Learning Arabic in Morocco and the UK: Cactus staff review
Thursday, 12th May 2011
Operations Manager in the Cactus UK office, Leticia Gracia tells us about her fascinating experience learning Arabic first in Brighton and then in Morocco - and why it is necessary to spend time in a country where the language is spoken to really make an improvement.
Why are you learning Arabic? This is a question I have been asked quite often since I started studying Arabic in Brighton last July. What are the reasons for someone to want to learn a foreign language? As a foreign language teacher, I have come across many different reasons as to why people want to learn to speak in a different language to theirs. I have learnt several languages before and this time I have been given the chance to learn one more. I have learnt English, German, a bit of Italian and French. This time I wanted to go for something that made my brain work in a complete different way and that’s how I ended up taking an Arabic course with Cactus.
I started at Level 1 on a 10-week Arabic evening course in Brighton, and I was one of those “complete beginners” with no previous knowledge at all. The only words I knew were those that are used in Spanish such as Insh’Allah (in Spanish “ojalá”), “almohada”, “aljibe” and a few more.
The first lessons were a bit of a challenge as I found myself in a class with a few students that had some sort of knowledge as they had relatives or friends or knew people from Arabic-speaking countries. I have to say this was a bit demotivating as I felt I really knew nothing. It was hard to guess meanings as I could have done with German, being similar to English, French or Italian. I was absolutely lost and I did not take it very seriously. I did, however, enrol on the Level 2 course and it was then when my love for this language started. I bought different books to the one used in class and also did a bit of self-study a couple of days per week to really learn the alphabet and get familiar with the writing.
The lessons then became more and more interesting, not only the language aspects but also the cultural ones. My teacher is very familiar with the different dialects and different cultural issues all across the Arab world.
Arabic is a fascinating language and the writing has some sort of magical effect; it feels more like painting than writing. No wonder it´s one of the main decorative components in the Arab world.
In Level 3 we moved away from the alphabet, writing, basic vocabulary and conversations, and we started to go deeper into different grammatical structures. Arabic is not so complicated when it comes to verb tenses; it´s complicated when you want to speak and write properly and use the cases and different ways of building plurals. Let´s keep in mind I am talking about Modern Standard Arabic - I won’t even start talking about the many differences when it comes to colloquial Arabic. It was during this term in Level 3 that all the revolutionary movements started and this made me want to learn more and more about this language and culture.
Although many people kept telling me that the Arabic I was learning was not useful, because no one speaks like that if you travel to any Arabic-speaking country, I still wanted to go somewhere to learn a bit more and put into practice what I had learnt - and so I did.
This Easter I decided to do a 1-week intensive course in one of Cactus schools. My destination was Rabat, in Morocco. I could have chosen Egypt but I had already been to Morocco and found it a fascinating country. I have to say it has been one of the most amazing experiences I have had when it comes to learning a language. The learning environment at the school was excellent, my teacher was highly qualified and very motivating, and we were encouraged to speak Arabic at all times, even at a very basic level. This course gave me the confidence to speak and made me realise it is absolutely necessary to go to the country where the language is spoken to really make an improvement.
Even though I had learnt quite a lot during these 3 terms in the UK, it was all stored in my head but never used. In Morocco in a matter of a few days I was having short conversations to taxi drivers, waiters and people at the “souks” and this made me feel really good. They could understand me and I could understand them; even if I wasn’t saying everything properly or using the right verb form, I made myself understood. Isn´t that what the aim of learning a language is after all? COMMUNICATION.
I cannot describe how grateful people were that I was making the effort to speak to them in Arabic and it made such a big difference to the way they treated me everywhere I went. Although I have to say hospitality is part of their everyday life.
I can´t say that in a week I learnt a lot more than I knew already but I definitely learnt to put things together and to actually use them. Now is time to move on to the next level and keep on learning more and maybe next year I can go back and do a more advanced course.
Rabat is such a good place to spend some time. It´s probably the best place in Morocco to live if you come from a western country. It is the perfect combination of tradition and modernity; people are very laid back and time seems not to matter much. Days actually seem longer when you are in Morocco.
There are beautiful places to visit such as the Kasbah of the Oudaya, the Hassan Mosque and its Tower, the Mohammed V Mausoleum, the Royal Palace the remarkable Andalusian Gardens in the new city quarters. The ruins of Chellah are not to be missed either.
Cactus runs part-time and evening language courses in 24 languages and 41 locations across the UK, and in 6 locations across the US and Canada. These are the ideal way to brush up on a language before you travel abroad, whether for work or pleasure.
Cactus also offers language immersion holidays in more than 30 languages, in 60 countries and 500 destinations worldwide.