We met with Amina Okhai, a Community Learning and Development Worker. Amina holds an Advanced Diploma in Arabic and Cambridge Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language. In an interview with Amina, we asked her the following questions:
Tell us about yourself
Life long learner, Advanced Diploma in Arabic and Cambridge Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
3 academic years, achieved SCQF Level 10
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
I decided to study Arabic after feeling ashamed that I am able to read and write in Arabic, can pray but have no understanding of what I am reading. My friends who could speak the language inspired me, when they prayed they felt a connection. They knew what to pray and when to pray. I just felt incomplete and had to learn the language to be true to myself and my Lord. In addition, it has also been a language I have adored and enjoyed listening to whether be in music or scriptures. The motivation came when I was going through a rough part in my life where I was unable to identify with myself. I felt that although I have many skills and involved within the community I lack academic learning. I decided to right a plan and work out my strengths and what direction of education I should take. I realised that I have a God given gift of speaking a variety of languages and I’m half way there with Arabic. I researched where I could learn and found the Al Maktoum Institute. The whole process just fit perfectly in my life the hours offered worked around my home life and the course suited my needs. I strongly believe that I had a passion and a crazy one to achieve something for myself and it seemed God just paved my way and without a second thought I decided to dedicate my life to learning and making a difference to myself.
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
Yes of course, in year two I wasn’t getting the results I had went to my tutor and said I need to pack this in. I felt that I will not progress and despite having the greatest on intentions I can’t learn Arabic. My teacher Safaa and incredible human being gave me great advise and motivated me to carry on. She highlighted that before I gain I will need to work hard and persevere. She made me realise learning a language acquires much more than just intellectuality. She comforted me by telling me I had the passion and right motivators. All I needed to do is believe in myself and concentrate on the things/ skills that I’m doing well in. Continue to work harder and I will get there. She was absolutely right and this is the same ethos I carry on with my learners now. I try and give them the same inspiration and motivation to continue their language journey.
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?
I use Arabic in my daily life. I have a great circle of friends from the Arab states. I have worked with Syrian refugees and used my language in supportive roles. I try and be as proactive as I can be in keeping my new learned language alive. With all the other langauges I speak I have retained them as I learned them as a child and they are always with me. However, with Arabic I feel I need to practise it and keep it alive. Not only that I get an immense feeling of joy and satisfaction when I converse in Arabic. Another interesting point is when my brain wants to make a logical decision it will always think in Arabic. Or for example if I’m thinking about love I will think in Urdu and Hindi. When I may want to get some negativity out I will think in English – simply because I have the biggest vocabulary of not so nice words in this language!
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
I would say if anyone wants to gain in knowledge, history and love they should learn Arabic. It’s not a language its much more than just that. Arabic gives you an understanding. There is such a play of words and deep meaning and the translation depends from person to person. It’s a language of self interpretation and thoughtfulness. To be an excellent student you need to want to learn this language for yourself, from your heart. It has to be something that you want from the core as it’s not the easiest to learn. However, if it’s what you want you will find the means and ways to learn. I would recommend that you have a clear and growth mind-set. Be prepared for challenges throughout your journey learning Arabic and celebrate your success however big or small. Enjoy it and work hard. Believe in yourself that when you have achieved you will and others will have admiration for you. You will have a skill that can make a difference to people and to yourself. It will open doors for you that you probably didn’t even dream of. Just do it with all your heart and the achievement will be so worth it.
What’s your favourite Arabic word?
Al Afia – this word is my most favourite. It is everything good you could have or ask for – wealth, health, happiness, knowledge, blessings. It’s just the most beautiful form me and when I ask God for Afia I feel relieved and feel that he knows best and he will give me the best of everything. I ask for Afia when I’m happy, when I’m sad, when I’m ill anytime. I also hope that my kids will alow me to name one of grandchildren Afia.
What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?
I don’t think I have come across any particular one I hate. During my study I may have come across some which I can pronounce and not liked them for a short time.
Who’s your most inspiring Arab personality?
What is your favourite place in the Arab World?
I have far too many, Dubai I love and enjoy because of the exotic mix of old and new. But if Syria would have been safe it would have been my number one destination for its rich culture. Jordon is also on my bucket list.
What is your favourite Arabic quote?
There are far too many but for the moment it is – if you’re searching for that one person that will change your life, then look in the mirror.
What is your favourite book? Why?