The Mezzofanti Guild Language Learning Made Simple

Update: Levantine and Iraqi Arabic Mission in Jordan


Greetings from Amman, Jordan!

يعطيك العافية 🙂

We’ve been here this week working on some great new content for TalkInArabic.com in various dialects (mainly Levantine and Iraqi Arabic this time), exploring the region a bit and meeting some amazing new people.

I can’t believe that after all the times I’ve been to the Middle East over the last 12 years or so this is the first time I’ve made it to Jordan.

As a die hard Indiana Jones fan it’s always been on my wish list. 🙂

And what a gorgeous part of the world and such lovely people!

I admit I was a bit hesitant to come here at first though given the proximity to Iraq and the heightened security situation (clearly noticeable on the streets and the military transport and fighter jets flying over the city every few hours) but I’ve felt totally safe the entire time here.

Just as in Egypt and pretty much everywhere else in the world, the situation in reality is almost never as bad as the TV makes it out to be.

 

Switching dialects is a lot more challenging than switching languages

One of the main reasons for coming to Jordan was to meet and work with local people here to produce higher quality content for our Arabic resource, TalkInArabic.comin particular for Jordanian, Palestinian and Iraqi.

This meant a really interesting and fun challenge for me being totally immersed in the Levantine and Iraqi dialects for a change since I usually exclusively use Egyptian – the dialect that I’m fluent in.

Iraqi was certainly more challenging with its very different vocabulary and way that things are pronounced.

Just to give you an idea, the word for ‘fish’ in Egyptian Arabic is ‘samak’ but in Iraq (especially Moslawi – Mosul dialect) they pronounce it ‘simitch’. The word for ‘kabeer’ which means ‘big’ is pronounced ‘chibeer’.

They’re the same words mostly but just pronounced totally differently.

So it’s a real exercise in adjusting your ear to the variation in sounds.

I personally find that switching back and forth between dialects (or at least trying to) is immensely more difficult than switching between two completely different languages.

Listening comprehension for me is not so bad since I’ve had a fairly even exposure to Iraqi, Levantine and Egyptian over the past 12 years but if I try to speak a Levantine or Iraqi dialect I’m forever reverting back into Egyptian since it’s what I’m used to and know so well.

I guess it’s kind of like imitating an American accent as an Australian. I can do it to a certain extent but it doesn’t feel natural and I have to consciously focus to do it otherwise I naturally start speaking Australian again.

I did however find that after a week in Amman being around Jordanians and Palestinians constantly I started to use local words and expressions more automatically, rather than the Egyptian equivalents.

Since starting TalkInArabic.com at the end of last year, my proficiency in various dialects other than Egyptian has grown exponentially since I’ve had to deal with people weekly from so many different backgrounds.

The best thing about putting together a multi-dialect resource is that I get to learn a tonne myself. 🙂

A photo posted by Donovan Nagel (@mezzoguild) on

One book I had the chance to check out here in Jordan which covers the Jordanian dialect very well is Diwan Baladna by Ahmad Kamal Azban (book 2).

I’ve mentioned other Levantine and Iraqi resources here before but I’ll definitely be adding this one to the list.

 

There was something else that made this trip to Jordan really special

A big part of choosing Jordan was actually to meet with and serve some of the refugees fleeing Iraq (I can’t put up pictures of them here).

This is where my heart has always been and since Jordan hosts a huge amount of asylum seekers from there, I planned to come here to meet with people and offer whatever support I can both practically and financially.

A lot of the new material we produced this week for TalkInArabic.com has been put together by refugees and severely struggling families, including a wonderful Iraqi family I met this week in Jordan. They lost all they own fleeing ISIS only months ago and told us tragic stories of people losing everything – including their wives and children.

When you sit down across the table and someone tells you these firsthand horrific accounts, there are just no appropriate words to respond with.

Just silence and a lump in the throat.

It’s tough. It’s emotional enough to hear it let alone experience it.

I don’t like to get too involved in political discussions or interfere in matters far bigger than I am but at the very least I try to see the simple yet profound value of friendship or as we call it where I’m from – just being a mate.

Never underestimate the power and importance of friendship and warm conversation. 🙂

I’m hoping to head back to Jordan soon to continue working with these guys.

While my project TalkInArabic.com (review) is there for students who need a reliable resource for Arabic spoken dialects, I’m thankful that it’s also starting to become an instrument of material support for others.

As I recently announced on Facebook, we’re trialing a booking system on the site for conversation practice with these native speakers too. We’re still looking for further feedback though before it’s officially up and running.

If dialect conversation practice is something that you’d find helpful, do let us know. 🙂


Have you been to Jordan? What was your experience like?

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  1. The 'ch' or 'ich' sound is also found in certain rural areas of Palestine, such as in words or phrases such as 'chirsh' (stomach) or 'ma biddich' (What do you [f.] want ?). It's somewhat looked down on by urban people, so some people change the sound back to 'k' or 'ik' when they go to the towns. But not everyone…

  2. Sorry, he's half-awake here! That should be 'shu biddich' (What do you [f.] want?).

  3. Hi Donovan,

    I’m interested in providing feedback for your new booking system. Please let me know if and how I could get involved.

  4. Great article. Aside from other places I lived in in the Middle East, I lived in Jordan for one year, and went back a few times, including last spring to work as a volunteer. I’ve met so many people from so many different places and backgrounds (Palestinians in refugee camps, paperless Syrians, Iraqi refugees, bedouins, high-end west-Amman people, Egyptians migrants …) and so easily that I can’t get bored in this country. I keep wanting to go back every day …
    I guess it’s a very good move for you and the TalkInArabic website, so many dialects in one place. If you roam the universities as I did, you might also find people from Yemen, Oman, Saudi, etc, coming there for their studies, and who I’m sure would be happy to take part in the project.
    And security-wise, it’s one of the safest places I know for sure, despite its location on the map !

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