We met with Joan Rundo, a freelance Italian/French-English translator and interpreter from Scotland. Joan, studied Arabic through evening classes in Milan, Italy. In an interview with Joan, we asked her the following questions:

Tell us about yourself:

I’m Joan and I was born in Scotland, but of mixed European parentage. I now live in Italy and am married to an Italian, so I feel very much a citizen of the world. I have a degree in French and Italian from Durham University and then I did a postgrad course in translating and interpreting at the University of Kent. I am now a freelance translator (Italian/French to English) and translator, especially in the fields of fashion, cosmetics, the cinema, social sciences. 

How long have you been studying Arabic?What is your current skill level?

I have been studying Arabic…. for a very long time! I would say I am intermediate in both MSA and Moroccan darija. 

What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture?

I started to learn Arabic because at a certain point I worked for an Italian oil company in an office with Italians, British and.. Libyan engineers. Although I had been employed as a translator, it was not really a translating job and I was very bored and frustrated, but fascinated by the Arabic I heard from the Libyans. So I found a very serious evening course (three times a week, 3 hours each) and enrolled. After 3 years I was awarded a diploma, then I did the 2 years advanced course. (All this in Milan). I also did one summer course in Alexandria and one in Sana’a…. My most inspiring teacher is called Myrna Chayo, who is Jewish and from Aleppo. She instilled a deep and lasting love of Arabic in me (and all her students). 

Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

Unfortunately studying while working full-time was not easy, but I persevered. Since I finished the courses, there have been long periods when I hardly touched Arabic, but I have been coming to Morocco 3 or 4 times a year for about ten years now and I take every opportunity to speak and read as much as I can.  

What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?

I did not expect to become proficient enough to translate Arabic professionally, but it has helped me in multicultural situations. For example, every year I work as a translator and  interpreter at the African, Asian and Latin American  Film Festival in Milan (cancelled this year for obvious reasons…sigh) and I have met many film directors from the Arab world and adding something in Arabic has always helped!  

What is your favourite Arabic word? Why?

مشمش I just love the sound of it

What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?

I don’t think I have one…

Who’s your most inspiring Arab personality? Why?

Aicha ech-Chenna who has helped so many unmarried pregnant women in Morocco

What is your favourite place in the Arab World? Why

Morocco – it was the first Arab country I visited (afterwards Tunisa, Egypt, Yemen) and nowhere else have I encountered such warmth, generosity and hospitality from people. I feel more at home there now than anywhere else.

What is your favourite Arabic quote?

اهواك واتمنى لو انساك وانسى روحي وياك I love you and if I forget you I hope I forget my soul (I am a romantic…)

What is your favourite Arabic book and why?

Difficult question!! الخبز الحافي by Mohammed Choukri for the harsh reality, and فردوس by Nawaal al Saadawi – first Arabic feminist book I read!

What is your favourite Arab dish/meal? Why?

Difficult to say, as a lot depends on the circumstances in which I had a certain dish or meal. Here goes: couscous (kseksou) of course! Or the superb fish simply cooked in a tannur in Yemen, or the bounty of a spread of lebanese mezze, with stuffed vine leaves (waraq ainab), pastrami (basturma), kibbe naye (raw meat blended with burghoul), tabbouleh …. 

What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested to learn Arabic?

Patience, patience and more patience, but it’s so rewarding when suddenly something clicks and you can understand something that seemed totally obscure before! Take it in easy steps, there’s no way you’ll become fluent in a short time, but if you just measure your progress every few months then that’s motivating! I try and read Arabic novels with a translation, either in parallel or first read the Arabic and then go to the translation (in English or French) to see what I haven’t understood. Seeing films is also great: Whether on DVD or Netflix, there are lots of Arabic series with subtitles… I’m currently enjoying Justice, about a female lawyer in Abu Dhabi.

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