I mentioned in my last post that a key to remaining patient in this, the Land of Waiting, is learning the language. I’ve never tried to learn a foreign language, unless you count the 2 years of highschool that I was forced to sit thru Spanish classes that I now wish I would have paid attention to. When I first arrived and learned that my Mother-in-law didn’t speak any English I had a minor panic attack concerning how I would communicate with her. The panic attack went into overdrive when my husband left back to the USA for 3 months and I was left to sink or swim on the language front.
My first bright idea was to go to the local book store and pick of several different Arabic handbooks. I would lay in bed at night and study, trying to learn one or two words a day. I would come downstairs for lunch, book in hand, and attempt to muster up the courage to use the words that were included in it. I couldn’t do it. The first time I tried to explain to my Mother-in-law that I was having “my time” resulted in so much confusion I gave up the book method.
My next attempt at learning was good old fashioned immersion. I listened to my Mother-in-law, my sisters-in-law, all the people around me. First I learned how to say water, then thank you, and then my numbers and colors, and then different types of food. It was like being a baby. I just learned by picking up on what others were saying around me. When my husband returned after his 3 months abroad, he would get shocked (and still does) that I would understand what he was saying. No more getting away with talking about me when I’m still sitting there! Haha!
This leads to what I call Arabish, my language of choice. My speaking here tends to be a mix of the two (heavy on the English). My Mother-in-law and I now mostly understand each other. I can now tell a driver how to get me somewhere or where I need to go. I can understand when a shop keeper tells me how much to pay, and I know enough to argue with him when I think it is too much! My daughter has developed her own Arabish technique as well. When she doesn’t know the Arabic word for something, she simply says it in English with an accent and voila!
All this being said, if you find yourself in Saudi Arabia or anywhere else in the Middle East and you are paranoid about your lack of knowledge when it comes to the language, don’t worry. Most people do speak English as well. It is taught from a very early age in school and it is even spoken as the main language in many Arabic speaking homes here. Even if you have to invent your own mix of your mother tongue and Arabic, the people here will surely appreciate you trying.