Learning a Language

Learning a Language

In my last post, Losing a Language, I talked about when I was diagnosed with hearing loss, and how my audiologist advised my parents to speak to me in only one language. That language was English. My parents decided to follow the audiologist’s advice. A consequence from this decision was that I lost how to speak my first language, which was Arabic.

This post talks about my journey in reclaiming the language that was lost to me. When I was younger, I sometimes traveled with my mom to her hometown, Nazareth, where my grandmother, aunt and cousins live. We would stay there for almost two months at a time.  

In those two months, I picked up Arabic easily, especially under the patient tutelage of my family. Then I would head back home to Toronto and everything I learned would fade away. This repeated everytime time I went to Nazareth and came back home.

I wanted this to change. I wanted to take back the language that I used to have and make it mine again.

Here are some of my past and current observations that I picked up on my journey to learning a new language.

It’s not easy.

When people are speaking, I sometimes miss out on certain sounds. With English, I can just take the context of the conversation, and piece it together. With a different language, it’s not that simple. That, and the fact that I grew up learning AVT (Auditory Verbal Therapy) with just English limited me because I was accustomed to moving my mouth and making sounds associated with only the English language.

I let how hard it was stop me. Each time my mom repeated a word, and I couldn’t tell if the word started with a ‘p’ or a ‘b’, or failing at making a certain inflection that comes with a word, frustrated me.

It was my own fault for giving up so easily. At the beginning of this journey, I told myself that it won’t happen again.

I like to read before I speak.

To overcome the barrier of missing certain sounds in words, I would have my mom write the word down – not by how it was spelled, but by how it sounded. This actually helps when I’m learning any other language. When I was in elementary and high school, it was required to take French classes.

I found it really hard to listen to French, and to retain anything that was spoken out loud but I excelled at the written portion. Once I saw the words on paper, I was able to practice moving my lips and testing out the sounds until it came out right.

Some of my hearing friends mentioned watching television shows with the closed captions on in the language that you want to learn. I would have used that for any other language, like Spanish or Italian, but I couldn’t with Arabic. The language looks like a bunch of squiggly lines to me and sometimes sounded like it too!

So, the next best thing was to write it down – in English letters.

I need to immerse myself.

There was a reason why I picked up on the Arabic language a lot faster when I was in Nazareth vs. when trying to learn it when I’m at home with my mom – I was surrounded by it 24/7. I was almost forced to speak it as best as I could, picking up new phrases along the way – and repeating it till I said it right!

I also think that it might be easier for me to learn Arabic because I may have some latent knowledge of the language. When I speak it, no matter how broken it sounds, it feels almost natural – like it was never fully gone, just hiding beneath the surface.

My Arabic is still elementary. I recognize that it will take a lot of practice to get to the level of having a fluent conversation with someone. My goal is to be able to speak the language well enough to have a conversation with my grandmother and aunt from Nazareth when they come to Toronto to visit next summer.

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