This is it, the final episode! I came a long way from when Mohammed and Qusai picked me up from the airport 110 days earlier. Sixteen weeks wasn’t nearly enough time for me to learn Arabic to the level that I would call myself “fluent.” That said, there are many moments in this video where I was as confident as I’ll ever be in communicating in Arabic. It feels amazing to be able to watch this now in comparison to Episode 1. I see a person who is still dissatisfied with his Arabic ability, but who has obviously established a certain comfort level with both the language and the people I came to know. Fluency is a state that is assembled piece by piece, experienced only while it is happening, and I don’t believe there is ever a point in the language learning journey where a person reaches the end. I’m going to continue learning Arabic for the rest of my life, and I hope you’ve enjoyed coming along for the beginning of that journey.
Thank you so much to Qusai and Mohammed for picking me up at the airport, and for chatting with me again the night before I left.
Like with other later episodes, I’m going to post this without detailed analysis for now, with the intention of coming back later. I just want it out in the world once and for all!
The day after visiting Petra, John and I were by two English students of mine to their university for the celebration of يوم القدس / yaum al Quds (“Jerusalem Day”). Reem, who you met in Episode 20, and Nour, my guest in today’s episode, were both studying at UNRWA in Amman, where much of the student body is comprised of Palestinian people like them. Nour was present at Ali Baba the first day I offered an English Conversation Club, and she came back every week the whole time I was in Jordan, bringing Reem along starting the second week. It was wonderful getting to know them both, and even though Nour calls me أستاذ / istadh (“Professor”) in this video, I feel that by the time my 16 weeks in Jordan were up, we had become good friends.
Jersualem Day was a wonderful experience, with performances, artwork, and good food. Reem performed an amazing poem that she had written about her experience as a refugee in Jordan, and I got to meet several of the talented artists with their work on display.
I love this episode because of how chill it is. My friend John came to visit from Cincinnati and so of course we had to go to Petra! Coming back down from the highest point of our hike, just above the Monastery, we happened upon a man selling some souvenirs. He seemed like a really nice guy, and I gathered my courage and asked him if he’d be willing to chat for my project. He obliged, John filmed, and we had a laid back chat above the most beautiful part of Petra. Watching this, I’m amazed by the continuity of the conversation. I remember walking away feeling as though I understood just about everything Saud had said, and also that I had managed to hang the whole time, without getting too frustrated with myself. I’m so grateful to Saud for being up for it, and I still have the little wooden camel I bought from him afterwards.
1:18 – Despite assistance from several native Arabic speakers, I’m not 100% certain what Saud says here. My friend Ahmed had the best theory, which is what I went with in the subtitles. As you can tell in a couple parts of the conversation, Saud uses some English words (a few seconds later, he says “my grandfather from Petra”). I think he’s used to speaking English to tourists there. And it sounds like Saud begins to say the English word for “bedouin”, and so that’s how I translated it.
One of the first things you learn when endeavoring to learn Arabic is that there are a lot of different kinds of Arabic. I’m no expert on the subject, but from my limited vantage I understand it to be so: there is first and foremost Quranic Arabic, in which the Quran is written and prayers are made by all Muslims everywhere. Then there is Modern Standard Arabic, which stems directly from Quranic Arabic and isn’t really spoken casually between anyone, instead being reserved for news broadcasts and legal documents. Lastly, and most commonly, there is are many different kinds of spoken Arabic, which varies extensively from region to region of the Arabic speaking world. The classes I took at Ali Baba were in Modern Standard Arabic, which made me sound a little old-timey and formal when I spoke it to people outside of Ali Baba. I think the way I spoke was kind of like how it would be to hear someone walk up to you and speak English like a character in a Shakespeare play. This kind of speaking is referred to in Arabic as فصحى / fusha. The Arabic spoken in day to day life by Jordanians is referred to as علمية / ammiya. I wanted to make an episode of the Lernen to Talk Show that showed the difference between these two Arabics, and Samaa and Reem were kind enough to join me for this little experiment.
On day 84 in Jordan, I invited a few friends to join me at what had become my favorite place to eat in Amman. Ahmed and Abudullah were always so nice to me ever since I stumbled upon their restaurant one day early on in my stay, and I made a point to go back there as often as I could. مطعم زيودة / Mataam Zayouda serves delicious falafel and more, and they agreed to let me film an episode of the Lernen to Talk Show near the end of my stay in Jordan. Somehow this episode was the first time I had the idea to actually bring a notebook with me for reference to keep the conversation on track, and it definitely helped!
1:03 – Do you recognize that friendly face in the background?
1:08 – I really struggled to remember that word زيودة / zayouda !
1:10 – I think Ahmed was telling a joke here that went over my head…
1:32 – I really wanted to work that past tense in here.
2:03 – Just like with learning a language.
2:36 – You never know who will walk into an episode of the Lernen to Talk Show.
3:06 – There’s a fun word: زبون / zuboon = “customer”
3:18 – I botched my attempt at “photographer”. Often in Arabic, the way to say the word for the person who does a thing is to add a “mu” sound to the beginning of a variation on the verb for the thing they’re doing. I forgot this rule in the moment, and I simply modified the verb صور / suur into its noun form, تصوير / tasweer, which means “photography.” The word I wanted was مصور / musuur, which means “photographer.” I recruited Scott again to film after seeing his fantastic work on Episode 11.
3:52 – What a graceful transition.
4:36 – I’m pretty sure this is the longest and most accurate sentence spoken to date for me caught on film in Arabic!
I could write for a long time about this episode and what it means to me, but I’ll try to keep it brief. On March 30, 2017, I travelled with my friend Aislinn, who was also taking Arabic classes at Ali Baba, to Bethlehem, Palestine in order to run in the “Freedom of Movement” Marathon. Neither of us had ever been there, and it seemed like a great opportunity to visit. We took a taxi from Amman to the border, waited in a long line to be admitted, and then hired a van with some other runners we met at the border to get to Bethlehem. Funnily enough, when Aislinn and I arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room at the inn (where we had reserved a room). We were so late in arriving after the long delay at the border that they assumed we weren’t coming. But instead of pointing us to a stable to sleep, they gave us a room at a different hotel. The next morning, we put on our running shoes and headed to the plaza at the Bethlehem Peace Center to start the race. I wasn’t running the full marathon, just the half, but it was gonna be a challenge for me because I wasn’t exactly in shape at the time. I hadn’t even brought running shoes to Jordan (Amman’s a super hilly place), but I managed to score a pair of Brooks at a flea market a couple weeks before the race. I ended up losing those shoes on a train in Germany a few years later, but that’s another story.
I don’t remember what my time was for the half marathon, but I remember the race flying by because there was so much to see. I took some pictures along the way, which I’ll include as a gallery at the end of this post. After finishing, and chowing down on some fresh dates, I had the opportunity to “interview” a fellow runner named Mamoun, whom Aislinn had met while running.
0:23 – I’m pretty pumped, as you can see. There was an amazing energy to the whole place.
0:39 – He had just taught me a different way to say “Nice to meet you,” but I had immediately forgotten it.
0:43 – I’m mispronouncing his name. I’m saying محمون / Mahmoun, when really his name is مأمون / Mamoun. In Arabic, there’s even a brief pause in the vocalization of the first syllable, Ma’moun.
0:53 – I wanted to say, “We met half an hour ago,” but I botched the verb. I said نقلت / naqaltu, starting the word with an “n” sound as if I were conjugating for the present tense, and forgetting the “b” sound that should have come after the “q” sound”.. What I should have said was قابلنا / qaabilnaa.
1:37 – It really kills me how obstinate I am with guests when I notice them addressing the camera directly, but then I go ahead and break my own rule and address the camera myself. How do you say “double standard” in Arabic?
1:42 – I can’t even pronounce English words right! “Marathon”, not “Maraton.”
1:56 – Here I confuse the words عام / aam (public) and عالمي / aalimee (international)
3:08 – Here’s a great vocabulary word, صعود / saaoud, meaning “ascent”
3:43 – Totally not understanding what he said. I was trying to talk about how ridiculous it was to end a marathon with an uphill stretch, and I asked in an incredulous way, “what are the people thinking (to put the finish line here)?” And Mamoun answers with a description of people’s motivation for running the marathon. I’m glad he answered that way though, because it’s super interesting and important.
3:51 – Having not understood what Mamoun said about running to demonstrate that it’s their land, I continued trying to figure out why the finish line was positioned where it was.
4:04 – أحسنت / ahsant is a great word to know when you’re cheering people on.
4:12 – I’m not entirely sure I translated what he said here correctly, but if he did say “what is my work?”, then that implies he actually worked for the marathon. I think he may have helped organize it? I’m not sure though.
4:30 – محتل / mahtal is an important word to know when visiting Palestine.
5:42 – I sure hope so Mamoun, I sure hope so.
5:55 – That sure seems like a word I should have learned by then.
One of the best parts about studying at a language school is that you are constantly meeting new people in the same boat as you. During my time in Jordan I was taking Arabic classes every day at Ali Baba International Center, along with a rotating cast of characters from all over the world. The class sizes were very small, in order to accommodate people’s different levels of Arabic, but we foreigners inevitably all got to know each other during break times. That’s how I met Brenton from Episode 11, for instance. During the week after my trip to Wadi Mukheires, word got around the language school that my fellow American Aaron was renting a car the following weekend in order to go visit Kerak Castle, which is a couple hours south of Amman. I claimed a spot, along with another American, an Australian, and a German, and our crew headed out early Saturday morning to explore the old desert stronghold.
I brought my camera with, thinking that the castle would make a great location for a Lernen to Talk Show episode. Unlike the previous week, I wasn’t with any native Arabic speakers who I could ask to be guests. Instead, I worked up the courage to ask a couple total strangers (with Aaron assisting as an interpreter) to chat with me on camera. I was absolutely thrilled when they said yes, and the result is here for you to see:
0:31 – I experimented with weaving in some B-roll to pump up the production value of this episode and give you a better idea of the castle’s grandeur than could be captured in the interview alone.
0:35 – I’m a little embarrassed by the habit I somehow acquired to be saying الحمد لله / alhamdulillah any chance I got.
1:05 – Yasir’s correction is a good example here of how I struggle with the “t” sound that comes with the letter ة at the end of words. To my US-American perspective, it’s a pesky little letter that only in certain situations is pronounced at all. The word for “castle” in Arabic is قلعة / Qalla, which when pronounced on its own has know audible “t” sound at the end. It’s a letter that ends a lot of words, and it’s usually an indicator that the word itself is feminine in grammatical gender. The letter ة is called the تاء مربوطة / ta marbota, meaning “attached T.” This is not to be confused with the letter ت, which is more of a regular ol’ T. I don’t know all the ins and outs of it, but I know that it only gets pronounced when another word follows it. In this case, it’s pronounced because the word الكرك / al-Kerak follows it. I hadn’t figured this out yet, and so I say (incorrectly) “Qalla Kerak“, and Yasser corrects me, saying “Qallat al Kerak” (I incorrectly omitted the “al” as well).
1:16 – Sorry for the pop quiz Yasir, but you were way off! Not that I could understand you in the moment… but this thing’s a solid 900 years old, my man.
1:52 – My prepositions were still way off at this point. I relied way too heavily on the word من / min (“from”). When you’re talking about traveling by car, ب / b- is the way to go.
2:03 – As far as I can tell, the spellings “Kerak” and “Karak” are used pretty interchangeably.
2:28 – They read my mind, that I was looking for the word “capital” – they said العاصمة / al aasima, but then went on to say الكبرى / al kubra, meaning “the largest” – and that’s what I latched onto, thinking it was the word for “capital”.
2:35 – I need to collect all the instances where I say “I understand” when in fact I absolutely did not understand.
3:00 – Clearly I didn’t get the memo from 1:05.
3:10 – When in doubt, just say something stupid.
3:23 – I love the look on Yasir’s face. It’s a look that says, “Oh, I get it, this guy’s a fool and this is a silly video so let’s have fun with it.”
3:43 – That Salem drives a hard bargain.
4:05 – Aaron’s a pro. I should mention here that he also helped me after filming by transcribing the whole conversation!
4:51 – This is me trying to tell everyone to come visit Kerak Castle.
A few days after talking to Rawan, I went out to Jabal Amman to spend Friday evening with an old friend. As mentioned in the video, Tala was the very first Jordanian person I ever met. The year was 2007. I was a junior in college and I had just gotten back to campus in Urbana after spending a semester abroad in Chile. In order to fulfill some kind of scholarship requirement, I signed up to represent my new alma mater La Universidad del Bío-Bíoat an international fair the College of Engineering was hosting. I chatted with any students who were interested in going to a Spanish-speaking country, and I tried to convince them that Chile was the way to go. Any students interested in an Arabic-speaking country were better served by the student standing next to me, who had recently arrived in Urbana for her own study abroad experience. She was from Jordan, and she was representing the newly minted study abroad relationship between the University of Illinois and the Princess Sumaya University for Technology. I was excited to meet someone who was in the same position I had just been in, being eager to pay forward some of the hospitality I had received in Concepción. It was exciting to learn about Jordan from Tala, and to imagine maybe someday visiting.
Almost a decade later, Tala picked me up from Rawan Cake on شارع الجامعة / sharya al-jaamia (University Street) (no relation to Rawan), and we drove to Jabal Amman to meet up with her friend Shehab, with whom she had studied in New York City after finishing undergrad. At some point in the evening, someone suggested going hiking the next day, and plans were forged for a trip out of the city and into the desert. I didn’t know what to expect – but it sounded fun! Hopefully this video gives you an idea of the otherworldly landscape to be found out near the Dead Sea. We had a great hike, even if it was scorching hot out. Also, I had left my phone and my camera in the car, but luckily another hiker in our group agreed to film the video! I remember it feeling awkward to try and convince him to film the video, but that’s the life of a Lernen to Talk Show host. I’m so grateful to Tala and to Shehab for joining me for this episode. It brings back great memories.
0:52 – Came out pretty bad out of the gate here. After seven weeks in Jordan, I still hadn’t quite mastered the phrase “how are you?” in Arabic. Granted, there are a bazillion ways to ask that question. I was trying to say it specifically to two people at once. I was close, saying كيف حالكم أنتما؟ / Keif halukum entuma? which would translate to “how are you all you both?” The correct way to say it would have been simply the two words كيف حالكما؟ / Keif halukuma? Spoiler alert: I do get this correct in a future episode. Watch out for it!
1:02 – A flight from Dubai to Amman takes about 3.5 hours, FYI.
1:05 – Notice my subtle directorial touch.
1:23 – This was way too ambitious a sentence for me at the time. Luckily Tala new what I was getting at.
1:43 – As I always say, you gotta gender your demonyms. Arabic is like Spanish in this way. Whoa, lots of stuff in this video is somehow connected to Spanish.
1:56 – The word وادي / wadi is commonly left as “Wadi” in English when it appears in a name, but it literally translates to “valley.” It’s kind of like the word Loch for lakes in Scotland.
2:00 – Another Spanish connection.
2:10 – Note the amazing directional quality of the iPhone microphone. Listen to that water fall!
2:26 – This phrase billim helli / بلم حلي is something my friend Sohaib taught me as a response whenever someone says “welcome” ( ahlan wa sahlan / أهلا و سهلا ), but I’ve never been sure of what it actually means. Sohaib just told me that people will love it if I say it, and so far it’s never failed to make people smile. After I said it to Sohaib’s dad, he thought it was so hilarious that an American would know that word that any time I was around he would say أهلا و سهلا just so he could hear me say بلم حلي. It cracked him up every time. I decided to translate it as “delighted” just because that would be a kind of fun thing to hear a foreigner say in English who otherwise didn’t know much English.
2:44 – I guess I was worried about the noise from the waterfall!
3:20 – Tala feels my pain.
3:35 – This is definitely one of those “oh”s where I have zero idea what the person is saying to me.
3:39 – This is my favorite moment of the episode. There are Arabic words for every month of the year, but colloquially people usually just refer to the months by their number, or by the English word. In fact, the Arabic word for “April” is so uncommonly used that Shehab double checks with Tala how to say it, and then says نيسان, which is pronounced Nissan, hence the classic hands on the steering wheel gesture. I, for one, support a return to the Arabic words for months of the year!
3:52 – I’m very proud of the laugh I got out of Tala here. I was trying to point out how the word نيسان / nissan (April) sounds a lot like the word نساء / nissa’, which means “women.”
4:20 – For those keeping score, here’s another mispronunciation of ma salama from yours truly.
On my 50th day in Jordan, I walked over to the gardens of Jordan University to film an episode around mid-day with Rawan, a new friend I had made since moving to Al-Jubeiha. As soon as I met Rawan, I hoped she would one day be a guest on the Lernen to Talk Show, and I was so happy when she accepted. She was studying German when we met, and she was very eager to practice. I felt like she had a similar attitude to mine when I was learning German. She liked playing with the language and laughing about it. If I had to pick one Lernen to Talk Show guest for my improv team, it would be Rawan. She yes-anded this conversation to levels beyond what anyone else I’ve interviewed would have tolerated. But hey, no one ever said the Lernen to Talk Show had to make any sense. She also happened to speak English incredibly well, so this conversation we had on camera was probably the longest we ever went speaking Arabic.
0:55 – This is what it looks like to learn a new word. I never forgot good ol’ برنامج from that day forth.
1:08 – At this point I hadn’t quite mastered the way you express the word “this”. In Arabic, the word for “this”, ( هذا / hatha or هذه / hathahee ), depending on the gender of the thing you’re talking about, is always followed by the word “the” ( ال / al ). What I said was “hathahee jamyaa“, when I should have said “hathahee al jamyaa”. This is a pretty subtle distinction, as you can hear by the way Rawan barely seems to say it. That’s the microphone’s fault. She’s definitely saying “al”, it’s just hard to hear.
1:19 – I wish I was less intense about this. It happens in practically every video! Yes, Rawan, I admit you are absolutely right. “It’s awkward.” Sorry!
1:51 – Here I’m trying to show off my newly learned phrases for describing geography. A swing and a miss.
2:00 – Just like at 1:08, I totally miss an al / ال here. The word كل / kul, meaning “each” or “every”, is always followed by an al / ال.
2:14 – This is true! Commuting is a huge part of Jordanian life.
2:25 – This is me struggling with the pronunciation of the letter ق, which is kind of like the sound of gulping while exhaling.
2:48 – Don’t ever actually look at the sun.
2:55 – I love the word بدر / bedr – I wish we had a one-word way to describe the full moon in English.
3:15 – I’m very grateful Rawan was willing to play along with my weird improv game.
3:28 – What I was trying to say was, “We should be swimming!”
3:41 – This is what I get for trying to be funny. The conversation has now unravelled beyond all comprehension.
3:45 – And yet Rawan just goes with it. You’re a champ, Rawan! Lernen to Talk Show guest hall of famer.
4:05 – And here I am trying to get this thing back on the rails. I’m kind of sorry I did! It was getting pretty wacky there.
4:08 – That’s me subtly checking the time.
5:46 – Very good question, Rawan.
6:20 – One of these days I’ll actually say مع السلامة / ma salaama correctly – For those keeping score, I’ve pronounced it correctly a total of zero times on the show. I somehow didn’t know there was an “a” sound at the end, even after all these weeks.
On a sunny Friday morning, I traveled with some friends from Ali Baba (my Arabic school) to the north of Jordan to visit Um Qais and Ajloun, two of the must-see destinations in Jordan. I’d actually been to both before, but it had been nine years prior, and, you know, a lot can change in nine years! I also was excited to film an episode of the Lernen to Talk Show inside an old ruin. My dear friend Brenton was kind enough to appear on the show as a guest, and our conversation makes for one of my favorite episodes in Lernen to Talk Show history. There’s something just so delightfully ridiculous about two Americans trying to explain the ancient environment that surrounds them in crummy Arabic. Brenton’s Arabic is much better than mine at this point, and as far as I could tell at the time, he was speaking fluently. Looking back now, I can tell we both still had a long way to go.
Enjoy! And thank you to Scott for filming!
It would probably take me longer to write a commentary on every mistake I made in this episode than it took the Byzantines to build the city we were in, so I’ll just share some thoughts on a few of my favorite gaffs and glories:
0:42 – Brenton used the word نفس (nufs), which means “same”, when saying that we attend the same school. I immediately repeat the word incorrectly back to him, saying a word that to my ears sounds similar, but to Arabic ears probably sounds not at all similar, “نصف” (nusf), which means “half”. The word نصف flies around a lot in Arabic, because it’s how you would say 50 cents (half a dinar), or half an hour, etc. Even after Brenton corrected me, I still said the same wrong word, but my attempt at sign language for “half” shows I knew what he meant.
1:17 – “jemeel juddan” is something you hear a lot in Arabic, meaning “very beautiful”. It’s one of those things people seem to learn pretty early on.
1:24 – Here’s another case of me automatically swapping consonants. Brenton clearly says what in English would be written as “munather” and I parrot back to him “munareth”. I’m pretty sure there’s a name for this kind of error…
1:32 – Here’s a good sentence! نحن شهدنا المنظر – That means, “We saw the view”.
1:50 – I had been trying to think of the word “building”, and I knew I wasn’t looking for the word “bait”, which means “house”, so as soon as Brenton said a different word, “menzel”, I figured that must mean “building”. Little did I know, that’s just another word for “house”.
2:08 – Here I’m trying to show off my ability to make words plural, which is really complicated in Arabic, and which I am failing miserably at. In Arabic, a noun has a singular form, a dual form, and a plural form. The catch is, the plural form is only used for quantities greater than two and less than eleven. If you’re talking about eleven or more of something, then the word you use goes back to the singular form. I was trying to say “a thousand years”, but what I said is more like “a thousand yearses” or “a thousand year”.
2:35 – “nizeltu” – I was trying to use the word for “visit”, which sounds more like “zara”. Mixed ’em up.
3:05 – I translated “time” as “waqt”, which is means “time” as in “the concept of time”, or “transitory time” – What I meant was “occasion”. The correct word for that is “mara”.