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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 13 December 2018

How speaking in Arabic will add colour to my vocabulary this Ramadan

Speaking the language gave me access to a deeper well of emotions ranging from love to frustration

I speak Arabic most intensely during Ramadan, but even that poses its challenges socially. Getty
I speak Arabic most intensely during Ramadan, but even that poses its challenges socially. Getty

I don’t know about you, but for me, Ramadan requires a switch in gears on the food front as well as socially.

Outside the holy month, my evening interactions often take place in noisy surrounds – mostly due to my job reporting on entertainment and music in the capital. Ramadan though, provides me with an opportunity to spend my evenings in more serene, air-conditioned surroundings, whether that be in suhour tents or around an iftar table.

It is also a time to catch up with my Arabic-speaking friends, many of whom have families and whose social lives aren’t conducive with mine at other times of the year.

I speak Arabic most intensely during Ramadan, but even that poses its challenges socially. I was discussing this with a multilingual acquaintance over dinner at Emirates Palace earlier this week. My friend, a Bahraini who is fluent in Japanese, explained that when using his Japanese he “becomes a different person”.

“My personality changes because I am concentrating so much on what I am trying to say,” he said.

I expressed my relief at his comments, as I often face that situation myself. While I feel blessed to have a fluent command of the Arabic language, it has yet to blend seamlessly with my natural personality.

While offering an insight into another culture and its social customs, I have found that using another language also provides insights into your own disposition and character. For example, when I speak in English, which is my natural tongue, I often speak rapidly and am quick to lace my conversation with what I think are good puns. But when you see me having a sustained and serious conversation in Arabic – particularly with strangers – you would think I was on medication. I deliberately slow down my speech to ensure my diction is clear.

I have also realised that when I am talking to my English-speaking colleagues, I fondly recall colourful anecdotes. In Arabic that is rarely the case. While I am adept in providing information, the limited number of adjectives in my Arabic phrasebook rob me of the joy of telling a rip-roaring story, and instead, the tales are regaled in a manner resembling a solemn newspaper report.

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Read more from Saeed:

The challenges of Ramadan should be welcomed

Discovering the true meaning of Ramadan

Abu Dhabi has become a home very far away from home for many expats

The natoor is an enduring reminder of old-school ways

Brushing off the stigma of baldness

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The situation is not as dire as it sounds. I have learnt to enjoy speaking in Arabic and my slower pace has not only decreased the chances of me putting my sandal in my mouth, but by thinking through what I am trying to convey, I have become more engaged. That extra level of concentration has allowed me to live more in the moment – a sign of this is the rare use of my mobile phone during an Arabic chat session. I have found that using another language has also given me access to a deeper well of emotions.

Listening to my native Arabic friends has helped me to expand my vocabulary. I’ve included words that describe different degrees of frustration, joy and love. For example, I have added the word “Ashq” (deep and immense adoration) and the terms “damn khafeef” and “damn thageel” (the former literally means light blooded to describe someone possessing an easy-going nature, while the latter is heavy blooded, which means someone pensive and who holds a grudge) into my ever-evolving vocabulary.

So as we enter the holy month, I look forward to broadening my horizons further. I may be a less colourful conversationalist as a result, but I will be hanging on to every word spoken.