This Passage Made Me Smile

I’m starting a new meme.  (Is that the proper word–“meme”? )  Occasionally, I will post a passage from book I’m reading that made me smile, for whatever reason.  I hope you can join me!


I have been trying to learn Arabic over the past few years.  I have found it exceedingly difficult, and very slow-going.  I have accepted that I deserve to wear the Arabic Dunce Cap whenever I am in a room with other Arabic learners.

For that reason, this passage in Elaine Rippey Imady’s Road to Damascus made me smile. Imady moved to Damascus in the early 1960s to be with her Syrian husband and family.  This is what she said about learning Arabic:

“Without doubt, learning Arab was the hardest thing I have ever done.  With Arabic, you face a completely unfamiliar alphabet containing at least eight letters with sounds that don’t exist in English.  In addition, you read Arabic from right to left–backwards for any Westerner.  Furthermore, every one of the twenty-eight letters is written three different way depending on whether it is the first letter of a word, the last letter or in the middle of the word.  Even worse, modern Arabic is written without the teshkeel, that is, without the short vowels and grammatical endings of the words.  You must know enough Arabic to supply them yourself.” (72)

Oh, that’s just for starters!   Whereas in English, there are two choices for conjugating verbs:  either you add an “s” to a root, or you don’t:  WALK or WALKS.  In Arabic, there are at least 13 different conjugation forms (I think?)

I could go on, but I won’t.  My point is, it was nice to have my struggle validated by Imady.

Did any passage in a book make you smile today?


Author: DebraB

I am a Professor of English at Concordia University-St. Paul. I have a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My research interests include American literature, contemporary literature, Middle Eastern literature, African literature and feminist theory.

11 thoughts on “This Passage Made Me Smile”

  1. Hi Debra! I can only imagine trying to learn a language like Arabic or, a language that Arabic brings me to think about, Thai. The script of both is so beautiful, but they all look so similar! I empathize with your challenge.

    I’ve been trying to learn Korean since moving here two years ago and, while it’s been a challenge (and I don’t study nearly enough!), the characters all mirror English sounds and are still read left to right. I just can’t seem to get a grip on “subject markers,” which Korean people can’t even fully explain to me, either. They just “know.” I hope that one day I’ll learn it all, but for now, I’m just enjoying the journey there.

    Thanks for sharing! I definitely smiled. 🙂

      1. Korean is originally based on Chinese, but the characters are simplified and there are far fewer (thankfully!). Korean characters, or hangul (한글) are pretty easy to get once you’ve learned the sounds associated with each “letter.” I can read (like a five year old), but still don’tn understand what I’m reading. It’s still fun, regardless of my understanding! 🙂

  2. That’s insane I am planning to be proficient in another language and your post just made my heart drop. I know it must’ve been frustrating for you at times. But you made it through eh…You know what’s weird and I am not sure as I am an English speaker, someone once noted to me that English was one of the hardest languages to learn. But from this description of things I beg to differ. Of course I am naturally biased.

    1. Well, I can’t say I made it through yet. I’m still at a beginning level, but maybe advanced beginner. I will keep trying, though. If you are a native English speaker, you may want to try learning a European language first, one that is closer to English. Spanish or French would be quite a bit easier than English.

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