During the summer of 2020 I spent 2 months doing Middlebury’s intensive Arabic program. Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday I had 6 hours of class. Each day was 5 hours of Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and 1 hour of dialect. I chose to take Moroccan Arabic because I had recently spent 2 months in Rabat. On Wednesdays I had 2 hours of MSA, 2 hours of a cultural club, and a 1 hour schoolwide lecture. I was in the current events culture club. For these two hours we learned about different news stories currently affecting the Arabic speaking world. The lecture each week was given either by a professor of the Arabic program or someone else connected with the school. One week, for example, Morocco’s Minister of Education spoke about how the pandemic has affected education in Morocco, students abroad, and other problems facing Moroccan students.
The MSA class was the main component of the program. There were 3 separate professors who all taught this class and divided up the time each day between them. Most days consisted of group work, listening, grammar, and culture. The program was entirely on zoom but there was still a language pledge implemented during class hours. Middlebury’s language pledge doesn’t allow students to speak any language other than the target language (in my case Arabic) for the duration of the program. The class time in combination with the several hours of daily homework, made for an intensive but worthwhile program.
In all honesty, I did not envision continuing my Arabic journey in the guest bedroom of my childhood home, sitting at my great grandmother’s card table. The natural light in that room is minimal and at times it felt strained to employ different Arabic vocabulary to answer a simple “how are you?” multiple times a day. How could there be a different answer when everyday was exactly, sometimes brutally, the same.
That being said, from a quarantine perspective this class gave me a gift I’d lost, an appreciation for free time. 6 hours of class followed by 3 to 4 of homework meant that suddenly the value, of my 1 daily episode of the west wing, increased exponentially (even if it was my 5th time watching the series). As bizarre as circumstances were, this class in some ways made life seem normal again. A schedule, a routine, good and bad parts of a day instead of just a day. Summer and quarantine for that matter are much too long to go without these semblances of normalcy.
I did not, however, take this class to keep my head above water in quarantine by drowning myself in school work. I took this class to continue improving my Arabic. Originally, I applied for this program when it was still going to be an in person experience. There were many aspects of Middlebury’s typical program that I knew would be helpful. The language pledge, for example, makes it so you begin to incorporate Arabic into life outside the classroom. The online version of this could not be managed in the same way for obvious reasons. Most of us were not living in an environment where anyone else spoke Arabic, so once class was over we reverted to other languages. However, during class time Arabic was the only language employed. Every question, grammar concept, conversation, and interaction was in Arabic. I felt that the modified language pledge was an overall success. Even thought outside of class, I did not make a conscious effort to speak Arabic, words and phrases crept into my daily speech. The net effect being that my friends and family (for not having studied any Arabic), now have a nice little collection of common words they can employ at will.
I do feel that my Arabic improved significantly. My ability to use what vocabulary and grammar I have in a variety of contexts is much better. Before it was hard for me to take what I knew and apply it in situations that hadn’t specifically been addressed in the classroom or the textbook. Now I find myself able to engage linguistically with different scenarios that I previously would not have attempted to handle. The intensity and the repetition of the program was helpful. I believe a less intense Arabic class would not have yielded the same amount of progress, especially online. This opportunity gave me the experience I needed to feel more confident using Arabic in a variety of settings. I believe that I now have the basis to learn how to use Arabic in a professional setting.
This is the link to my final essay for the class: