I grew up consolidating words, drawing out vowels, and being a little backwards. So naturally, Arabic is a wonderful fit! We had a wonderful word in Oklahoma that really reminds me of Arabic: d’ge’t. Did you eat (yet)? In Arabic, not all the vowels are written and ‘to be’ is implied. Let me get one thing straight though – this is hard. Am I enjoying it? Yes! Does my brain hurt? Yep. Is it fun? Actually, yes. Do I need a nap at every hour of every day? Oh hell yes.
I am sure there are plenty of studies out there evaluating how we learn new languages. But, ain’t nobody got time for that. So let me just tell you what it feels like. Imagine yourself walking into a pitch black room. What’s the first thing you try to do? Look for a light switch. You feel around for a switch and finally find something against the wall. You’ve never been in this room before, so you have no earthly idea how big it is or if it is even multiple rooms. You flip the switch and a very dim light turns on. It’s only enough light to illuminate a small portion of the room and the light is flickering. You stumble over to something that look familiar and feel around for something that might possibly provide more light. When you find nothing, you try to look around and get your bearings. Where am I? What do I need to do? Why am I here? In the faint light you see a door on another wall, you walk slowly and like a zombie towards the door. You test the handle to make sure it works. It’s locked. You go back and look for a key. It isn’t on the desk in the middle of the room, so you go back to the door and kick it. Why? Because that always seems like a good idea. The door doesn’t budge, you stub your toe, you curse profusely, but after you finish your pouting, you feel something that has fallen on the floor. It is the key. It fell from the top of the doorframe when you kicked it. You unlock the door, go through it and find another dark room. This time the light turns on and it is brighter. You can see more things and the room sorta makes sense now. You still have no clue what you are supposed to be doing in this house/room, but at least now you know where the light switch is.
Often times, you’ll see language students walking around like this:
It’s because our mental energy is completely drained by trying to figure out what we are doing in this pitch black house. After a while, things start to make sense, they start to click. It takes a while, it is frustrating and it is often hazy. But gradually, it gets better. Then you finally feel like you are making progress and you have to take on even more challenges. When I come out of class, after a particularly difficult and long day, I almost feel drunk. It is as if my motor skills no longer function and I can’t even walk straight. And it hurts. My brain can only handle so much at one time. Interestingly enough though, after a day of Arabic, my German comes back to me. My English is shot, but my German is fantastic! Clearly one part of our brain stores away foreign languages and once that drawer is open, all the files come spilling out.