Alison studied French and Arabic at Oxford, and spent her year abroad in Jordan. After earning a first class degree, she is now studying for a master's in Arabic at the Inalco in Paris. Chatterbox asked her what helped her most in her studies.
Conversation practice sessions were one of the best investments I made in learning Arabic – if not the best.
With this language especially, they provide an immensely valuable addition to the usual classroom offering. The majority of university courses focus on Modern Standard Arabic, meaning you can read newspapers and follow TV broadcasts, but might struggle to perform everyday tasks in an Arabic-speaking country. Whilst I was very fortunate to have weekly oral classes in small groups, it can still be tricky to conduct a free-flowing, natural conversation.
During my year abroad I was immersed in Arabic, and hearing the language on a daily basis left me well-attuned to its sounds: I managed to pick up some of the Jordanian 'aamiyya as well as improving my MSA, and began to feel comfortable conversing in Arabic. Back in the UK and preparing for my final exams, the focus was firmly on MSA, and I lost some of the confidence I had in my dialectal Arabic skills.
With my conversation partner, I had personalised, one-to-one attention of the kind that simply isn't feasible in the classroom. Together, we worked on the aspects of the language that I struggled with most, and I was free to select the topics that interested me most. Where I live, it isn't always easy to find a native Arabic speaker willing and able to practise their language with you, and with opportunities to travel to the Middle East being sadly reduced at the minute, any chance to practice with a native speaker is to be grabbed with both hands.
I have had several different conversation partners - one Syrian, one Jordanian, and one Egyptian – and beyond the noticeable improvement in my speaking and listening skills, it was great to share thoughts and opinions with people different to me, and to learn more about Arab culture. For students of Arabic, I couldn't recommend the experience highly enough.
Text by Alison Jones
Photos by Alison Jones & Melissa Thorne