March 04, 2010

On Mothers and Arabic dictation (Imla)

Look, the deaf are leading the blind,” says hubbie, when he sees me at work teaching my 7-year old daughter classical Arabic. I admit, it is rather odd, especially since I cannot read half of the things she is supposed to read and write. Why doesn’t he do it, since he is the Arabic speaker, you ask? Ah well, then you must not be living in an Arabic country.
Practicing imla (dictation)
That is not how it works in this part of the world; fathers do not sit with their children helping them with their Arabic homework. Well maybe for 2 minutes. And then they give up in frustration. Or in anger. And then they end their tirade with “Who is this shitty Arabic teacher? What's her name?” Luckily, my daughter’s Arabic teachers are very well aware of the division of labor situation in the Arab world. They kindly provide a phonetic version of all the Arabic words for those non-Arabic speaking mothers, and my daughter provides me with the translation (most of the time). And thus in my household, I have the daily task of reading and writing Arabic with my daughter.

Why bother? Well, it is the second most spoken language in the world (Chinese is first, English is fourth). And I never helped/taught my son. I thought it would develop by itself, just like English does.
But classical Arabic is not like English, for some reason. It is more like Chinese. It is a totally foreign language to these children. If you are a mother of a child in the Arab world, you probably recognize this; you are the one that has to sit with them while wrestling your way through the daily Arabic homework. And boy, do those Arabic teachers like giving homework!

As a result, my son has had to ask for exemption from the Lebanese State Exam, which is primarily held in, yep, classical Arabic. And when you do not have that State Exam, you may not pursue a career in the armed forces (can’t say I regret that), become a civil servant (does anyone want to?) or study law and medicine.
That is a bit of a drawback. I decided that with my daughter, we would not get into that situation. She’d make an excellent lawyer. Or a general, for that matter. She can give orders like no other.

The Arabic language is a tough one (especially when you don’t speak it). So far we’ve only gotten to the imla part, الإِمْلاء, the dictation. I kind of dread the day when we get to grammar, or قواعد اللغة العربية (kawad) though.

But I have, in a matter of 4 months, already learned that the Arabic سـ (s) , the twelfth letter in the Arabic alphabet, is only written in print that way, but when handwritten, it ends up being more of a slanted hill thing. Or that those lines on top and under, that indicates the vowel sound a, o and i, are not written, only read. I know of verb endings of ~oun and ~aan, and I have learned lots of new vocabulary.

And so, in my household, it is the non-Arab speaker who teaches the other non-Arab speaker Arabic dictation, while the two males of the house, both Arab speakers, sit back and watch and laugh at these klutzes struggling their way through imlaa.

It doesn’t bother us one bit. We struggle happily, and you’ll see, my daughter will be the only one in this household that will pass the stringent Arabic state exam at 15, while the two male members in the family were so pathetic in Arabic that they weren’t even eligible to partake in that state exam. Suckers!


mas said...

Literary Arabic Is Expressed In Brain Of Arabic Speakers As A Second Language

Laura said...

I am Italian, my husband is lebanese, we live in Rome (Italy). My 5-old-daughter and I are attending an Arabic course since october (in different classes: adult/children). When I read your post I thought: My Goodness! That's exactly what is happening in our household! My husband never helps my daughter (or me) with the homework. I have to help her, notwithstanding the fact that my level of Classical Arabic is no higher than hers.
I thought it was just him, now you are telling me it's a cultural thing.. Oh my!
We also must face the problem of the oral vs written language. I'd like to improve my lebanese dialect (that is veeeery poor) but found myself learning Classical Arabic because, i was told, that is the basis of dialect, and Lebanese will find its way, in the end (yes, maybe in 30 years' time!). The more I study Arabic the less I find in common with Lebanese..

marijke said...

Well, do I recognise this!!!! I struggled with two of them!! But by now, I am pretty good in reading arabic (writing is still far too difficult!!), since I used to do the dictation myself as well! So Siets, go ahead and learn writing!!

Marillionlb said...

I do struggle with my son whent it comes to Arabic (Kawaed) even though I am Lebanese. And yes I am the one who helps in the studies !

Anonymous said...

Pshhh after 12 years in Arabic schools, I still couldn't compose a sentence if my life depended on it. It's the language of the devil, I'm convinced of it. Mind you, it is my native language and the only language spoken in my home.

Anonymous said...

From the "kawaed" I only remember "harf jarr"... that was easy to remember :)

poshlemon said...

"harf jarr" and "modare3" and "maf3oul" and "maf3oulon bihi"... I just don't remember what they stand for at all.