We met with Omar Tarabishi. Omar is from the USA and he is a Program Officer. In an interview with Omar, we asked him the following questions:
Tell us about yourself
I’m Omar Tarabishi and I was born in Pittsburgh, PA. My mother and father both grew up in Egypt, but never formally taught my sisters and I Arabic. I graduated with a BA in Arabic from the University of Maryland in 2012 and completed the Flagship Program studying Arabic abroad in Alexandria, Egypt in 2013. I’m currently pursuing my MA in International Education Policy at UMD and working full-time with Qatar Foundation International where I serve as the Program Officer for Arabic Language Programs.
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
I studied Arabic at the University level from 2009-2013. I started with Arabic 104, the introductory Fusha course offered at the University. I went on to all Arabic major requirements at the University while also doing a year abroad in Alexandria, Egypt. I completed the Capstone year of the Flagship program and achieved a 3 in speaking on the OPI (Oral Proficiency Interview). According to the ACTFL/ILR scale, I speak Arabic at the ‘Superior’ level.
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
My mother is an Arabic professor, and she always told her children to take a closer look at the language of their parents, heritage and culture. For me, when I traveled to Egypt during the summer, it frustrated me how little I was able to communicate with my friends and family there. I knew this language and culture was important to my parents and I wanted to learn it and appreciate it as well. After the summer of freshman year, I enrolled in Arabic 104 and the rest they say is history! I’m able to use the language now with my family who inspired me to take up the language in the first place!
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
Certainly! I felt that I plateaued around the end of my intermediate year of Arabic. What was able to push me further was doing an immersion institute at the University of Texas – Austin. My advanced year in Arabic there forced me to learn so much vocabulary and pick up another dialect by changing my environment. I would recommend students to look into other programs other than their own to change the pace and meet other students from all over the world who are just as interested in learning Arabic as you are! You’ll be surprised of the friendships you make and the ability of your peers to push you to be better!
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
To become an excellent student of Arabic, you need to be prepared for the journey. It’s going to be tough, it’s not going to make perfect sense at all times, you’re going to plateau, you will get stuck but know that your journey is not unique, everyone feels this! My top study tips for vocabulary would be to make an old fashioned list, english on one side Arabic on the other, and find a friend to compete with. Push yourselves to get more and more right in a timed competition! For script, watch youtube videos of calligraphers and even go back to the basics. Show off to your friends who don’t speak Arabic and write their names. They’ll be really impressed and you can practice your handwriting there too! When you get to the higher levels of Arabic, don’t be intimidated by the grammar. Use your surrounding resources like online channels, forums and your professors for help on understanding why it is the way it is. Becoming more familiar with English grammar will help you as well!
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic languange skills?
Since graduating in 2013, I have used my Arabic skills in a variety of jobs. I first was able to give back to students, and serve as a TA. I think did some private tutoring in Houston, TX while working on translation for Oil and Gas companies in Iraq and the UAE. Later, I got to travel the world (Mostly the MENA region) and collected data on the cost of living in those countries (using my Arabic to navigate those trips). Finally, I’ve now settled into what I want to do with my career, which is providing the same Arabic language and culture opportunities presented to me to more students across the US and the world with QFI.
Quick Wee Questions
What’s your favourite Arabic word?
kataba (كتب) – to write I like this because it’s simple, introductory, easy to pronounce for non-native speakers, and can be used to illustrate the idea that Arabic is based on roots and patterns, and how other words can be made out of just 3 main letters.
What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?
Idhatur ala (اضطر على) – Forced on This word gave me so much difficulty during my first year of Arabic. I couldn’t pronounce the ط following the ض. It just didn’t make sense to me how these two letters followed each other, they’re making the same mouth shape! Low and behold, sticking to it and getting help from my professor, I was finally comfortable enough to use it in context.
Who’s your most inspiring Arab personality?
I’m really inspired by comedian Ramy Youssef. I thoroughly enjoyed the first season of his show “Ramy” on Hulu, and loved how accurately he captured the dilemma many Arab-Americans and Muslim-Americans go through being torn between two cultures. I appreciate that he took a risk on making a very nuanced show, catering to a specific population in the US but that it can be used for other cultures fighting with the American Identity. And hey he won a golden globe for the show too!
What is your favourite place in the Arab World?
Egypt. They don’t call it ام الدنيا for nothing! Thinking of Egypt gives me a lot of warm fuzzy feelings. I think of my culture, heritage, family, friends, summer, sun, and a lot of laughter. The Egyptian people just have huge appreciation for comedy and the people you meet everyday in the street show that.
What is your favourite Arabic quote?
عبر عن حبك بالعربي عبر عن حزنك بالعربي عبر عن فرحك بالعربي Express your Love in Arabic Express your Sadness in Arabic Express your Happiness in Arabic, Professor Tony wrote that on the board of my first year of Arabic and it stuck with me ever since.
What is your favourite Arabic book? Why?
Al-Kitaab Book 1 Opening the book up takes me back to sophomore year in college. There are so many inside jokes with the characters that pop up in the lessons that yes, even a textbook has become my favorite book.
What is your favourite Arab dish? Why?
Koshary. It’s simple, cheap, delicioius, and I can’t get enough of it. I love the way it’s served when you purchase it in the streets of Egypt. There is a rhythm and beat to every server preparing your dish that makes me smile every time.