Having now completed my final lesson with Mohanned, I thought it might be good to pause and reflect on the progress I’ve made before I start the next phase of my learning in Jordan next week. Even though I know that reflection is a useful learning tool which helps to bed down knowledge etc. etc. I’m not very good at doing it — indeed, part of the reason I decided to start this blog series was to force myself to do it. Because language learning is so slow and incremental it’s really easy to lose sight of your wins and triumphs, which then leaves more space for self-doubt and defeatism. I mean, my Arabic is obviously heaps better now than it was before I started with Mohanned but all I seem to be able to think about most of the time is what I don’t know and can’t do instead of celebrating what I’ve mastered.

I started off by doing the sums and was a bit shocked: turns out I’ve done no more than 250 hours of lessons with Mohanned which, while spread over a long three-and-a-half years, is pretty much bugger all. By way of comparison, my four month course in Jordan will involve 320 hours of instruction, plus homework. Strangely, this realisation makes me feel a bit better about not making as much progress as I feel like I should have in several years, and excited for what I can potentially achieve in Jordan if I put the work in.

Over the past few years there are several areas of progress that stand out to me:

  • Speaking. In last week’s lesson I didn’t write a single word for 90 minutes. Instead, Mohanned and I spent the whole time speaking (mostly) in Arabic. He threw a bunch of scenarios at me that I would face in Jordan such as catching a taxi, arriving at accommodation etc. And while I’m still slow, stumbling and massively error prone, I was speaking Arabic and making myself understood. And yet I clearly remember lessons as recently as a year or eighteen months ago when I would panic if Mohanned tried to make me speak without reference to vocab or a chance to script or rehearse. The crucial thing here is not so much the acquisition of vocab, grammar etc., it’s that my speaking confidence is light years ahead of where it used to be. And just in time, too.
  • Reading speed. I’m now much, much better at spotting phonemes and being able to construct words out of chunks and letter patterns instead of having to sound them out letter by letter. Related, I’m getting better at being able to guess or deduce the short vowels of unfamiliar words without diacritics.
  • Thinking. For a long time I would “see” words in my head not in Arabic script but instead transliterated into Latin script. Now, though, I “see” the words in Arabic. However, I still haven’t dreamt in Arabic which apparently is a key milestone in language acquisition, I’ve only dreamt about Arabic.

Set against the progress, though, are a lot of ongoing weaknesses, such as:

  • Vocabulary. I don’t know why I find learning vocab so difficult but it’s probably something to do with how much hard work is required to memorise long lists of words that you aren’t using regularly. Having said that, I often surprise myself when I remember the meaning of a word I have no real reason to have remembered, so some data at least is being written to archives somewhere in my brain.
  • Grammar rules, such as verb conjugation, gender, numbers etc. At this stage I still have to think too hard about tables when I do anything much more complicated than put together a basic sentence. I know this will come together quite quickly once I am speaking a lot in Jordan, and that learning tables by rote is an inefficient method of learning this stuff.

So, I still have metric shitloads of work to do. But when I stop and think about it it’s clear that I’ve built a solid foundation over the past few years (thanks to Mohanned) and I’m about to spend a large chunk of time focused for most of my time on nothing by learning Arabic. I’ll also try to build reflection into my daily study schedule.