One of the first things a person hears about immigrants to America is that they should learn the English language and I agree with that observation. Americans should not be required to learn languages of other countries just because people move to America from those countries. Previous legal immigrants from all over the world that have come to America began immediately to learn the English language and meld into the American society. If they expect to be here permanently they should learn the language of America.
When I went to Saudi Arabia to stay for three years, my intent was to learn the language. I thought that I would learn to speak it and learn to read it and to write it. This turned out to be a bigger task than I could handle. When I told the other Americans that I planned to learn the language they laughed and said they intended to learn it when they arrived also.
Soon after I arrived I contacted the social director in the compound where I was living and asked him if they had anyone teaching Arabic. He said sure and gave me the name of a lady in the compound that I could contact. I contacted her immediately and told her that I would like to be in her classes. She said that she would be glad to have me. I asked about the cost and she said it was free. When I asked about when I could start she told me to come to the next class which would be later that week. I told her that I knew nothing about it and wanted to start at the beginning. She said it did not matter where you started. I responded with a statement about wanting to learn about the grammar structure and she said she did not understand what I was talking about. I told her that learning a language should start with basic grammar. She told me that she did not teach a language she taught aerobics.
I never did learn to speak Arabic but like all of the other Americans we learned the greeting words and perhaps 50 other words. It was necessary to learn to read the numbers because a lot of the outside orders and instructions came with the numbers in Arabic. It always amused me that we call our English language numbers Arabic Numerals and in Arabic they do not use them. The Arabic language uses Hindi numbers from the Indian language. Arabic has its own unique alphabet. The E and I sounds in Arabic are the same and there is no P sound. They substitute an F sound when the P is translated. A name like Palestine becomes Falesteen. I did learn to write my name in Arabic but it was difficult. In Arabic they write from right to left on the page which is opposite of English. Numbers are always listed with increments from left to right like the numbers in English.
I always admired the younger guys from Egypt, Pakistan and Bangladesh because they had learned to speak English so fluently. Sometimes they had a strange accent but we could always figure out what they were trying to tell us. My Bangladeshi dyer asked me one day where I had received my E-doo’-ca-shon. It took me a minute to figure out that he was talking about education.
One of my favorite men in Saudi Arabia was a short young Egyptian who served as my translator when I traveled around in Saudi Arabia. His name was about 5 words long but he answered to Amro. Several times I took him to our compound and had him eat the evening meal with me. I showed him how to make pimento cheese and he began to make it in his own quarters back at the factory. He told me that he would come to my villa and do anything that I wanted him to do if I would let him go and spend a few hours at the swimming pool so that he could look at the Western ladies in the bikinis. Muslim ladies must always be covered from the neck to the ankles in black and wear long sleeves. More liberal Muslims allow the women to expose their face but in Saudi Arabia most Muslim women covered their complete head with a veil.
Amro had learned English fluently in less than a year and he was still trying to learn one new word each day. One morning when I arrived he called me to his desk and asked if I would help him with his word. He said the word as Pro-bob’-ly. I looked puzzled and he showed me the word and asked me to use it in a sentence. I tried to explain the pronunciation to him as Prob’-ab-ly but the next time I heard him use the word he was still saying it wrong.
When we were traveling in my Nissan Altima one day Amro said that he thought the company should get me a Sha-ro’-key. I asked him what in the world was that? He said it was an American car. I told him that I certainly knew all of the American cars and there was not one by that name. He pointed at a car nearby and said there is one. I looked and he was pointing at a Jeep Cherokee.
Languages within the same alphabet are not difficult to master but when you change alphabets and directions on the page it becomes a monstrous task.