We met with Gerard Murphy. Gerard is from the UK and he is a Masters student at the University of Edinburgh . In an interview with Gerard we asked him the following questions:
Tell us about yourself
I‘m Gerard, a Masters student in Applied Linguistics at the University of Edinburgh. Although I was born in the UK, I was raised in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and lived there for 15 years.
How long have you been studying Arabic? What is your current level?
I guess, having lived in Saudi since the age of two, I was learning bits of Arabic long before I knew it, like saying my please and thank you’s to the waiters. I began a more formal study of Arabic for my undergraduate degree aged 18, and I have tried to keep my intermediate level (or so) up since.
What made you decide to study the Arabic language and culture? What & who inspired you? What were your motivations?
Initially, I was put in the position where I had to learn Arabic. Navigating taxis across Jeddah’s busy streets and sometimes seeking help from locals meant I needed to learn key phrases simply to get by. Coming back to the UK aged 17, I realised speaking Arabic was a really useful and admired skill. I desperately wanted to continue learning the language alongside my love for Geography, so I began my degree at Exeter University, focusing on Middle Eastern politics and economics as well as Arabic language and sociolinguistics.In many ways I feel tied to the Middle East, and considering my upbringing, even part-Arab. I feel motivated to learn more about the language and culture and hopefully one day move back out there.
Have you had any ups and downs while learning Arabic?
Too many ups and downs haha. Arabic speakers are always so encouraging of you to learn and speak their language which is great. The number of opportunities I’ve had just through exchanging a few sentences in Arabic with a total stranger is just amazing. Especially when these interactions take place on a busy London bus. The look on people‘s faces when they see a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white boy speaking Arabic is just priceless.I had a really low moment when I completed my undergrad and realised my in-depth knowledge of classical Arabic grammar and 16th century literature was of very little practical use in the real world. In fact, we focused so much on classical Arabic that I felt that I couldn’t communicate in spoken Arabic at all with other speakers.
What careers are you planning to pursue (or have embarked on) using your Arabic language skills?
At the moment, I’m using my knowledge of Arabic to work on a project involving Arabic speakers for my Masters dissertation. In the future, I would love to use my language skills in diplomacy or business somehow, and maybe travel around the Middle East.
What does it take to become an excellent student of Arabic? What recommendations would you give to anyone interested in learning Arabic?
Truly just two things: courage and perseverance. You have to practice speaking what you’ve learnt as often as possible with Arabic speakers and don’t be afraid to get things wrong. Don’t be afraid to ask them for feedback and pay attention to the way they are speaking, I believe pronunciation is really important to the language. Just don’t be afraid to get things wrong or sound ridiculous in any way when you are practising.And with that, perseverance, perseverance, perseverance. Arabic can be a very daunting language because of the dozens of dialects and accents and the differences between the written and spoken language. You have to incorporate as many resources into your learning as possible to maintain your motivation. YouTube videos/tutorials, Arabic films and series, language exchanges, Arabic books, news websites, fun Arabic learning apps. There are more and more resources becoming available by the day and you just have to persevere with your learning to become an excellent student.
Quick Wee Questions
What’s your favourite Arabic word?
It’s a bit cringey, but I love عِلْم (knowledge). Not so much for the word itself, but for its root of the word (in the way that action and actor come from the root ‘act’). From علم/ knowledge – you get تعليم (education), معلم (teacher), علوم (science), عالم (world), and so many more, showing the beautifully logical nature of the Arabic language through how the word interact.
What is your least favourite Arabic word? Why?
بيبسي (Pepsi) haha it just sounds hilarious the way it’s pronounced “bebzee” due to the lack of the letter P in Arabic.
Who’s your most inspiring Arab personality?
It’s between Ahmad Al Shugairi and Mohamed Salah. Ahmad’s positivity and his giving nature, as presented in his YouTube channel, can really motivate you to become a better person, and being a huge Liverpool fan, I can’t forget Mo Salah. He has had an amazing influence, not only on football, but the tolerance of every football fan towards Muslims and Arabs across the world.
What is your favourite place in the Arab World?
I’ve been so lucky to travel through much of the Middle East. The Dead Sea in Jordan is incredible but nothing beats the corniche in Jeddah, the winding road along the seafront. It really comes alive at night, and the smell of barbecues and the fresh sea air is just so special.
What is your favourite Arabic quote?
إذا رأيت نيوب الليث بارزة فلا تظنن انّ الليث يبتسم المتنبي If you see a lion bear its teeth, don’t assume it’s smiling -Al Mutanabbi
What is your favourite book? Why?
رحلة ابن فطومة – نجيب محفوظ The journey of Ibn Fatouma – Naguib Mahfouz
What is your favourite Arab dish? Why?
There is nothing better than a proper, traditional plate of houmous with pita. I haven’t managed to find any good houmous outside of the Middle East.