When you are entering a non-English speaking country (or a country that does not speak your language) like Jordan that has a completely different language with its own set of unique dialects, it can be immensely overwhelming and you might resort to silence. What i’ve noticed is that students around me including myself initially relied on body language, head nods, points, and mumbles.
However, when immersing yourself in the culture it’s important to realize that one element of American culture does not seem to exist here: embarrassment of making a mistake. An amazing Arabic professor of mine (shout-out to you Ustaaza Wafa) started her class with telling us that she wants us to make mistakes:
“Without them you won’t learn. I don’t know why American students always seem to shy away from making mistakes or being judged from them but there will be no judgement in my classroom.”
This really stuck with me and as I continued to spend more weeks in Jordan I started to realize how accepting so many people were about my mistakes. Whether in a taxi, uber, or in Jordan’s case–A careem (highly recommend!), I’d get a few chuckles here and there but I was met with smiles, helpful corrections, and soon those smiles and chuckles helped me so much that Jordanians were unsure if I was Arab or not.
Everywhere you go on your trip is a learning experience. As an Arabic student you will learn classical Arabic (FoosHa) and colloquial Arabic (Aamia). The Aamia classes will help specifically with you Amman dialect and soon restaurants, down-town, cafes, parks, and even daily walks will turn into the classroom.
Along with these excursions and classroom time, my host family has been a huge help and have been so immensely encouraging. My 8-year-old host sister even sits with me for moral support while I do my Arabic homework and she pulls out her English book and studies English with me. Likewise, my host-brothers, host-mom, and host-dad help correct my mispronunciations, give me new vocabulary, and even help me with my homework. This not only gave me inside perspective to the language but also allowed me to bond and talk about interesting topics with them.
From the beginning of the trip I knew that my goal was to learn so much Arabic and improve my conversational skills as well as form a connection with my host family. Yet I feared that I would not be able to do so because my skills weren’t anywhere close to fluency. Nonetheless, I learned that learning was the key to closeness. I formed a bond with my family not because I was fluent but because I tried and used the language as much as possible with them.
To speak only English to your host family is not only a waste of time but of practice and opportunity. Saying this may seem harsh but utilizing Arabic in the home will strengthen your skills and memory. Yet, trust me when I tell you at first English WILL be your crutch, but as long as you slowly push away from it and try your best to immerse yourself, a little english here and there can be useful to prevent immense misunderstanding. However, sometimes misunderstanding is inevitable. Even when you speak the same language as someone misunderstanding can occur.
You might not fully step out of your comfort zone and that’s okay, actively trying and making steps towards being linguistically vulnerable is enough to have an influential impact.
So don’t be afraid! Flex those language skills, even if your grammar or pronunciation is a little shaky!