May 27, 2009


Filed under: Uncategorized — by AmiraAK @ 12:01 am

 A friend of mine sent a group of us an email asking us about the languages we speak and the level of fluency in case we needed to help each other out. 

My response was as follows:

English: fluent

Arabic: fluent – with difficulty in structuring written sentences

French: fluent – with difficulty in spelling 

Spanish: understand, good; read, not too bad; spoken, rubbish

German: understand, fair; read, good (fahlawa is also a factor)

Italian: inshaAllah when I finish my Spanish courses, I believe I will be able to understand Italian very well.  We already have an Italian in our Spanish class and I understand everything she says when she tries to speak in Spanish but ends up talking in Italish :)) 

Japanese: I can in no way claim that I know the Japanese language but I know quite a few words.. basics.. counting, please, yes, thank you, bon apetit, fe se77etkom, watozzronom, kida yaani.. :) and I can write my name in Japanese.. in the three different ‘written scripts’: tatakana, herowana and the third illi ana mish fakraha :))

I also speak a kind of jibberish that only I can understand.  It tends to be half spoken, half ambivalent in the dark corners of my mind and it comes out when I am stressed or upset or trying to concentrate.

Of course hybrids of all the above languages is an art I have mastered since I was very young (“did you see the moga vien” is one of the earliest sentences heard in our family.  It’s probably my sister’s creation though).. my sentence structures can contain words in English, French and Arabic at the same time and currently, Spanish connecting words have been added to my muddled sentences.

The hybrid has even been transferred to single words… kanakiere (hybrid between kanaka and cafetiere), ahramides (between ahramat and pyramides),…etc. though some of these were made up by my cousin (you can already see that it’s a family trait), I have used them time and again).


Now the problem is, I know all these languages and yet I feel trapped.  I feel more a jack of languages but a master of none.  I dare – and quite ashamedly – to say that English is my strongest language, but in my defense I would say that it is the language I first learnt in school and the one I read and write most comfortably in.  It has definitely deteriorated throughout the years.. one of the reasons why I stopped teaching.. I felt I was losing it! And a lot of it has given way to slang, colloquialism and some funny Arab-ish mixes.

When my sister and I were very young, our neighbours and friends used to envy us.  They would tell my parents we were very lucky to know 3 languages at such a young age.  We are very lucky; there’s no denying that, and yet I still feel trapped.

I am trapped because I know no language very well.  My native tongue is weak.  I find it difficult to express myself in it, though I often feel the need to use Arabic words to describe particular feelings or emotions or states of mind that cannot in any way be described in any other language. .  examples are ye’antekh, yekabbar (the head I mean), and many others..

Yesterday I was talking to someone after a meeting trying to explain to him the topic of my master thesis.  I felt like someone who had just come in from BoraBora trying to express herself in Arabic, a language she just learnt in a crash course of a few months!  I always get put off by people showing off that they don’t know Arabic or that they know other languages much better than their native tongue.  It hurts me that they should treat their own language that way.  But yesterday I felt like a complete idiot.  No wonder the man asked me, “enti khareeget eih?  Gam3a Amreekeya?”  Shame on me!

I have noticed that when I speak to native speakers, I get tongue-tied.  I am suddenly extremely conscious of every word I say and how I pronounce it.  It is very disturbing, believe me.  Though I speak French pretty well, when I speak to a person I know knows French very well, I tend to mix words up and get mind blocks of the simplest words.  My grandmother says I am a shame to the family speaking the way I do.  My great aunt believes I speak French perfectly compared to others of our generation.  Deep down inside I know I should have worked on my French rather than started learning a new language.  I just couldn’t.  I am drawn to learning something new like flies are to sweet things.  It is almost a kind of inexplicable attraction; or is it addiction?

And when I try to speak to my Spanish teacher, I get HUGE mind-blocks.  Black ones.  I forget every single word I learnt.  The simplest words disappear from my mind into a deep dark hole.  And lo and behold! They reappear again almost instantly when I am alone with myself trying to construct a sentence!

I remember the line in The English Patient when Katherine tells Almasy, something along the lines of you know all these languages and yet you don’t speak a word.  I often feel that way.  Trapped in all the languages I know a bit about and unable to speak my mind.. to speak out.. to decipher even what other people mean or say.  I prefer to roll into my own world of colours and music and quotes and dialogues of other people rather than make myself understood.


I am of course all the more richer because of the languages I speak and understand. It has helped me to see the world through a different light.. it has helped to “enlarge my brain” as it were and be more open to thoughts, and cultures.. it has also helped me to understand the way languages are formed or constructed.. what brings us together or divides us in terms of words and expressions to me is fascinating; for language is a reflection of culture.. and culture of people..  and just as the Tower of Babel contained all these languages.. it also contained all these cultures, all these people in one single place.. an amalgam but a sign that in the end we are all one.


Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: