Posted on Feb 8, 2012
Posted by Mohamed El-Khattib
Being an outsider and not being able to communicate with the people around you makes you feel very alone. I know English but I am Egyptian and my native language is Arabic. I was given the opportunity to go to London and work with the British Museum last year. This experience gave me the realization that a person who does not know English and visits London would experience a lot of loneliness.
When I met Alex Jacobsen, I quickly realized, that she was an outsider. I felt that teaching her Arabic would change that. I did not want her to experience the feeling of loneliness that I associated with my trip to London. Being an archaeologist, you have to be able to communicate with workers, who cannot speak any English. Most importantly, some of the tools we use don’t have English names such as “Mukteef.” You must know these words to work on our sites.
The way I teach Alex is by writing out the sounds of the Arabic words in English. She writes these down in her notebook. Learning how to write Arabic is completely different from being able to speak in Arabic. We decided its best to start with speaking it rather than writing for now. I constantly quiz her everyday to encourage her to use Arabic rather than English to communicate; this is the fastest way to learn. Alex is trying to solve the problem of understanding the workers and working on site by learning local Arabic. This concept can be applied in any place around the world.