We met with Caroline Robinson. Caroline is from the United States and she is a Arabic immersion teacher . In an interview with Caroline we asked her the following questions:

Tell us about yourself

I’m Caroline Robinson and I wrote this creative piece to illustrate my journey with Arabic. I have no historical or personal ties to the language. I began my first Arabic course at UNC-Chapel Hill in 2008, then went on to receive my master’s in teaching Arabic as a second language in 2014. Now work as an Arabic immersion teacher in Houston, TX

كيف تعلمت اللغة العربية

How did you learn Arabic?

They always ask me.

Part personal interest, part history

Of jam packed classes,

Asking millions of questions,

And teachers inviting us in for tea.

You see, I never met a culture

So rich and deep and complicated

Much like the language that carries her stories

حكايات والشعر والقصائد والروايات

But that’s simply the beginning of our journey.

I remember, 4th year college Arabic learning

From Ustaadh, on the last day

Just finished writing essays

مقطعات من طه حسين

He said,

والأن أنتم مستعدين لتعلم اللغة العربية

Now we are ready to learn?

After 4 years of earning

Every قاف

Every عين

Every حاء

Every ضاض

His words fell on my ears, I paused and thought

This is a chance

To dance in some of the most ancient and beautiful نحو known to man.

So I took destiny’s hands and we flew,

Flew through grad School,

Then on to Lebanon,

Every Arab I met cheering me on with a memory ذكرة

Or parable تعبير like

قهوة دائماً

or ان شاء الله

I always knew my gaze fell upon peoples hearts,

Their history, and with compassionate curiosity

for the other, we shared.

Language connected what we could have feared

in the unknown.

هذه الأيام

I say a lot of things

Welcome small faces with

مرحباً يا أصدقائي

Decided on desire to let language mold

The hearts and minds through stories untold

Navigating sounds and structures we might not hear at home

And oh, how they are proud – فخورين

7 years old, smiles the greatest I’ve seen,

Eager to know the

أبجدية عن ظهر القلب

I once was a student.

Now I greet 40 everyday.

How do I say

كيف تعلمت اللغة العربية

Exactly?

Part personal interest, part history.

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

I’ve been studying for 12 years! WOW! It’s crazy to think that. I’m at native level proficiency in reading, writing, listening and speaking. And of course, I’m still learning  

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

I came to Arabic through French history and immigration politics. I remember reading words in transliteration in French articles and thinking, “I really want to understand this word it it’s own context!” After fighting my way into Arabic 101 at UNC-Chapel Hill — it was one of the most popular classes on campus! — I fell in love with the community of teachers and learners. After being invited, week one, to a professor’s house to break fast from Ramadan and meet other Arabic students, I knew I’d found a home in this wonderful community. 

Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

I have ups and downs everyday with Arabic, even after 12 years of study and constant practice! My relationship with Arabic feels like an ocean, constantly shifting. I try to focus on the long term goals I’ve achieved and my long term ones I’m still working towards. That helps me get through moments of linguistic stumbling. I’m also not afraid of imperfection anymore because I tell my 7-year-old students everyday, it’s okay to make mistakes, especially when learning something new. Thus, it’s important for me to model that and welcome the mistakes as learning opportunities. 

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

Time and patience.  اللغة تحتاج إلى الوقت. I remember writing this quote up on my mirror, day one of a summer program with Middlebury College. At the time, I misspelled “takes,” only to realize years later upon discovering the card! People always ask me, “Isn’t Arabic hard to learn?” My response to them is that you need time and patience for this complicated language. Her history and development are long and multi-faceted. She’s spoken across the world in many, and I mean many dialects. Arabic will never be a “crash course” type of language. So, give it time and patience and you’ll get there, shway shway! 

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

I always knew I wanted to use Arabic in service of my local community, which is what eventually led me to public language education. It became a dream of mine to give students the same positive and transformative opportunity through language learning that I was so fortunate to have in High School. During graduate school, I also developed my academic interest in second language acquisition across different learning environments, in particular immersion. That desire to teach and witness learning Arabic through immersion environments led me to my current position at the Arabic Immersion Magnet School in Houston, TX. Ultimately, I hope to build more language programs across the United States! 

Quick Wee Questions

What’s your favourite Arabic word?

فرولة Strawberry. It’s the most fun I’ve ever had saying any word. Plus, strawberries are delicious!

What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?

انضباطي Disciplinarian. Honestly, it’s just a tough word to say with the ض and ط sandwiched between ن and ب.

Who’s your most inspiring Arab personality?

I don’t have a personality I follow closely!

What is your favourite place in the Arab World?

I’ve only had the chance to live in Beirut, Lebanon and am happy to name it as my favorite place in the Arab World! I love Lebanon because of the living contrast of old and new that exists in the city. On the one hand, Beirut is constantly striving to develop and innovate while on the other, parts of the city are preserved exactly as they were 50 years ago. You see the lived reality of Beirut as she changes day by day.

What is your favourite Arabic quote?

قهوة دائماً Coffee Always

What is your favourite book? Why?

I’ve read many children’s books over the past two years of teaching elementary school and my personal favorite would have to be حذاء الطنبوري by Fatima Sharafeddine. It’s a lovely story about loving something that is uniquely yours.

What is your favourite Arab dish? Why?

My favorite Arabic dish is fattoush salad. We make it every year with my 1st grade class and have a huge salad party. I love it because of all the veggie textures and blend of tastes; sweet and sour from the pomegranate molasses, earthy and bitter from the sumac, and fatty and sweet from the olive oil and crushed pita chips!

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