The conversation usually goes something like this:
Person: Wow, cool! You spent a summer in Lebanon studying Arabic! Do you speak it?
Me: Do YOU? Because if you don't, I know enough to make you THINK I do! ;-)
I can “improvise” the Arabic language. It won't make a damed bit of sense to anyone who really knows that language. No story will be told. No theme will be developed. There will be no appropriate inflection in my voice but it won't matter since it's all jibberish anyway. Nothing at all will be communicated from me to you. Basically it will be a noisy waste of time.
It would be like this:
Tabbouli baba ghanouj warak einab kibbeh. (foods)
Wahashteni sirret el hob ai damait hozen la wala marra ya bint al sultan habibi ya aini. (song titles)
Habibi ya nour al ain ya saken khayali. (a phrase from a song)
Kharra (bad word. :-/)
Marhaba keefik shoo akhbarik (random greetings)
A'la baabi wa-ef amarain wahed bilsama. (another phrase - different song).
You get my point.
Just to type all of that above, I was SO in my head - THINKING - that I didn't notice my phone ring. It was on silent. But it was sitting right next to me - flashing and vibrating. Didn't notice.
Now I've missed a call.
I likely had a couple of pockets of time when I wasn't thinking so hard - like when I started the phrase “Habibi ya nour al ain……..” and instinctively filled in the rest. Of course, God forbid that I wanted to finish that phrase in another way cuz - ha - I only know one way to finish it!!
You know what else? Next time I talk to or type at another person and try to impress them with my “Arabic”, 95% of what I would say would be the same as what I just typed above. And if it wasn't in close chronological proximity to the last time I did it, it would require JUST AS MUCH THOUGHT and I would probably miss more calls.
And it would still be jibberish.
But hey! I can understand alot more Arabic than I can speak. I can repeat after a native speaker pretty accurately. If 20 people are standing in a room - all speaking foreign languages - I can tell you which one is speaking Arabic. I know more than most Americans, for sure.
And like I said earlier - if YOU don't know any Arabic, I can blow you away!
So yeah, I can “improvise” in the Arabic language. But I can't really “speak” it in the manner that the “Person” in my example above meant.
And I'm SURE AS HELL not fluent. I know this because I know that I can't demonstrate anything that I know about it - in a reasonable period of time (like as a participant in a conversation) - and be contextually relevant.
It's not that I'm not exposed to it and (at some level) participating in it.
I listen and move to Arabic vocals in music every day - for hours!
I work with Arab musicians - ALOT!
I hear friends speaking to their family members and musicians speaking to eachother.
I catch some words here and there and impress myself when I can catch a whole sentence.
Regardless of that, if I said “I would like to speak Arabic fluently” or even just “I would like to be able to access the little bit of Arabic that I DO KNOW when I need it and in a manner that matters for the moment”, I would be a liar. If I REALLY wanted to be better at Arabic, I would be participating in the language at a level much deeper than what I do now - or I would be in a class - or I would be in a study group - or ALL OF THAT!
And all of that, my friends, makes me think about dancers and live music and
Project Band and the GoLive! Arab Music and Dance Conference.
AND it makes me think about a conversation I had with a dancer a few years ago.
She was a good dancer. Very good! Still is! An "award-winning" dancer as they say. I had seen her dance many times - to recorded music.
"I'm not going to do any of the live music curriculum at your studio because I've been dancing to live music for my entire life", she said.
"What the hell does that mean?, I thought to myself.
"Improvising?", I asked - instead of asking what I was thinking. "I mean.... has your experience to live music been as improvisation?"
"Yes, of course", she responded.
"Hmmmmm. Probably like my Arabic......", I thought. You see, I too had been dancing to live music for decades. But by this time, I (unlike my buddy) had come to realize that live music was an opportunity - if used properly - to test, reinforce, and develop fluency. And most dancers that I know would want to do that - especially when it's so much fun!
So, yeah.....to be continued.
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