We met with Anna Stern Taulats , from Spain. Anna, studied Arabic at University Autònoma of Barcelona. In an interview with Anna, we asked her the following questions:
Tell us about yourself
My name is Anna Stern Taulats and I live in Girona, a small Spanish city near the French border, where I teach Arabic! When I began my personal journey with this fantastic language it never came up to my mind that it would become my main source of income. But I have to admit that I love it: it’s never boring! I started studying Arabic when I enrolled my BA in Translation at the University Autònoma of Barcelona (2001). I also hold a BA in Social Education from the University of Barcelona (2004). In 2019 I obtained a PGCert in Arabic – Spanish Translation Specialist from Escuela de Traductores de Toledo (UCLM). Since 2010 I have been working as teacher of Arabic at the Official School of Languages (EOI) of Girona, my city.
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
Officially, my love story with Arabic started at the University, in 1998, when I chose Arabic at my BA in Translation.When I finished these studies I realised that if I ever wanted to really speak and communicate in Arabic I had to live in an Arabic country for some time. And that is why I applied for a scholarship from AECI (Spanish Agency for International Cooperation) that allowed me to study two years of Arabic at the Universty of Jordan, Amman. And, in fact, it allowed me a bunch of other things that were even more important for my learning process. There, I gained consciousness of the particular sociolinguistic situation of Arabic, and I began learning shamy: I lived with a Palestinian family, I made a lot of Arab friends and I enjoyed my particular Arab life. All this was what made my decision of studying Arabic meaningful.When I returned back to Spain in 2006 I first worked in the field of Immigration and Refugees, specifically with Non Accompanied Children. In Spain, most of them come from North Africa and Arabic speaking countries, so my Arabic resulted to be a very valuable tool, although I know that sometimes, my particular accent and fusha – shamy mixture, made more than one laugh at it or feel confused. But it was always ok, as long as we tried to communicate! Since 2010 I have been working as teacher of Arabic at the Official School of Languages (EOI) of Girona. My school is part of a network of public schools for the teaching of languages to adults according to CEFRL. It is a very unique system that allows anybody to study a foreign language with high standards and relatively low costs. So, I consider myself a privileged: for teaching in such a place and, particularly, because all my students come motivated! Sharing my motivation with them is invaluable. My level? I started studying Arabic many years ago and I feel I reached a level where I feel comfortable with the language – in a fusha and shamy context-, but I am conscious this is going to be a live journey. There is always a new challenge ahead. My next challenge is commanding darija: any valuable recommendations here?
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
Why did I choose Arabic when I started studying at the University? Well, I was still in shock and amazed from a summer trip to Palestine and Israel that I did with my family. It definitely aroused my curiosity towards a language that may seem strange, at the beginning, but that we do have so close, at the same time. And, I guess, from all the languages available at the University this was the most different and appealing to me.At that moment, there was a particular way of learning this language, since you were supposed to learn it without practicing it or even hearing it in class. I soon realised that I could only succeed -or dye- meeting Arabic speakers who were keen to practice with me. And THIS was and has been, since then, the reason that kept my motivation towards this language and culture on. Then, in 1999 I got an Erasmus Schollarship to study Arabic for one year in Norway, at the University of Bergen. There, I discovered a completely different way of teaching and learning this language, where students where encouraged from the beginning to travel and spend a long period of time in an Arabic speaking country. In a very short period of time, Norwegian students reached a language level that was impossible to imagine where I came from at that time –luckily, things have changed for good-. My experience in Norway has served me as a strong good practice reference till then.And during my personal trip with Arabic I have been taking courses, traveling, reading, watching films… on different subjects related to language, culture, religion, history and literature of Arabic speaking countries. No doubt this has enriched my experience and kept my motivation. But above all, my main motivation has always been a social one. That’s why I consider living in an Arabic country for some time the best tip to give to someone who wants to learn this language –and any language in general, in fact-.
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
I have to admit that sometimes I needed to be very stubborn and determined to continue studying Arabic, especially at the beginning, when learning this language felt so artificial and decontextualized. But when I discovered that there were other ways to learn it and I started really USING the language it all, slowly, started making sense.In any case learning a language, any language, is never an effortless decision. It may take some years if you really want to command it. But what you discover and gain while learning it is what makes your decision feel rewarding. And then, one day, it happens that Arabic is just part of your life.
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?
I have been working on a project to create communicative material for the Arabic classroom. It’s taking some time, but I hope we will be able to share it with you soon! Also, something that has become a wish for me lately is to introduce Arabic dialect classes in the school. This year, I managed it for the first time, with a group of students: we did a course where we created a webserie in Arabic, and dialect was a MUST. But I have to work on it a bit more…
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
When I look backwards and think of what I should have done differently, this is my main advice: go to an Arabic speaking country as soon as possible!! Don’t stick to fusha: open yourself to dialects. Even thought at the beginning it may seem confusing it slowly becomes a useful tool! Be persistent and insistent: try to use Arabic everywhere you go and with everybody you can. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes: of course you make them! And if somebody laughs at you, you should laugh with them: that’s life!
Quick Wee Questions
What’s your favourite Arabic word?
For the way it sounds: ضفدع For its powerful cultural meaning: الضيافة
What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?
عيب! It’s also a very powerful word, but I don’t like it. I feel it’s the first word kids learn to start sensuring themselves, instead of learning.
Who’s your most inspiring Arab personality?
I would love to know, personally, Nawal El Saadawi: such a strong an intelligent woman! But also, I just admire the capacity of many Arab people to face extremelly difficult situations and make jokes out of them, or just keep going.
What is your favourite place in the Arab World?
My first sacred place is Petra. My second sacred place is having a lemonade with mint at Darat al Funun in Amman, while looking at the sunset.
What is your favourite Arabic quote?
I really love this one, because I still remember the day Jamila told it to me, while strugling with my Arabic!: ما في شي ببلاش غير العمى والطراش
What is your favourite book? Why?
I love Nizar Qabbani because I started reading in Arabic with his poems, and that makes him special.
What is your favourite Arab dish? Why?
Having fresh bread, olive oil, زعتر, olives, labneh and hummus for breakfast, is the best way to start my day. And I also die for all kinds of محاشي, but specially الدوالي أو ورق العنب.