We met with Annie Webster, a PG Arabic Alumni from the UK who has completed her MSc in Arab World Studies at the Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies department, University of Edinburgh. In an interview with Annie, we asked the following questions:
Tell us about yourself (name, origins, current degree/studies, academic background, university & graduation year, professions, etc.)
My name is Annie Webster. I am currently a PhD student in the Centre for Cultural, Literary and Postcolonial Studies at SOAS, University of London. I graduated from the University of York with a BA (Hons) in English and Related Literature, and from the University of Edinburgh with an MSc in Arab World Studies. In my doctoral research I bring my literary and linguistic interests together to explore post-2003 Iraqi fiction.
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
I first started learning Arabic during my undergraduate studies. I wanted to take a module in modern Palestinian literature, so I enrolled in Arabic evening classes. I then received a grant to travel to Jordan for an immersive Arabic programme. This was my first time in the Middle East and it consolidated my interest in the region’s language and culture. By the end of my undergraduate degree, I knew that I wanted to improve my Arabic and continue studying Middle Eastern literature. The intensive Arabic language programme at Edinburgh offered the perfect way to develop my language skills alongside other studies. After graduating, I returned to Jordan to keep working on my language skills and collect texts in preparation for my PhD.
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
I started studying Arabic because I wanted to be able to engage with Middle Eastern literature in its original language. My teachers at undergraduate and postgraduate level have always been sources of inspiration. The other students on the Arab World Studies programme were also a huge support. It is an unusual programme in that students come to it from a wide range of backgrounds – in my cohort we had people coming from international relations, ancient history and journalism studies. This led to an intellectually diverse and stimulating community as everyone had different motivations pushing them towards the shared goal of learning Arabic.
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
You need stamina when learning any language, but especially Arabic. The highlight of my studies was the time I spent in Palestine, studying at Bir Zeit University, as part of my MSc. Using Arabic outside the classroom was a challenge, but also a real joy and I made some very close friends who I am still in touch with today. Unfortunately, we ended up having to leave early due to political circumstances, and this was a sharp reminder of how difficult life can be in the region.
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?
While conducting my doctoral research I am also teaching modern Arabic literature. I hope to continue pursuing my academic interests, helping to foster awareness and discussion of Arabic literature through further research and teaching.
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
I strongly believe that anyone can learn a language – it just takes patience and perseverance. My advice for any student of Arabic is: when feeling frustrated by having to memorise new vocab or grammar rules, remember your reasons for wanting to learn the language and the real-world skills those hours of studying will translate into. Also, stay well-stocked up with plenty of paper for vocab cards!