We met with Bouchra Mossmann-Fares, an Arabic Tutor and Freelance Interpreter from Germany. Bouchra is a PG Arabic alumni studying for MSc Advanced Arabic at the University of Edinburgh. In an interview with Bouchra, we asked her the following questions:
Tell us about yourself
I am Bouchra Mossmann-Fares and originally from Freiburg, a town in the Black Forest in the very southwest of Germany. Between 2012 and 2015, I did my undergraduate studies in Arabic, Middle Eastern/Islamic Studies and History at the University of Freiburg. After my graduation, I went to Lebanon for almost two years to do internships with NGOs and research institutions and to study another year of Arabic at the French Institute in Beirut before I came to Edinburgh for the Masters in Advanced Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies in September 2017.
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
I have been studying Arabic for seven years and I am happy to say that my level is very advanced.
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
The initial motivation to study Arabic was probably already born with my Arabic name. My mum used to work a lot with refugees in Germany and named me after a Moroccan girl whom she liked a lot. This, in addition to the curiosity to find out more about the story behind my name and my general passion to study foreign languages and non-European history made me choose my undergraduate studies in Arabic.
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
To be honest I have had many ups and downs while learning Arabic, especially during my first years at University. Back then, I did not study the integrated approach, only MSA. Talking to my Arab friends and hearing them talk in their dialects sometimes made me desperate. I thought, I would never be able to learn what by then to me seemed a completely different language from what I was studying at University… My ups came when I went to Lebanon and immersed myself in dialect through my daily work. I got exposed to different teaching styles and methods that were less conventional than the ones at University and this helped me progress a lot. Another down arrived when I started using Arabic for an academic context the next year during my studies at the French Institute and basically had to return from my everydaylife dialect to more elaborated MSA structures than the ones I knew before. The first few months were really challenging and I had to study so much vocab, but in the end this made me progress to an extent that I never had any other down after that. Finally, I could fully enjoy my further studies in Edinburgh.
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?
Since I have always been a very passionate tutor, I have started teaching Arabic as a foreign language. In addition, I am a freelance interpreter for several organisations that work with refugees in Freiburg. As a next career step, I would like to obtain more experience in interpreting and translation and I am especially interested in the translation of literature. Apart from that, I love living and working in the region and to use my Arabic knowledge in daily life with my friends and my partner.
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
I think, it actually takes a lot of perseverance, but at the same time I am against strict vocabulary drilling. I feel that sometimes, I needed breaks of a few weeks or even months, so the things I had learned could settle in my brain. I always came back newly motivated and refreshed.
Furthermore, the most important activity in my opinion (even to study vocabulary) is reading! It always helped me to remember words when I had seen them in several contexts before. This also made me more capable of using them myself in my writings.
Of course, living, studying and working in the region or with Arabic speakers as much as possible is the best you can do to practice your language and to get exposed to culture, food, music and literature – which you will probably start to love so much that you cannot think your life without these things anymore!
What’s your favourite Arabic word?
I love the sound of the letter ح, that is why I like the Arabic word for soul, روح, a lot. Quite recently, I also learned to love the word مكان. My research made me think more about the meanings and concepts of space and place in general and I love that the word for place (مكان) in Arabic is actually a derivate of كان (to be).
What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?
My least favourite words in Arabic are probably the ones that are related to war (حرب) and violence (عنف), like in every other language.
Who’s your most inspiring Arab personality?
My most inspiring Arab personality at this point is probably Edward Said. Despite him being so famous for “Orientalism”, I think his intellectual heritage is much richer and still challenging for us today. I think, he is one of the greatest thinkers of the 20th century.
What is your favourite place in the Arab World?
My favourite place until now is Lebanon since I have spent such a long time there and have made so many friends who make me feel at home with them.
What is your favourite Arabic quote?
ما بيعرف إيد اليمين شو بساوي إيد اليسار “The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing”. This is a quote in Syrian dialect whose original meaning is rather unknown, but I think it is an old saying from the Bible related to giving alms. It basically means that one shouldn’t give themselves credit for what they are doing openly, but just do it. Be modest!
What is your favourite book? Why?
My favourite Arabic book at the moment is Emily Nasrallah’s المكان. I generally like Emily Nasrallah as an author and a person and I am writing my Masters dissertation on this last book of hers.