We met with Coco Claxton, a PG Arabic student alumni from the UK who has completed a Masters in Advanced Arabic at the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department, University of Edinburgh. In an interview with Coco we asked her the following questions:
Tell us about yourself (name, origins, current degree/studies, academic background, university & graduation year, professions, etc.)
I’m Coco Claxton, from the UK. I graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2016 with an MA in Arabic and Modern History. My interest in Arabic really began at school, when I developed my love of languages, focusing particularly on Spanish and French. I wanted to branch out and when my parents moved to Dubai, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to start learning a new language. In 2014 I traveled to Jordan to pursue a colloquial Arabic course at AMIDEAST in Amman. It was at this point that I became increasingly intrigued by Middle Eastern culture, politics and FOOD ;). Having finished my Undergraduate Degree, I wanted to continue my studies, and began an MSc in Advanced Arabic at the University of Edinburgh. During this rich and diverse course, we all came on leaps and bounds largely due to the fantastic teaching and the opportunity to study abroad at The American University in Cairo. Having recently graduated I started interning and later volunteering at the British Red Cross Refugee Services in Glasgow; In the last 6 months I have had the opportunity to volunteer in the Red Cross Youth department, take up a position as Triage Caseworker and have recently started interpreting for some of our service users. I also work part-time as a Young People’s Worker at Aberlour Childcare Trust.
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
My interest in Arabic was initially triggered by my parents move to Dubai, however long before that point my family has always been deeply invested in the Middle East. My Father was a documentary film maker, who made several films in the Arab world, whilst my mother was an air hostess for Iran Air and spent several years travelling in the region.
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
I have been studying Arabic for 5 years, and I am now at an advanced level. However, due to the complexity of the language and the various different dialects in the Arab world, I believe that improving your Arabic is probably a lifelong challenge – but very worthwhile!
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
I have definitely experienced ups and downs on my journey to Arabic; Having focused largely on formal Arabic during my Undergraduate Degree, it was only at Masters level that I really began focusing on colloquial Arabic – the Levantine and Egyptian dialect. This was very different to what I’d done before and therefore initially proved a great challenge. However, I am so happy that I had the opportunity to study colloquial Arabic at this level and that now when I communicate with people, I can do so on both a formal and informal level, thus breaking down barriers and opening up new channels of communication.
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?
My career ambitions are largely focused around refugee services; this is the sector I feel truly passionate about, and I feel that in this field my knowledge of Arabic and Middle Eastern culture and politics can be put to great use – both as a channel of communication and as a means to make people feel comfortable, understood and supported.
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
I think becoming an excellent student of Arabic requires great perseverance and patience on the part of the student. You must find as many opportunities as you can to practise and improve your spoken Arabic – find a language partner, join an Arabic exchange group or simply get watching all of these amazing Arabic series! Your knowledge and enjoyment of Arabic will only increase the more you immerse yourself.