Thursday, January 27, 2011

So, Donna, How's Arabic Class These Days?

I am blessed with a natural, God-given ability to hear a word once, in any language, and repeat it, almost exactly wrong. This is a good skill to have when you are wanting to make the people around you laugh uproariously.

And the people, they do laugh.

Today, for example, I very nearly caused my lovely Arabic teacher to split her sides laughing. There might have been actual tears - of laughter, one hopes, though it is also quite possible she was crying because she's stuck in a small classroom with an idiot like me three times a week when she could be spending her time, oh, I don't know, dragging her nails up and down a chalkboard.

The homework assignment for today: write the names of all of the members of your family, in Arabic letters.

I handed in my paper this morning for the teacher to correct.

I got "Gorman" right (pssst - don't tell - I copied it off of my husband's business cards). Coincidentally, I also spelled his first name right. But my name isn't printed on his business cards for some odd reason. So I had to guess. I did alright, if by alright you mean "got the first letter right." But the second letter, not so much. Nor the third. And the fourth might have been a teensy bit wrong, too. The big problem was with the third letter: the letter "n." Apparently I put the dot underneath the letter instead of on top, rendering my "n" more like a "b."

"Daba?" I said and the teacher laughed. 'Ana ismi Daba!?!" I said, and she laughed again, but at the same time, she told me sternly not to repeat it. Turns out "Donna" is an actual name, but "Daba" is a rude word, which she translated roughly as a work animal - a beast of burden, like a donkey, or a jackass. Which, frankly, seems about right. There I was, proudly stating "My name is Jackass!" Because I'm classy like that.

It was all downhill from there. I'm telling you, who thought it was a good idea to randomly sprinkle dots all over your squiggly lines in order to differentiate the letters? And while we're on the topic of letters, where are all of the vowels? Because it seems to me that every language needs a handy supply of vowels. But no. Not Arabic. They don't have a letter "G," either. They can pronounce my last name, but they have to spell it kind of like "Jorman."

Oh, well. I'll keep trying. And the people around me will keep laughing. But after today, I can proudly say that I know the difference between an Arabic "n" and a "b."

At least I think I do.


Just US said... [Reply]

Oh I can relate! In one of my classes I was trying to say "bread" but instead kept swearing at my teacher over and over and over again. To this day I refuse to say the word bread in Arabic.

Walking to China said... [Reply]

Last year, in my year one Chinese class, I apparently said such an obscenity that both my teacher and the teacher who was observing gasped out loud. Then they told me I must never, ever say that word. What word?
A friend of mine was taking exams in Poland. She inadvertently asked her examiner if she had an erection. Fortunately, the examiner didn't.

SassAndSweet said... [Reply]

I feel your pain...

hannah said... [Reply]

It's bad when you mispronounce things... but it's hilarious when your actual name, as rendered in Arabic, means something totally different. The name Matt? Yeah, it reads as "he died." My colleague Olga, from when we were on the visa line, had to use a false name on her business card, because the way her name would be rendered would come out "it was cancelled." Definitely not the name you want your visa officer to have!

The squiggles and dots totally aren't fair. I feel your pain!!

Connie said... [Reply]

Well, the J is pronounced G ... in Egypt. (Ja-deed (new) becomes Ga-deed). You're set if you go to Cairo (um... not wishing that on you right now though :( )

LeesOnTheGo said... [Reply]

I always leave your blog smiling. =) said... [Reply]

What a great post! I have included it in this week's State Dept. Blog Round Up: said... [Reply]

What a great post! I have included it in this week's State Dept. Blog Round Up:

globalgal said... [Reply]

Ah, how this post takes me back to my days in Kuwait! When we first arrived, my dad had name necklaces made for us, and I proudly wore mine until I figured out in Arabic class one day that it said Heater instead of Heather. Although my Arabic speaking skills have been reduced to hello, how are you, good bye, god willing, tomorrow and congratulations, somehow I managed to hang on to my reading skills. I'd love to be studying Arabic instead of Chinese!

Please. Write your own stuff.