welcome Word Cloud printed on paper on blue font
Reading Time: 5 minutes

وشاء اللّٰه * Ojalá *  (ʾin šāʾ allāh) *God willing

Learning a new language is a wonderful achievement that may be met with frustration, anxiety, preconceived notions, fear, reflection and exhilaration. Learning English or any new language is emotional. Pride and happiness overtake you the moment you hold a conversation with a visitor or passerby. The second that you share your story in a new language, there is a peak reached, a mountain of morphemes climbed, obstacles overcome, and very often, friendships formed. Building multilingual muscles requires vision, time, focus, resilience and the clear understanding that the rewards (conversations or well written letters), can’t be given to you, bartered for or gifted. They must be earned.

You may have heard the quote from the honorable South African leader Rolihlahla Dalibunga Madiba, also known as the Great Nelson Mandela who said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in HIS language, that goes to his heart.

In 1976, the students of Soweto, South Africa fought to be taught in English and not in Afrikaans, the latter language they viewed as one of apartheid. As recently as 2015, students at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University fought to be taught in English? Why? English is the language of international connections. Your reach is greater. And for native speakers of Arabic, the road leading to English has already been paved. 

    في البداية . . .   *Al principio *In the beginning

Before we speak, we hear.  Before we write, we read, and sharing our thoughts verbally or in prose in a second or third language is a magnificent feeling. Watching bilinguals, trilinguals or multilinguals engage individuals of various cultures and languages with the fluidity of running water and apparent unstressed dexterity can be awe-inspiring. Of course, there is always a back-story. How did they do it?  How do they do it? How can I learn to speak, read and write in English? How may I teach my Arabic speaking students? Is there an easier way, a magic potion or microchip that will make it less of a challenge to learn? Yes there is and there isn’t.

We understand that children embrace languages with apparent ease, whereas adults must work for it and at it. The elasticity of a child’s brain is filled with room… room for errors and room for excellence. Adults, on the other hand have brains filled with rooms of ideas, dreams, experiences, self-esteem, preterits, worries, and the daily interactions, exhaustion and exercise of life.

So, how can we use the Spanish-Arabic language connection to teach English with the accented rhythm of confidence and competence? We can teach students well once we are able to look at the language links and understand how the unbroken branches began. 

 الفروع   *Las Ramas   *The Branches

The vibrant vernacular veins that flow through the linguistic hearts of Arabic and Spanish provide trilingual language teachers with one of the greatest and most exciting opportunities to teach English. Trilingual (and/or tri-cultural) teachers are the trifecta! The triple transformation dream team! In addition to their respect for and knowledge of differing axiologies and cultural norms, the international English educator’s ability to design creative engaging lessons by highlighting the historical and anthropological convergence of Arabic-Spanish sounds may very well foster student’s grammatical growth, lifelong learning interest and formulate rich English thoroughfares whose destinations are unlimited…From sounds to sentences to sustenance.

For aspiring language learners who are unable to move outside of their comfort zones, English and Arabic are often promoted as two (2) of the most difficult languages for adult students to learn. Because of these propagandized obstacles, teachers need a “can do! Will do!” attitude and an academic arsenal that not only teaches, but reaches their scholars’ hearts and minds.  Success in any endeavor is achieved by moving outside of comfort zones. By going beyond the bromides of traditional English teaching pedagogies, trilingual, bilingual and monolingual teachers can move from Arabic’s right to left abjadiyah Alif  (l), through Alfabeto Española, to the English Alphabet and help assuage student’s frustration, and reduce the affective filter as they gain greater confidence and fluency in the current commerce and international lingua franca, English.

Arabic speakers familiar with or fluent in French will have a greater acuity and aptitude to learn English, as they will be familiar with the Roman alphabet. That said, because the phonetic Spanish code is written as it sounds and is often easier to read than French, as they learn, Arabic speakers can lean on their comfortable communication cousin, Spanish. The Spanish-Arabic language connection makes English a referent reality. Spanish can serve as the Roman intermediary, translator; the sound symbol and transliteration tool that may make English resonate, more comprehensible and meaningful for native Arabic speakers.

Of course internal or external motivation, clear knowledge of purpose and resilience are the keys to acquiring any new world language. For educators, the Spanish-Arabic language connection can serve as a contextual conduit in English conversation, written expression and music. How? Según la Real Academia Española, existen unos 4.000 arabismos en castellano.   According to the Royal Academy of Spain, there are more than 4000 Spanish words of Arabic origin.  Esta herencia es perceptible – This shared heritage is visible in daily speech, art, phenotype, music, strength of family, defense of honor and toponymical and gastronomical names too numerous to mention. Spanish-English cognates with Arabic ancestors may be used to jumpstart English comprehension. A quick Google search unearths numerous Spanish and English words of Arabic origin. 

الذهاب إلى الوراء      *Al Revés *Backwards

Native English speakers new to learning the Spanish language often query or complain in exasperation, “Why is it  (Spanish) backwards?” English speakers from the United States are often perplexed when British words are spelled with the “extra” u or “missing” L. Language flexibility and kindness exists when volition anticipates and accommodates differences. English language teachers may use the Spanish-Arabic connection to teach English by advocating for it as an academic adventure and one worth taking as they build a classroom filled with curiosity and an understanding of this lingual liaison.

الجذور.  *Las Raíces  *The Roots

711 A.D. The rippled linguistic repercussions are felt more than 800 years after Berber and Moorish conquistadores Táriq ibn Ziyad, the Berber, with his combined army of Arabs and Berbers, Yusef ibin Tashifin, leader of the Almoravids and Yakub Al-Mansur, leader of the Almohades in the year 1194 A.D. moved into Spain to avenge the honor of Count Julian’s daughter due to the malevolence of the Visigothic King Roderic. Could these warriors for a damsel’s honor have known that their exertions would resonate more than 800 years later as the source of academic and international communiqué? I doubt it. And yet there exists seminal antecedents that allow English to be taught with a greater degree of nourishment due to the linguistic bonds fossilized centuries ago.

Building upon the erudition of the 4000+ Arabic word influence on Spanish, teachers may begin by sharing some of the “English” words whose roots lie in the Arabic-Spanish association.   And as the 26 letter English alphabet uses the same Roman symbols as Spanish (minus the ch ll ñ and rr), the similar Spanish sounds may make the native Arabic speaker connect the Roman symbols and syncopated English speech for greater understanding.  Uneven patois flows and morpheme meanings are more comprehensible. Dots are connected as similarity and familiarity reduce the affective filter for the English language learner. For the native Arabic student echoes of home are heard within the Spanish and English languages. A crucial bridge is built and discovery and significant relationships begin.

By: Lisa Fatimah