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An embarrassing admission

Which way to Petra?


A few years ago I was travelling through Jordan with my family.  We found ourselves a little bit lost on a small road in the mountains between the Dead Sea and Petra.  We thought we were heading in the right direction, we came to a fork in the road but there were no signposts, and we didn’t know which road to take.  A pickup truck appeared from the road on the left, stopped and a man and boy got out.  I got out of our car and asked the man (in English), which way to Petra?  He grinned and pointed to the road on the right, then grabbed the small boy, opened the back door of our car, put him on the seat next to our daughter, Heléna, and said, “You go!”  After the initial shock of a little stranger in the car, I understood him to mean this boy, probably his son, would show us the way. 

So we drove off to the right, just a little concerned we had now adopted a tiny, non-English-speaking tour guide for the rest of our trip.  Would we have to accommodate, feed, entertain and return him to his father at the end?  Or did we now have a new permenant addition to our family?!

Oh how I wished at that moment I could speak Arabic!   We had been living in the Middle East for 3 years at that time and had little beyond ‘shukran’ – thank you, ‘khallas’ – finish, and ‘yalla’ – go. 

Heléna had been learning some Arabic at school so we got  ‘ana isme’ – my name is, and ‘mish mish’ – peach, and ‘mouz’ – banana, but that wasn’t very helpful.  

It turns out we were just the little boy’s ride to school – a kilometre or two up the road!   He made sure we understood we had to stop the car and let him out and then he pointed up the road and said, “Petra, keep going”.   

I remember being frustrated that we had an opportunity to communicate with a local and were unable to.  And was embarrassed to admit I was relying on the laziness of English-speakers in that English is widely spoken (except in the mountains of Jordan).  At that moment I resolved to formally learn Arabic.  

When I started I was disappointed with the books and resources on offer and didn’t want to learn Classical Arabic.  I wanted to be able to have a conversation with a small boy in a car in a fascinating and beautiful country.   I also wanted to be able to speak Arabic with my daughter and help her with her school work.  I wanted to help her become competent and fluent in another language which will give her an advantage in an ever-more competitive world.   But what she was learning in school was not fun, or easy, or helpful.  

I found I wasn’t alone in my frustrations.   I spoke to many other expat parents (Western and Arab), and realised there was a large gap in learning Conversational Arabic.    The Arabic taught in schools is taught in Classical for a reason, but the expat children (again both Western and Arab) remain unable to hold a conversation in Arabic, get frustrated that they can’t be understood, and give up.  

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a resource that fixed that problem?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see Western expat children conversing in Arabic in an Arab country, and increasing their understanding and tolerance of another culture through language?  How fantastic would it be to hear Arab expat children conversing with their Grandparents in their home countries in Arabic, instead of the language of playground – English?

I met Maya in 2017 and discovered, as an Arabic teacher, she had the exact frustrations.  Having taught Arabic for many years, she struggled to find enough good quality, fun, interesting books for her students.  Maya has a passion for teaching which shows in the results her students get in their Arabic exams at school, and in the smiles and delight on the faces of their parents when her students give a speech in Arabic.  She told me she dreamt of having her own books to teach from.  And that’s when two frustrations came together to develop a fabulous solution, and why Speak Arabic FAST was born.

When I’m learning new words or phrases in Arabic, I often think of that little boy in our car and what questions I would ask him, now that I have a vocabulary!  

Maya and I hope you have fun learning from our books as much as we had fun putting them together.

Get your copies of the Speaking and Activity Books here:

Speak Arabic Fast Speaking Book 1 and Activity Book 1