As part of QFI’s I Speak Arabic campaign, QFI senior program associate Connor Seidenschwarz spoke about his experience learning Arabic. Seidenschwarz was first drawn to the Arabic language because of the alphabet. He started learning the language in his early years in university. Ever since, he’s been enticed by a different world than his own.
Noor: Hi this is Noor Odeh of Qatar Foundation International and I’m here with Connor Seidenschwarz, a senior program associate at QFI. We’re here to discuss his experience of studying and speaking in Arabic and what he has been up to for a year. Thank you, Connor, for meeting me.
Connor: Thanks for having me!
Noor: So what first made you interested in Arabic? What was your first exposure to the language?
Connor: I was an undergrad in my second year and as part of my degree, I had to pick a language. So I was kind of looking at picking something a little different than, you know, the typical Spanish or French, German. I studied French in high school and I didn’t do too well. So I wanted to try something new. I actually was first attracted to Arabic because of the script. I just thought it looked beautiful and that was pretty much the only reason I started off with that.
Noor: Wow! That’s very interesting. So what was your biggest challenge since you started learning Arabic?
Connor: The biggest challenge at first [was] the sounds. There were several sounds in Arabic that just aren’t in English at all. So getting my mouth used to make those sounds was difficult. Some of the grammatical concepts were a little tricky for my brain to get a hold of so I had to get used to there not being a verb “is” in a basic, nominative sentence and then find out that there is a verb for “is” but it’s only used sometimes and stuff like that. It’s easier now, but a little difficult at first.
Noor: Oh yeah. When did you first connect with QFI? What happened?
Connor: I was in grad school and I was just about to finish my studies and I was looking for a job and one of my classmates is actually a senior program associate here now. Her name is Madison Marks and she told me there is an opening. So I asked about the position and I applied.
Noor: Wow that’s great! So could you speak about your involvement with the organization?
Connor: So I am in charge of a couple small grants/awards. I run the Classroom Resource Enrichment Grants (CREGs), which are small grants for teachers that are basically trying to outfit their classrooms with necessary materials, books, or posters or decoration, mostly from newer teachers, but some ongoing classrooms as well. And then we also run the ALIF (Arabic Language Initiative and Fluency) Awards, which I managed, which are small student awards for exceptional students for Arabic language and those actually are small monetary awards with a little plaque as well. The money is encouraged to be used towards materials that would help them further their own Arabic language education. So our last winner submitted a list of the materials they would like to buy, which may have included textbooks, or actually trips to museums that had information about the Arab world and Arab culture.
Noor: Wow that’s very good. So what was your first initial reaction to being in such an environment?
Connor: I felt very comfortable here right off the bat. It’s a small organization, everybody’s really friendly and gets along great and I just kind of clicked with that right away. I love it here! And I like the work we do.
Noor: That’s great. That’s fantastic. So how often did you use Arabic, here at QFI?
Connor: It kind of depends. So sometimes when we have our summer institute all the teachers there speak Arabic and sometimes I would chat with them in Arabic. It kind of just depends on the environment; depends on what we’re doing. It helps every now and then to kind of be able to understand Arabic as well when some teachers are giving a presentation, even if they’re in English, they’d throw in some Arabic to talk about certain ideas or concepts.
Noor: Well that’s great. So what did you have to use Arabic the most for when you traveled, for example? Could you recount a specific instance you had happened to you?
Connor: It kind of varies. My most recent trip to the Middle East was two summers ago and I was in Egypt first to study Arabic. So there I was using it mostly for in-class learning, but then outside class, using it for directions, ordering at restaurants, buying groceries. Nothing too complex. Other than that, conversations with people. I had a moment where I’d been up with some friends and I think we were having dinner and I had realized about 15-20 minutes of speaking Arabic with this group that I had spoken Arabic with this group of people and understood everything that was said. And it was kind of great. It kind of dawned on me, but it was really a great moment for me to realize that “oh I can finally do this!” Then after that I was in Lebanon, actually, teaching English, but the kids, these were Palestinian refugees in Southern Lebanon and I was teaching them English and sometimes I could use, I was supposed to speak English the most part, but sometimes it really helped to break down a concept for them in Arabic and I could do that. I actually got a compliment from one of the student teachers on how I have broken down this grammatical concept for them in Arabic. That was great to hear because that was exactly what I was trying to do, make it clear to them and make it easy. Knowing Arabic and being able to do that and teach English felt great.
Noor: Has speaking Arabic opened any opportunities to you that you might not have had if you didn’t speak Arabic?
Connor: Absolutely! My travel abroad, for one, before going to the Middle East, I actually had not gone anywhere in the world before going to the Middle East. So I’ve never been to Europe before I went to Egypt. That was probably something I would never have experienced then this last summer, going to Egypt and Lebanon, being able to teach there, being able to see the things and do the things I have done. And even my job here now, I would not have any of that if I hadn’t started speaking and studying Arabic.
Noor: Do you see yourself continuing with Arabic down the road?
Connor: Absolutely! Arabic is probably my favorite thing. I love studying it, I’ve always loved studying it and I still have lots of room for improvement and until I don’t feel like I do anymore, I will continue studying it. So that might be until I die. That’s fine.
Noor: What has been your greatest reward studying Arabic?
Connor: I kind of had that experience in Egypt that felt great just kind of innate, great feeling and nothing physical, in terms of reward, but I donno I’d say. I think all these experiences I have had and what I’ve been able to do with Arabic have been there own reward. I’ve always wanted to study and really learn another language and Arabic is the first language I’ve ever been able to do that with. Only still besides English, but to me that is the greatest reward so far.
Noor: Any tips or advice to others who want to study Arabic?
Connor: The first 10 years are the hardest, but stick with it!
Noor: OK, so do you have a favorite word in Arabic?
Connor: ohh ‘ankaboot or maybe.-
Noor: it means spider right?
Connor: yeah. There’s another one, this just popped into my head. I’m sure I have better words that I like more. Taa’oos.-
Noor: Taa’oos means Peacock?
Connor: Taa’oos is one of my favorites. Yeah.
Noor: Well that’s great! Obviously, you know how to say your name in Arabic and “I Speak Arabic”?
Connor: Ismy Connor w bahkey Araby. My name is Connor and I speak Arabic.