Saturday, 4 June 2016

Hello, bonjour, al-salam alekum

In the last six weeks I have started learning Chadian Arabic!  Why?!  I hear you ask.  The fact of the matter is that not many Chadians speak French.  Only those who’ve been able to have an education can speak French and unfortunately, not all children here are able to go to school.  The working language of the hospital, between the staff, is French and so that is why I went to French language school, in order to improve my French and enable me to communicate better with my colleagues.  I can definitely tell that my French has improved, compared to when I was here in 2013.  However, my ability to communicate with people at the hospital stops there, with the staff.  I’d say around 90% of the patients who come here don’t speak French but the majority of them speak Chadian Arabic.  Therefore communicating with them is difficult and when I need to speak with a patient I have to have one of the Chadian staff translate for me (the staff all speak French and Chadian Arabic).

In order to be able to interact directly with the patients, I really want to be able to speak Chadian Arabic.

So six weeks ago, I and two expat friends who also work here embarked on learning spoken Chadian Arabic.  We’ve not attempted to try and learn Arabic script, that feels one step too far and to be honest.  This is generally a spoken-language culture as a lot of people are illiterate – because they’ve not had access to education.

After locating a teacher in town, who came highly recommended by others, we negotiated the price and the days and times we’d learn Chadian Arabic.  We currently have two lessons a week, each being two hours long.  We meet for our lessons here on the hospital site, after the three of us have finished the bulk of our work for the day.

It is challenging learning this language!  Aside from the fact that we started learning it at the hottest time of year and at the end of the working day, it is a challenge to learn a language through a language that isn’t your first.  We learn Chadian Arabic in French.  Sometimes my brain gets confused with two foreign languages milling around in there and my mouth interjects a French word among the Chadian Arabic I’m speaking – cos, well it’s all foreign language isn’t it?!
A page from our Chadian Arabic textbook
Chadian Arabic only has three tenses: past, present and future.  Language learners amongst you will know that that was very happy news to hear!  However sentence structure can get a bit complicated and I now have to get used to being able to say the letter ‘s’ at the end of a word again, which you never do in French but you do in English.  And then there’s money.  Arabic uses different figures when it comes to money, and not just the number that corresponds to the amount being talked about.  So that’s another avenue of confusion!

All in all it’s going well and I’m enjoying it.  The hospital staff think it’s great (actually, make that word hilarious) that we’re trying to learn Chadian Arabic and they help us out all the time with practising speaking it.  However they often go far beyond the amount we’ve learned so far and then I get stuck!  All good fun.

My friends and I with Abakar, our teacher

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