We met with Dónal Hassett, from Ireland. Dónal, studied Arabic in Bristol and Cork.  In an interview with Dónal, we asked him the following questions:

Tell us about yourself

I’m Dónal Hassett and I am from Dublin, Ireland. I hold a degree and Masters in European Studies from Trinity College Dublin. I got my PhD in French colonial history at the European University Institute in Florence. I have lived, studied and worked in Ireland, England, Italy, France and Spain. I currently work at the French Department in University College Cork. I speak French, Spanish, Irish and Italian and have been trying to learn Arabic on and off for several years.

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

I have been learning Arabic on and off for several years but it has been hard dedicate sufficient time to it while also working in a full time job. My skill level is still fairly basic.

What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture?  What & who inspired you?  What were your motivations?

My desire to learn Arabic was motivated primarily by my interest in and love of North Africa, especially Algeria. As a historian, I want to be able to access sources in Arabic so I can try to capture the experience of French colonialism from the perspective of the Algerians themselves. I have been very lucky to have some inspiring Arabic teachers over the years, especially Mariam Almohammed in Bristol and Hamid Abbas here in Cork.

Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

Arabic is very challenging and I have found it quite hard to maintain my motivation at times, particularly in the early stages. I also have struggled with the fact that the MSA I am spending so much time learning will not be much use for communicating in North Africa! However, once I got to the stage where I could read a text and understand at least some of the gist of it that really gave me a boost.

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

I look forward to being able to use my Arabic when conducting my research, especially when I next travel to Algeria.

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

I think the most important thing is time. Arabic requires lots of dedication and hard work but this will be rewarded with knowledge of a beautiful language and culture.

What’s your favourite Arabic word?

حرية It reminds me of the figures of Algerian history that have always inspired me.

What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?

إعدام Describes a horrible practice and is difficult to pronounce.

Who’s your most inspiring Arab personality?

The Algerian revolutionary Larbi Ben M’Hidi.

What is your favourite place in the Arab World?

Algiers- one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

What is your favourite Arabic quote?

“الموت لا يوجع .. الموتى الموت يوجع .. الأحياء…!” محمود درويش

‘Death does not hurt the dead, death hurts the living’ Mahmoud Darwish

What is your favourite book? Why?

I Saw Ramallah by Mourid Barghouti رأيت رام الله مريد البرغوثي

What is your favourite Arab dish? Why?

Algiers rechta- absolutely delicious taste of Algeria!


If you have studied Arabic before (no matter how little), we would love to hear from you. To share your story, please  go to SUBMIT .To find out more about the MyJourneytoArabic initiative, go to ABOUT


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