Sunday

By last night my flashcard deck was 351 cards thick and I had completely caught up with all the vocab from the first two weeks. I refuse to do the maths on what this means for 14 more weeks of lessons, though. I did several study sessions throughout the weekend and already I could see from the stats tracker that I was making progress.

First up this morning was my mid-month test. Even though it was completely formative and designed to help the teacher plan for the second half of the month, I was really anxious. All I knew to anticipate was that it would be two hours, fully written, and that anything we’d touched on over the past two weeks was fair game. In preparation I worked really hard on vocab memorisation and spent the weekend revising all the grammar we’ve done so far.

The test included sections such as:

  • read a text and answer questions (in Arabic)
  • vocab quiz (including opposites and plurals)
  • fill in the blanks with prepositions and adverbs
  • identify types of hamzas
  • identify types and components of sentences
  • conjugate regular and irregular verbs
  • write a text using provided words

Ultimately I scored 15/20 which is respectable but means there’s still work to be done. I did better than I expected on the vocab bits, fell apart completely on sentences (I didn’t even think to learn the names of components in Arabic), but went pretty well with the rest.

On the coffee break after the test I was chatting to the guy who runs the language school cafeteria (large Americano, please) and he asked how I was going with it all. He passed on a tip for speaking Arabic that one of his Quran tutors gave him: if you’re having trouble pronouncing something, try talking while smiling. Doing so forces you to use all of the muscles in your face instead of just those at the front and middle of your mouth. I tried it and it feels … weird.

After the test we launched straight into role play based on a visit to the doctor and rounded out the day with some grammar exercises. I felt relieved that the test was done but know I can’t slacken off to make sure I’m properly prepared for the summative exam in two weeks. Tonight I just smashed flashcards, trying desperately to offset my growing anxiety about the scale of the task. The only thing that gives me any hope is slowly, slowly watching the green on the stats bar charts grow taller. And this sounds strange, but there are a lot of words I keep getting wrong at the same time I am getting closer and closer to getting them correct — I have more of the letters correct but maybe in the wrong order, or I have an increasingly accurate notion of how the word sounds in my head.

Monday

We kept going with the medical theme this morning after the vocab quiz. First up were a bunch of vocab word/picture match games, and then, because we don’t yet have enough vocab to learn, we went through all the names for body parts using a creepy doll prop and terrible diagrams because none of us can draw properly. My classmate and I then took turns describing a body part in whatever Arabic we could muster and the other having to guess it.

After the break we worked on another medical dialogue from the textbook — this one about someone visiting his friend in the hospital. Homework was relatively simple today: take the text we’d just studied and re-write it with women in the two roles instead of men, and with the necessary grammatical changes.

I met with my language partner for 90 minutes early this evening. We spent some time working on each other’s homework together (he’s currently studying the present perfect form, which meant I had to learn the rules, too!) and then we had a lovely casual chat for a while about various topics.

Tuesday

My classmate was on time this morning! And our teacher mixed up the standard vocab quiz which was a refreshing change. My classmate and I had to stand at the whiteboard and take turns filling it with words from our studies so far this month, and then after we’d put a few dozen on there we had to use every single one in a story that we built together out loud sentence by sentence. The whole thing took about 45 minutes and was exhausting. No matter how much of a grammatical tangle we got ourselves in we had to work it out, all while drawing on not just the vocab on the board but our whole repertoire, and without any books to refer to. This is exactly the sort of pressure environment that forces you to learn, however all I wanted afterwards was an enormous coffee and then maybe a nap.

But there was more learning to be done. We spent the next 90 minutes working on a text which was a noticeable step up for us — it contained a lot of unfamiliar vocabulary, and more complex sentences and grammar. After working through it and unpacking the language together, we each had to retell the story and then answer questions posed to us by the teacher who is deliberately starting to talk faster in the classroom as a subtle pressure tactic.

I think today’s lesson was the most taxing I’ve done so far — something about all the speaking and the sheer breadth of the vocab we’re starting to have to draw from — so it was a relief to do some chalk and talk grammar (revision of present tense irregular conjugation with weak vowels) to finish up the lesson. All I had to do was sit, listen, think and write.

Wednesday

One of the things I’ve been trying to wrap my head around this week is a peculiarity of the Arabic language from an English-speaking point of view: you’re not allowed to use certain sentence fragments the way we do in English. For example, before each lesson our teacher asks what we did the night before, and the other day I answered in Arabic but in fragments the way I would in English: “Homework. Dinner. Book.” But this won’t fly in Arabic because you need to use the verbs for each of those nouns even though they’re implied. So instead: “Did homework. Ate dinner. Read my book.” And then in a role play today I tried “I then went to the cafe for coffee” which won’t work unless I added the verb: “I went to the cafe to drink coffee.” I’ve also learned some cool words this week like spider (aankaboot) and nose (anf), and discovered weird trivia like the word ‘stop’, as in bus stop, is the exact same word as ‘situation’.

As part of the vocab quiz this morning I had to go to the whiteboard, draw a person, and label all the body parts. No notes. My heart (qalb) sank because I’d reviewed the body parts over coffee and flashcards this morning and performed miserably. But to my surprise I managed to correctly label maybe half of them, even if I needed some help with spelling. I guess this proves that stuff *is* sinking into my subconscious as a result of the relentless study focus, even if I am frustrated at not being able to cement things consciously as fast as I’d like. Next up we went through a bunch of adverbs of time and used them in speaking exercises, and then we started another scenario (transport) which meant another dump of vocab.

Thursday

In contrast to Tuesday’s morale slump, today felt really good. I enjoyed a tangible sense of progress and was filled with hope that I’ll be able to keep out in front of the relentless pace of learning.

It was just me today as my classmate didn’t show up. And just like Tuesday, my teacher wrote my vocab quiz answers on the white board as I gave them until it was full of maybe thirty words or so. The words were from across all the topics we’ve done so far this month: recreation, the beach, the bank, the post office, the doctor and transport. Then I had to stand up, tell a story using all of the words, and cross them off the board as I went. It was actually quite fun unlike Tuesday, and I was a bit proud of how much my speaking has improved in three weeks and how much smoother my sentence construction is on the fly. This was followed by the introduction of some more transport vocab and some picture-matching exercises.

Grammar today was present tense conjugation with irregular verbs that end with a weak vowel. The rule for words that end with ya (ي) is brutal, and even my teacher shrugged and said “at least there are not many of these words”. After the coffee break we just talked and it felt great. My teacher asked me question after question about Australia using all the vocab we’ve covered, and as we drew on new vocab I dutifully copied it down into my book. Along with this morning’s vocab quiz, this activity was a great confidence builder. We finished off with my weekly five minute spoken presentation — this week I re-told this story. I’d needed to hit Google Translate for quite a bit of vocab for this one so there were a lot of corrections as I spoke.

Before I let myself relax for the weekend I sat down at my computer and got up to date with my flashcards. At the end of week three my deck stands at 532. I’m still getting a lot wrong but I can also sense real progress, and the stats are promising, too.

Week 3 stats

A good, positive end to the week.