The Truth About Arabic

There’s no doubt that the people from the Middle East are very proud people. They are proud of their country, of their history and of their language. Except when speaking English… many of those I speak to wish to lose all traces of the  markers that identify them as being from the region. But that’s a story for another time. Today we talk about Arabic itself. What are the differences between Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and the colloquial or vernacular varieties? Which is intrinsically the best Arabic to learn? The answer seems to be…. all of them! No matter which country the person comes from that I speak with. Whenever I tell them that I have an interest in Arabic and wish to study it in the future, they all tell me to learn their variety of Arabic; whether it is Saudi Arabic, Iraqi Arabic, Jordanian Arabic, Lebanese Arabic… or take your pick from any of the Gulf states. And why should I learn X variety? Well, because, as I’m reliably informed (irrespective of where that speaker comes from)… X Arabic is the closest to MSA. It’s amazing right… so many different varieties that are reported to be somewhat unintelligible to one another, and yet, they all the closest to MSA. My question to you… as a learner of Arabic, and not as an L1 speaker of Arabic… which Arabic vernacular is actually the most practical for the learner to attempt to acquire, keeping in mind that the vast majority of Arabic materials reflect MSA and not the...

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Accents: Native or Not
May10

Accents: Native or Not

Our friend Ultimate Attainment is back again. He’s someone we’re talking about a lot in my seminars lately and unfortunately, certain people do believe the falsehoods about sounding like “native” being the ultimate. It’s also a fundamental aspect of my dissertation (specifically dealing with English in Korea).. but that’s another story. When it comes to accentual perfection, I’m of the opinion that it is possible to sound like a native, but the issue is, is it necessary..and that is a no. It’s a no for several reasons, but one of the biggest is because many people these days have been exposed to others learning their language, so accentual perfection is not needed to be understood. I have met a few people with excellent accents in English (and other languages… if we are to use a native model as being “excellent”), but it’s not the norm and it’s not something that can make or break conversation. So I don’t believe it to all that important. Getting the message across is the key to successful communication, while sounding like a local doesn’t really mean all that much if what you’re saying is gibberish. On top of this, we also need to consider language pride/national identity. There are learners from certain countries that are proud to still be noticed of where they’re from. To generalise… many French English speakers like being recognised as being French, whereas many Arabic English speakers don’t like being recognised as being from that region of the world (generalisations of course, but ancedotal evidence to back that up 😉 So that’s the moral high-ground, but where am I in relation to my own learning? Well… I like to think I have a pretty good ear for accent replication. And I like to think my Korean accent in particular is quite good overall (with the exception of a few sounds that I’ve long been aware of)… but having recorded myself a lot lately I’ve come to realise that after just a year out of the country – and even though I have many Korean friends and a Korean wife – my accent has gone downhill a rather long way. Downhill, not in the sense of failed communication and gibberish, but downhill in the sense that my pronunciation isn’t anything like a native 😉 …Which is where I am right now; going through a lot of remedial pronunciation drills to pick my accent up again. All this is inspite of the fact that I will never pass as a Korean since I’m Caucasian… but alas… c’est la vie And that, my friends, is the dilemna… Even though we know it’s not necessary to sound like a native, nor...

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Bilingual Children and Literacy

As a follow-up to the Multilingual Children post a while back, this is a question we’ve been pondering lately… How do you develop and maintain literacy in the home language without formal instruction? The obvious way as we are both teachers is to actively teach our son how to write and give him written tasks as he progresses… but that’s unrealistic. The last thing we want to do is have Leon resenting English when we’re in Korea (where English will be the home language). Sure, he’ll be exposed to English in the education system or should we choose, a private institute… but since his English level is likely to be higher than his peers, that’s also kind of unrealistic. We have no issues when it comes to taking care of the other skills – listening, speaking and reading – and their development as to take care of them is obvious. Read and talk, just like any parent does. Meta-linguistic transfer should take place to assist with reading skills across the board. The only concern is the writing as it’s a different alphabet, and a direct transfer cannot take place. So our dilemna is purely related to English writing skills that are going to be comparable to his development in the community language, or Korean. I’ll be interested to hear from others that have been raised bilingually (or are raising kids bilingually) and have successfully developed written literacy in their home...

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Multilingual Children
Oct02

Multilingual Children

As Nayoung and I have just had our first baby boy – Leon Jaewoo – I may as well do a write up on multilingual children and the common methods surrounding the raising of them. Obviously, we would love for our boy to grow up as a coordinate bilingual of English and Korean… but how are we going to do it? The most popular way parents achieve this goal is either the one parent, one language (OPOL) policy or the minority language at home (MH@H) policy. OPOL was our initial plan… but even a week into it, it’s pretty difficult to maintain. We code-switch a lot in our relationship and this is likely to transfer over to our parenting. On top of this, our situation is a little twisted in the sense that we are only likely to be in Australia for another 10 months or so before returning to Korea…. where our OPOL attempts may needs to switch to ML@H – minority language in that instance being English. To lessen the impact of drastic switching between OPOL and ML@H we are considering situational languages to incorporate our code-switching… Think of our overall approach as an inverted ML@H at the moment; meaning, we speak English at home (inverted minority since we are in Australia) and Korean outside of the home as this will replicate the circumstances one we return to Korea next year. The complications with this are possibly that when he realises we both speak both languages, he may take the easier route and reject English as Korean will be the majority language at the time…. Which brings up back to OPOL. At the end of the day, I doubt there is too much to worry about… Leon will work out what is going on in due course… And we will work out what is going on at about the same time 😉 If anyone has any ideas or experience raising a child with more than one language… please drop a comment letting us know how it went! Methods for raising multilingual children One Parent, One Language As the name suggests, one parent speaks one language, the other parent speaks another. This is sometimes called “One Person, One Language”, which allows you to utilise au pairs, etc. Basically, if mum speaks English, then dad speaks Spanish… and this is the way it stays. The child becomes aware that they must use a certain language with a certain person. Minority Language At Home This is where the home language is not the community language and is very common with immigrants. For instance, an Polish family in England would speak...

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Language Schools: Yonsei University

This was written in August 2006 after my experience at Yonsei University as an exchange student, so some of the information may be out-dated now. There are two main programs at Yonsei – DIEE and KLI. DIEE (Division of International Education and Exchange) is what I was involved in. It is a general exchange student program where you take normal university classes and optional Korean language classes. Should you choose to take language classes they are run for 2 hours per day in the afternoon, Monday to Friday. The fact that the classes were in the afternoon didn’t agree with me; 4-6pm didn’t really allow for doing much other than waiting for class once you’d had lunch. I would have much preferred a morning class, but maybe that is just me. KLI (Korean Language Institute) is operated much the same as the DIEE program with regard to language classes, although they are 4 hours per day and the students are generally more serious since their sole purpose is for language learning. Students don’t have to be university students or graduates, I think a high school certificate is all that is needed. As a side note, there were some students DIEE that took their general university classes in the form of KLI classes for a total of 6 hours instruction per day. About the classes: Most teachers are only monolingual Korean, or give that impression. My teacher only spoke Korean in the classroom, but after class if we had things we wanted clarification on that we couldn’t grasp only in Korean, she could explain things in English and Japanese, or write an explanation in Chinese characters for the couple of Taiwanese students we had. Class size was dependent on level. The earlier levels seemed to have up to about 14 students, whereas the upper levels only had about 5. My class had roughly 8 from what I can remember. Whilst the class size was a little large at times, it was good in the aspect that you had some different points of view to certain grammatical situations. I found this helped me understand some things I had difficulty with because some of my peers would ask things that I hadn’t considered. The method of the class was basically covering a situation with the relevant grammar and vocabulary per academic hour. This would entail going through a dialogue (listening, repeating) and after clarification of the grammatical points we would have to attempt reciting the dialogue without the text. This would take close to the 45 minute lesson, and then during the second hour we focused on the grammatical patterns that had been...

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