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My First Experiences Learning Foreign Languages
I started to use the Internet when I was 15 years old. My main goal was to practice some English, Russian, and Spanish. During my teenagehood, I used to receive a lot of help from Latin American people (for Spanish), Americans (for English), Italians, and Russian-speaking people (mostly Russians and Ukrainians).
Dance and Music
My interest in Arabic started in my teenagehood when I fell in love with belly dance. (I saw it for the first time on a school excursion in 2005, when we went to Greece, and there was a talented lady who was dancing during our dinner time, and I was impressed with all of her movements with her belly.) I wanted to become like her, so I started to learn everything by myself.
At first, I started watching some Spanish videos, but the good resources were limited. Then, I started watching some English videos. (It was okay but still not enough.).
Then, I started to do a little research and read about the history of the belly dance. I discovered a lot of interesting things. That was already good enough because I could see my progress.
However, when I started to look for some music I could use… I discovered that all songs were in Arabic. So, I used to listen to singers such as Moustafa Amar, Nancy Ajram, and many others.
But it was when I was listening to Moustafa Amar, Amr Diab, … many other singers from Egypt, it was like love at first hearing. I believed every single word they sang (even though I understood nothing…. I guess my heart was capable enough to recognize their emotions).
My First Steps in Arabic
My brother saw how much my love for the Arabic language and its music was growing, so he decided to find something so that I could learn Arabic.
He found the “Arabic for Dummies” book, which was fine, but it was obviously oriented to MSA. I accepted it just because I only saw it was “Arabic language,” and I wanted to learn it no matter how. So, I started to use this and “Teach yourself Arabic,” but nothing worked for me since I would start and stop with my Arabic learning.
I also tried some applications such as Memrise, Mondly (but of course, I could find only MSA….), and later the app “Utalk” (which was the only app that has the top four most common dialects: Gulf, MSA, Egyptian, and Levantines Arabic.)
At the same time, I would meet many people from the Arabic world (Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and especially Egypt). It was not only online… I also met some of them in person here in Serbia or at the international polyglot gathering in Bratislava.
They all became good friends of mine. From time to time, they would teach me some Arabic, but nothing went as I had hoped.
Learning Egyptian Arabic
Finally, last year (in August), I decided to go to Egypt because I was so curious to learn many interesting things about Egypt.
My brother let me know we needed to go to Egypt four months in advance. So I decided to use this opportunity to learn some Arabic (because I wanted to impress Arabs, especially during my talk in the Egyptian dialect).
I used to study with a couple of teachers on italki:
With all of them, I used to study the textbook “Colloquial Egyptian Arabic.”
They also taught me the Arabic letters. And I love how they taught me, especially Amr’s way. He is so funny and positive. Plus, he knows some Turkish, which is essential for me because, at that moment, my Turkish was already about B2/C1 level.
Of course, we worked so hard, and we completed this book. Plus, we worked with some PDFs with the touristic phrases (in Egyptian Arabic).
Speaking Arabic in Egypt
When I came to Egypt, I felt overwhelmed with the information I got, but at the same time, I was so happy and excited. I just tried to listen and speak in Arabic. I even greeted the police officer checking our passport with “Salamo aleykum,” and he was so shocked. I liked his facial expression; I’ll never forget it. However, he kept being professional, so he used only English with me. It worked fine at the beginning. Egyptians are really friendly and warm people. That means they will do everything just to help you and teach you Arabic. I’m so grateful to them.
I even got praised by two people… one lifeguard at the swimming pool near my hotel praised my Arabic (even though it was so limited, and I know I used to mispronounce some words…. And he would say in front of everybody, “She speaks Arabic perfectly; she pronounces the words so well. Just listen to her! “
My cheeks started to blush because it was too good to be true. When other people walked away, I told him with a smile on my face, “I love the way you’re lying,” but he said, “No, I’m not; it is the truth.”
All the waiters at our hotel, in a restaurant, and the bartenders from the beach near our hotel, did their best to help me, especially if I struggled with some words. I really loved it.
There was also a perfume salesman who gave me the nickname “Egyptian lady” just because I did my best to speak in Arabic. I was speechless, but I loved his words.
During my conversation with Egyptians in Hurghada and Cairo, I learned some interesting facts. First, they like to talk a lot. They will do anything to attract your attention. It’s interesting how easily they can talk to any stranger about anything you want. They can even try to joke straight away with you (but also, by that “joking,” there could be some other intentions in behind – like flirting or something like this), so you have to be very careful.
Once, I needed to speak to our car driver (because our guide hired one driver who would drive us through Cairo), and my guide insisted on me speaking in Arabic with this driver. It was fine only during the first two minutes.
After that, I ran out of ideas about what I could ask him, and I tried to use google translate (but of course, it is only for MSA, and my pronunciation in Arabic was not perfect. I made many mistakes, so the poor driver did not understand me. I showed him my phone twice. At that moment, my brother told me, “stop showing him your phone; he is driving.”
I knew my brother was right, but I felt ashamed and sad at that moment. Therefore, I practically begged for English. The rest of the vacation was okay for my body, but deep in my brain, I felt unhappy because I felt like everything I was learning was “useless.”
Getting Serious about Learning Egyptian Arabic
That is why, when I came back to Belgrade, I decided to learn Egyptian Arabic seriously (and once I mastered it, to help Arabs learn Turkish much easier – because they want it so badly). So, I kept learning with my teachers and some language partners (especially Hussam, my friend from Cairo, and Samara, my friend from Alexandria).
This is why I decided to buy the books for the Egyptian dialect. Trust me; from the moment I started to learn it seriously, I felt like I was born for the second time. It is so smooth, so beautiful, and so soft. I am falling in love with this dialect over and over.
Thank you for letting me share!