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Ask Away: 5 Questions for a Sophomore Student of Arabic


We’re asking students, teachers, and counselors five questions on how languages play a role in shaping personal and professional success…

Meet Mariah—a Rhode Island high school student whose class connected with native Arabic speaker.

"Ask Away: 5 Questions" banner graphic with portrait of Mariah

Mariah’s Arabic class recently participated in the NaTakallam program, which connects students virtually with displaced native speakers of Arabic from around the world. In her words:

This is our second year studying Arabic, and we were lucky enough to participate in the NaTakallam program. We Skyped with Tareq twice, each for one hour, and spoke about many things. We talked about simple topics like the weather and who we are, but we also discussed subjects like holidays in our respective countries and told each other stories. Although we were nervous at first and thought we wouldn’t have anything to say, it ended up being very fun. We were able to learn colloquial Arabic while practicing our speaking skills in an actual conversation. We enjoyed sharing jokes and getting to know each other.

This program, overall, was positive for our class and helped us gain confidence in our use of the Arabic language. We are so thankful for this opportunity. It was an amazing experience, and we hope to be able to participate in it again as we further our studies of Arabic.

1. When did you first start learning a language—how did you begin?

I am a native Spanish speaker. I started learning English when I was five years old and I enrolled in school in the United States. As I was so young, I learned it naturally, so when I began learning Arabic last year, it was a completely new experience. There were no languages offered in my middle school, and I was planning on studying Italian when I reached high school. However, I visited an Arabic class on one of my school tours and immediately changed my mind.

2. What motivates you to learn Arabic? Has your motivation changed over time?

I was initially drawn to Arabic because it was so different from anything I knew. I didn’t know much about it, but I liked that the letters weren’t the same as in English or Spanish. This is what encouraged me to study Arabic, but I continued because I learned I loved it. I loved being able to recognize words when I was in an airport in the UAE.

I loved being able to say I studied Arabic, not French or Spanish, what everyone else was studying.

I learned I liked studying grammar and vocabulary, even as it became harder, and I loved making up conversations in class.

The best, of course, was being able to have an actual conversation with Tareq.

3. What advice would you have for other students who are looking for ways to use their language(s) outside the traditional classroom—any practice tips?

I would tell students to practice their language outside of the classroom. I think I have developed such knowledge of vocabulary and sentence structure by speaking with classmates outside our actual class. My friends and I are constantly asking each other what the Arabic word for something is or sharing when we saw a word we knew in a restaurant or label. It is important to keep the language on your mind throughout the day to fully develop it. I still have a lot of Arabic to learn though, and I know it is key to be passionate about it so I can continue.

4. Have you had a memorable or favorite conversation or interaction in another language? What made it special to you?

I have found that some of the best conversations I’ve had in different languages are the ones that are equally comforting and helpful. To explain this, I’ve had many conversations in Arabic, or even Spanish, in which I felt proud to be able to actually have a conversation, but I’ve also been corrected in the way I have said something. I might be a little embarrassed at the moment, but ultimately I learn a lot from those conversations and they stay with me.

5. What’s your favorite word or expression in Arabic—why (and what does it mean)?

My favorite word in Arabic is تشرفنا (“it is our honor”). I learned it in the first couple of months of my studies of Arabic. I didn’t even know how to spell or even less, write it, but I loved the way it rolled of the tongue and how smooth it sounded. Arabic is beautiful.

BONUS QUESTION: What’s next on your journey with languages?

I am planning to continue studying Arabic through the end of high school and, hopefully, after it as well. I would also love to study Latin. I have been able to observe similarities between the same word in Arabic, Spanish, and English, and I think they could come from Latin. I think Latin can also help me to learn other languages.

Are you ready to learn Arabic, like Mariah? Find information on scholarships, university programs, student stories, and more by visiting our Lead with Arabic page. Or explore ways to connect with a native speaker of any language online through a variety of apps and online programs.

As always, don’t forget to share your language learning story with us @LeadWLanguages on social media!