We met with Rosie Maxton. Rosie is from Perthshire, UK. She is currently a Research Assistant, & Teacher of Arabic at the U. of Oxford and a former teaching fellow in Arabic at the U. of Edinburgh. In an interview with Rosie we asked her the following questions:

Tell us about yourself?

Rosie (Rosemary) Maxton, from a small village in Perthshire called Kinnesswood. I spent most of my childhood there, apart from the three years that we lived in Lagos, Nigeria, where my dad was working. I completed my undergraduate degree in Arabic and Medieval History at St Andrews University, and then my Masters in Middle Eastern Studies at Cambridge. Since then, I have worked as a library assistant, a translator, a copy editor and an Arabic language teacher (St Andrews University and Edinburgh University). I currently work as a Research Assistant at Oxford University, for a project entitled ‘Stories of Survival: Recovering the Connected Histories of Eastern Christianity in the Early Modern World’.

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

Almost ten years exactly! I began studying Arabic in the first year of my undergraduate degree in 2010, and since graduating I have devoted my attention to working with and furthering my knowledge of the language. 

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

With my dad working as a pilot, growing up we were lucky enough to have many opportunities for travel and exploration abroad. When I was about thirteen years old, my dad and I went on a trip to Egypt, a place which had long been a source of fascination for me (the rich history, the pyramids, not to mention the influence of one or two Agatha Christie novels…!) That trip was to have an enormous impact on the course of my life; I came back from Egypt determined to learn about Arabic language and culture, and I’ve never looked back on that decision!

Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?

Of course! Perhaps the most disheartening (and, equally, wonderful) experience I had while learning Arabic was my first week in Beirut, where I moved during my third year of undergraduate. Armed with two years of university Arabic, I was bursting with excitement at the prospect of finally applying this knowledge in a practical setting. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that using my classical, literary register of Arabic (i.e. fusha) not only evoked the bewilderment of many, but also intense amusement! After a few failed attempts at trying to communicate in this way, and the realisation that spoken dialects differed substantially to the classical language I had been studying, I endeavoured to learn Lebanese ‘amiyyeh as best as I could. Strangely enough, I did find over time that the issue was much less polarised than I had thought: learning an Arabic dialect actually consolidated much of my knowledge of classical Arabic, and vice versa.  

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

So far, most of my career has centred around teaching Arabic, which I would very much describe as my vocation. However, at the moment I am exploring another dimension to Arabic language and culture by researching Arabic scribal history, and will begin a PhD on this topic in October 2020. Although I do hope that I will have the opportunity to teach again in the not-so-distant future. 

What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic?

Determination. And an appreciation for poetry! Arabic may well become the most demanding and fulfilling language you’ve ever studied. But take it slowly in the beginning and try to absorb the unfamiliar sounds and rhythmic patterns in any way you can – even if you can’t understand the words – through music, radio, TV, poetry… Finally, never be hesitant or afraid to practise your language skills with native speakers, no matter how new you might be to Arabic – it’s the best way to learn!

What is your favourite Arabic word? Why?

It’s hard to choose – in general, I find any فعّل or form II verbs very melodically pleasing! Words which can describe extreme emotion without requiring any adjectives, like هُيام (burning love), are also contenders.

What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?

برغل (bulgur) – no matter how hard I practise, I just can’t quite manage to pronounce it!

What is your favourite Arabic quote?

بين منطوق لم يُقصد ومقصود لم يُنطق تضيع الكثير من المحبة It’s a well-known Khalil Gibran quote, meaning: “Between what is said and never meant/ and what is meant but never said/ most of love is lost.” A little melancholy perhaps, but I’ve always felt it captures the nature of communication between human beings. Not to mention that it makes for a wonderful grammatical example when teaching the passive voice!

What is your favourite Arabic book?:

I don’t have a favourite, but I love reading anything by Hanan al-Shaykh.

What is your favourite Arab dish/meal? Why?:

Fattet hummus: so simple, so delicious, and yet always defeats me – to this day, I’ve never managed to finish a bowl!

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