Archive for the ‘Language’ Category

The last thing I expected to hear in Lebanon was Portuguese, but surprisingly it was one of the first things I heard.

After arriving in Lebanon, and sleeping off a bit of jetlag, I started wandering the campus until I ran into our University President.  He quickly introduced me to the University chaplain, who happens to be….Brazilian.  In fact, he studied at the same University where I did Portuguese study abroad one summer during college.  After meeting him, I learned that there was a small army of Brazilians on our campus – some had come and gone before my arrival and some would come later in the year.

However it’s not only on our campus that we have a mini-Brazil; it’s within the country of Lebanon as well.  The blog Brazzil explains the phenomenon pretty succinctly here.  Over the course of time Lebanese have emigrated to countries around the world, Brazil included.  Nowadays, there are more Lebanese living outside of the country than inside of the country.

Over the course of the year, we’ve run into some of the hyphenated Lebanese (Brazilian-Lebanese).  We even saw the launch of the Brazilian-Lebanese Cultural Center.

Coming from the States, where Hispanics are the largest minority group, it’s hard to imagine them as being anything else, but the more I pay attention, the more I’m finding Hispanic Lebanese.  I study Arabic with a kind lady who’s Mexican-Lebanese, and more and more, I find myself hearing Portuguese in the mall and most recently at the airport on my way home.

These days, we all find a way to hyphenate our identities.  African-American, Korean-American, Mexican-Lebanese.  It’s like the noveau “I got some Indian in my family.” (only a few of you will understand what I mean by that one)

How do you hyphenate?


This week I’ve started taking Arabic classes at Saifi Institute in Gemmayze.  It’s about a 20 minute ride from Middle East University and normally this would be a small issue, but given the public transportation system, or the lack thereof, it’s a bit more complicated.  There isn’t a traditional public transportation system, but there is a system.  My options are a bus, which I could catch after getting “down the hill” or a series of “service” (pronounced ser-vees) taxis.  The services are on a fixed route, they stop if they see you walking and ask where you’re going.  If you’re headed in the same direction as they are, they’ll pick you up and take you to the farthest point they can on their route for a mere 2,000 LL or $1.50.  If you haven’t reached your destination, well, find another service!

Since my Arabic skills are still being developed and I don’t have the patience of a saint, I’ve been taking regular taxis, making my transportation costs about the same as my tuition costs.  Nonetheless, given what I’ve been learning, it’s worth it so far.

At the school, I was placed in level 2.5, however my listening comprension prevented me from being very comfortable in the class, so the teacher encouraged me to move to level 1.  While there, I felt as though the challenge was gone, and I’m all for the challenge.  Challenge and competition are my fuels, they drive and motivate me.  So now I’m struggling in level 2.5 again.  It’s kicking my butt, but dangnabit, I’m kicking back!!

Exercise from Chapter 1

Teacher from my Level 1 class

I will admit it, unabashedly and unashamedly: I am a language brat!

There are many kinds of brats in this world (and most of them are not children). But I like to think of myself as a brat in the best way possible.

A brat is not made after one misstep or one inexcusable moment. A brat earns his stripes after a series of continuous behavior.

My first defining moment occurred in Spain, where I lived for a year to learn Spanish. I was placed in Level C, the middle level in a series of five. After attending class for a few months, I began to feel a bit uneasy. It was a nervous itch that began with a sense of impatience.

I knew that at the pace I was traveling, I would never reach my goal of learning the language by the end of the year, when I had to return home. So one day, after class, I approached my grammar teacher and told him I didn’t feel as though I was learning quickly enough. And I asked to be moved to a more advanced class.

After a brief pause, he suggested I move immediately to Level D and finish out the remainder of the course in Level E. The students in Level E were native speakers, so I soon became the skinny, scrappy kid in the fight, trying to stay conscious. But after the language brat inside of me got her way, she managed to fight to the finish!

My second similar moment happened in Brazil, where I went to study Portuguese. To be honest, I’m a bit ashamed of my behavior.

There were only two students in the program that summer, and my sense of urgency was high, as the course only spanned two months. The pressure was further increased because I had no intention of returning home unable to speak Portuguese.

Before our classes started, I already sensed an imbalance, as I had a background in Spanish while my classmate had none, and administration expressed that they would place us in class together.

So you can imagine my frustration the first day of class when my Professor pulled out a chart of the alphabet and proceeded to explain each letter and its accompanying sound. Any normal college student might grin and bear it, waiting until the end of the class to explain the imbalance in the situation. And I’d like to believe that I made an attempt to do that. But somewhere along the way, I found myself flailing like a tempestuous kid throwing a fit when I found that things weren’t going my way and that I was going to be forced to endure a review of the alphabet.

Needless to say, the next day, after my brazen display of immaturity (hey, it’s not my proudest moment), I found myself in the classroom with my own teacher. And given that I only had seven weeks to learn, I believe I picked up on Portuguese fairly well.

So now, fast-forward to my Middle Eastern experience. One would think that with the passage of time and a bit of maturity, I would have outgrown my bratty ways. Sadly enough, I can’t completely say it’s true.

Tonight, we had our first class in Arabic for Beginners. And while there were only five of us in the class, the range of Beginners varied quite a bit. Most of the others in the class have lived in Lebanon for at least a year or more, so they have quite a few loose words rattling around in their minds. In that way their Arabic skills exceeded my own.

On the other hand, as we reviewed the alphabet, I couldn’t help but recall that moment back in Brazil, when the teacher was reviewing a concept and the language brat emerged, as though through a sort of possession. While I’m no Arabic expert, meaning that the CIA will not be calling on my language skills anytime soon, I at least know the alphabet, from taking an introductory course (twice) back in the states.

This time, I managed to contain the language brat lurking inside, but the feeling of impatience and urgency couldn’t help but make its way to the surface. After class, I expressed my sense of urgency and impatience to learn the language, true to my bratty self. After showing her my previous materials and a few children’s books I had purchased, I think she sensed the fire in my belly to learn.

So in addition to class, my Professor (who I love by the way) will be helping me to push through my children’s book.

Arabic will be my biggest language challenge thus far, and I’m totally up for it. Let’s just hope my bratty ways pay off!