journey to Arabic #11

We met with Maria, a recent PG Arabic graduate from Italy who has just completed her MSc Advanced  Arabic at the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department, University of Edinburgh.  In an interview with Maria, we asked the following questions:

 

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

My name is Maria Stella Dodaro and I’m from Italy. I obtained a BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies from SOAS, London, in 2016. After finishing the MSc Advanced Arabic at the University of Edinburgh in August 2017, I immediately started my current job as a Re-settlement Co-Ordinator for Syrian refugees resettled in a London borough.

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

I have been studying Arabic for five years and although my level is advanced and I am now into work, I am still learning something new everyday.

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

I have a natural incline towards the studying of languages. Back in Italy I studied ancient Latin and Greek, then English and some French. I felt like I was in need of a new challenge, and in 2012 we started to hear more and more about the Arab uprisings and what is now known as the “Arab spring”. It was then then I decided I wanted to know more about those countries and thus the Arabic language. Also, I decided to study Arabic in the UK because of the excellent quality in UK higher education and in order to improve my English.

  • Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

My love relationship with Arabic will never end 🙂

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

I am now supporting some of the Syrian refugees resettled in the UK, thus using my Arabic on a daily basis. My dream is to become an Arabic interpreter for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

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

Take the first two years of Arabic studying very seriously. And make the most out of your time spent learning Arabic in Arab countries.

 

 

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

 

 

Meet Francesca! | My Journey to Arabic #10

 

We met with Francesca, a PG Arabic alumni from Italy who has completed a Master’s degree in International Relations of the Middle East with Arabic at the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department, University of Edinburgh.  In an interview with Francesca, we asked the following questions:

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

My name is Francesca, I’m 26 years old and I’m from Italy. This year I completed a master’s degree in International Relations of the Middle East with Arabic at The University of Edinburgh, after having studied English, Arabic and Spanish in Italy. Last year, I spent the compulsory semester abroad in Palestine, where I improved my Arabic at Birzeit University and volunteered in al-Amari refugee camp.  

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

I’ve been studying Arabic since 2010, when I started my BA in Rome, after which I reached an intermediate level of MSA and translated literary texts from Arabic to Italian. After the completion of my master’s in Edinburgh, I became able to read and write MSA to an advanced level. I also learned to speak the Levantine dialect very well and translate various kinds of texts from Arabic to English.

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

I’ve always had a deep interest in learning foreign languages, but I especially chose to study Arabic because it represented a fascinating challenge to me. Learning the language would give me the chance to understand an extremely diverse culture which I knew nothing about. I felt I could not accept the Western simplistic image of the Arab World. Reading Said’s Orientalism and the novels of Nagib Mahfouz encouraged me to continue after my BA.  

Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

I’ve been through many ups and downs while studying Arabic. Sometimes I felt like I would never be fluent in Levantine Arabic, especially when in Palestine native speakers switched to English to talk to me. Also, while studying MSA, I often felt frustrated because of the many exceptions to the already complicated grammar rules.

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

I’m looking for a job in the humanitarian sector. I would like to use my Arabic language skills and my experience as a volunteer in Palestine to work for organisations which aim to integrate migrants and refugees in Italy.

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

I think that in order to become an excellent Arabic student you need perseverance. I would recommend to allow yourself time and practice as much as you can with native speakers. Don’t get frustrated if they speak English to you and reply in Arabic. Also, don’t waste time learning grammar exceptions by heart, but read books and newspapers. Immersing yourself in the language is the best way to become fluent!              

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

Meet Afshin! | My Journey to Arabic #09

We met with Afshin, a PG Arabic alumni from Iran who has completed an MSc in Arab World  Studies at the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department, University of Edinburgh.  In an interview with Afshin, we asked the following questions:

 

 

  1. Tell us about yourself.

My name is Afshin Shahi, I am a senior lecturer in Middle East Politics at Bradford University, I am also associate editor of the British Journal of Middle East Studies.  

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

I lived in Iran until I was 16 years old. Arabic was a mandatory subject during the secondary school. Although I studied Arabic for a few years, I hardly could speak it. Fortunately, in 2008 I started studying Arabic again. I was very lucky to receive funding from CASAW which enabled me to study intensive Arabic for 9 months at Edinburgh University. CASAW offered an excellent teaching programme which followed by a few months of studying Arabic in Cairo. I was very lucky with all my Arabic teachers.        

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

I always liked Arabic language and given my academic interest in the Arab world, I was motivated to learn Arabic.

  1.    Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

Learning Arabic was not easy, I did find the Arabic grammar particularly difficult, but after a while it becomes a lot easier. Once you start expressing yourself in Arabic it becomes very enjoyable and motivating.

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

I try to use my limited Arabic following  social media in the Arab world, I also try to use Arabic sources for my work from time to time.

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

You need to be patient with Arabic, it might be hard at the beginning but it is a very good language to learn. I would also recommend finding friends who are native speakers so you can practice your expressive skills. Don’t jump from one dialect to another, find a dialect that you really like and then try to master it

 

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

 

Meet Annie! | My Journey to Arabic #08

We met with Annie, a PG Arabic Alumni from the UK who has completed her MSc in Arab World Studies at the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department, University of Edinburgh.  In an interview with Annie, we asked the following questions:

 

 

 

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

My name is Annie Webster. I am currently a PhD student in the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies at SOAS, University of London. I graduated from the University of York with a BA (Hons) in English and Related Literature, and from the University of Edinburgh with an MSc in Arab World Studies. In my doctoral research I bring my literary and linguistic interests together to explore post-2003 Iraqi fiction.

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

I first started learning Arabic during my undergraduate studies. I wanted to take a module in modern Palestinian literature, so I enrolled in Arabic evening classes. I then received a grant to travel to Jordan for an immersive Arabic programme. This was my first time in the Middle East and it consolidated my interest in the region’s language and culture. By the end of my undergraduate degree, I knew that I wanted to improve my Arabic and continue studying Middle Eastern literature. The intensive Arabic language programme at Edinburgh offered the perfect way to develop my language skills alongside other studies. After graduating, I returned to Jordan to keep working on my language skills and collect texts in preparation for my PhD.

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

I started studying Arabic because I wanted to be able to engage with Middle Eastern literature in its original language. My teachers at undergraduate and postgraduate level have always been sources of inspiration. The other students on the Arab World Studies programme were also a huge support. It is an unusual programme in that students come to it from a wide range of backgrounds – in my cohort we had people coming from international relations, ancient history and journalism studies. This led to an intellectually diverse and stimulating community as everyone had different motivations pushing them towards the shared goal of learning Arabic.

  • Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

You need stamina when learning any language, but especially Arabic. The highlight of my studies was the time I spent in Palestine, studying at Bir Zeit University, as part of my MSc. Using Arabic outside the classroom was a challenge, but also a real joy and I made some very close friends who I am still in touch with today. Unfortunately, we ended up having to leave early due to political circumstances, and this was a sharp reminder of how difficult life can be in the region.

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

While conducting my doctoral research I am also teaching modern Arabic literature. I hope to continue pursuing my academic interests, helping to foster awareness and discussion of Arabic literature through further research and teaching.

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

I strongly believe that anyone can learn a language – it just takes patience and perseverance. My advice for any student of Arabic is: when feeling frustrated by having to memorise new vocab or grammar rules, remember your reasons for wanting to learn the language and the real-world skills those hours of studying will translate into. Also, stay well-stocked up with plenty of paper for vocab cards!

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

Meet Neil! | My Journey to Arabic #07

We met with Neil Russell, a PG Arabic alumni from Scotland who gained a MSc in Arab World Studies at the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department, University of Edinburgh.  In an interview with Neil, we asked the following questions:

 

 

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

My name is Neil Russell, I’m a third-year PhD student from Scotland, based in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Edinburgh.

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

I have been studying Arabic since 2013, when I started the two-year MSc in Arab World Studies at the university. After the completion of the course I was able to read Modern Standard Arabic to an advanced level, and also speak the Egyptian dialect to a high standard as well.

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

My interest in the Middle East began during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War, after which I immersed myself in the history and contemporary politics of the region. For a number of years thereafter I thought that I might want to do a PhD at some stage, and felt that if I was to specialise in the Arab world, then learning Arabic would be essential. Whilst doing an MSc in Comparative Government at Oxford University I tried to learn Arabic in my spare-time, but I soon realised that this would be insufficient if I wanted to use Arabic for doctoral research. Subsequently, I was lucky enough to be awarded an ESRC scholarship for intensive Arabic study followed by PhD at Edinburgh.  

  • Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

Having had little interest in languages at school, learning Arabic was my first real experience of learning a second language. One of the most difficult things I found with learning Arabic initially was feeling stupid, even when I was trying my best. Having studied politics at postgraduate level previously, I was quite confident in a tutorial-scenario and felt able to engage in a wide range of discursive topics related to the region. However, placed in a language-learning environment this confidence was completely turned on its head, and it was quite difficult at first feeling inferior to my peers. The way I got around this was to first of all realise that in language attainment, everyone has their own learning curve. Secondly, I tried to observe the techniques that more advanced language learners used, and then incorporated them into my own study schedule.

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

With my Arabic language skills I intend to continue on an academic career path. In my current research I rely mostly on text-based sources, so in the future I would like to pursue research that involves interviews in Arabic.  I think the two most important things to become an excellent student of Arabic are perseverance and dedication. As a very complex and diverse language, there have been times when I have felt dismayed about my progress, and that I will never reach fluency. However, I came to realise that the learning curve in language-attainment can be steeper at different stages, but it is all part of the process of learning. In my experience my biggest learning gains have come from maintaining a dedicated schedule that covers different aspects of language-learning. For example, having a particular method of vocabulary learning that is strictly adhered to on a daily basis. Or arranging weekly meet-ups with native speakers for dialect practice that I stick to, regardless of whether I felt like speaking Arabic on a given day.

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

For anyone interested in learning Arabic I would recommend being open to the diversity of the language, its written forms and various dialects, and viewing this as a source of richness rather than a reason to steer towards a more unified language. For example, in the beginning, I viewed learning Arabic instrumentally, as a way to read newspapers and to speak to people. Since commencing my studies, however, my interests have widened far beyond what was initially a rather narrow politically-minded interest in the language. I have since developed a keen interest in the cinema of different countries and their specific dialects. Or literature, and identifying when writers incorporate colloquialisms into their MSA-writing. Therefore something which was initially terrifying to me – essentially trying to learn two languages concurrently, the written-form and the dialect – has broadened my interests and opened me up to different aspects of Arab culture that I might not previously have considered a great deal.

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