Mickey lernt Arabic: Episode 11 – Byzantine Ruins

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”.

3:14 – Nailed this sentence!

4:37 – “Akbar” is a word that I thought meant “great”, and I wanted to say “Um Qais is great!” But I’m pretty sure that word isn’t usually used that way… I wonder how it comes across here.

4:49 – Basically I was trying to say that not many people know about Um Qais, especially in comparison to the pyramids of Egypt.

4:52 – This is one of my favorite moments in Lernen to Talk Show history. Someday I hope to be able to unpack the irony of this statement.

5:03 – I could not believe I said this correctly.

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