I first became interested in Arabic during my first year at Durham University while reading a degree in Classics. Although I enjoyed translating Classical texts, as well as reading up on the history and philosophy surrounding them, I came to realise that it wasn’t something that I wanted to do as a career. I decided instead to switch to modern languages, which would open up new opportunities for work and travel all over the world. I was particularly interested in Arabic and the insights it would provide into current events in the Middle East. But also, as someone who has always been interested in theology, I wanted to learn more about Islam and especially how it compares to Christianity. So I began a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies, which included Islamic Studies. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the whole learning process and look forward to continuing in my studies and improving my language skills. They say the first ten years of Arabic are the hardest!
Latin, like French, was a mandatory subject at my secondary school, Merchant Taylors’ in Northwood, London. I began at age eleven and immediately took a liking to the language because of its logical grammar and elegant structure. It felt like a science; I simply needed to memorise the rules and put them into practice. I actually enjoyed the written exams and achieved an A* for Latin GCSE without any difficulty. When I moved to America in 2003 I was able to continue Latin at my new high school, Fox Chapel in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I studied French for five years, from 1998 to 2003. I took GCSE French a year early, achieving an A*. The following year I took a single AS-Level Module in French. By that time, however, I had given up on any plans to continue French and decided instead to concentrate on my other languages, Classical Greek and Latin, which I followed through into university.
My keen interest in Classical Greek came hand in hand with my interest in Latin. After doing Latin and French for two years at my secondary school I was then required to take up a third language and chose to do Classical Greek. At first I was afraid that I would confuse my Latin and Greek but soon discovered that, although very similar grammatically, Greek had its own unique flavour, which distinguished it from Latin. I found the pronunciation was slightly different and the use of a different script also helped in shifting gears from Latin to Greek. Having studied the language for fewer years than Latin I found the exams a little more challenging and was a little disappointed with myself for achieving an A rather than an A* for GCSE. This didn’t deter me, however, from wanting to continue Classical Greek. When I moved to America in 2003 I was able to take Latin at my high school but they didn’t offer Greek. I did manage, however, to enrol in a Greek class at the University of Pittsburgh for one semester, even while I was still a student in high school. The class was on Plato’s Phaedo and although we mainly focused on translating the text, we also discussed its rich philosophy, which I found particularly fascinating.
After my high school graduation in 2004 I returned to England and continued my language studies at Westfield House theological college in Cambridge. The next year I began a degree in Classics (Latin and Greek) at Durham University, but decided to change my degree program after completing my first year. Although I enjoyed translating Classical texts and reading up on the history and philosophy surrounding them, I came to realise that it was not something that I wanted to do as a career. So I decided instead to focus on modern languages and began a degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies.
I took a class in Biblical Hebrew for one year while studying at Westfield House theological college in Cambridge, from 2004 to 2005. The course was for beginners and covered the fundamental grammar, with examples from the Hebrew Old Testament. This was my first introduction to Semitic languages and was, unknowingly at the time, an influencing factor on my decision later on to take up Arabic. I found the alien nature of its vocabulary and the logical structure of its grammar very intriguing. Later, when I took up Arabic in 2006, I quickly discovered many similarities between the two languages and realised that my relatively brief experience with Hebrew had prepared me for my long journey with Arabic.
After French, German was the next modern language that I decided to take up. While studying at Westfield House theological college in Cambridge, from 2004 to 2005, I was very fortunate to be able to audit classes in theological German at the University of Cambridge. Although the vocabulary was centred around theological and philosophical texts, the language taught was still modern German and later that year I visited Germany to practice what I had learnt.
During my Easter vacation, 2005, I traveled to a small town, on the border between Germany and Poland, called Guben. There I stayed with a host family while I volunteered at a local Salvation Army mission. The experience was immensely enjoyable and also particularly useful for my German. I discovered for the first time in my life that I had an aptitude for modern languages and not just dead ones!
For a long time I had lacked the confidence that is required to speak a foreign language and was grateful that I didn’t have to converse in Classical Greek or Latin. However, after the experience of practising a modern language with native speakers and being immersed in its native environment, I realised that it wasn’t as scary as I had thought and actually was rather a lot of fun!
Although I never continued German after that year and concentrated instead on Classical Greek and Latin at university, the experience stayed with me. It was no doubt a large influencing factor in my decision later on to switch from dead languages to modern languages and take up Arabic.
I chose to take Persian as an optional module during the second year of my degree in Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies. The class covered the fundamental grammar and included some simple conversation practice, but nothing too advanced. Having already tackled the complexity of Arabic for a year, the comparatively simple nature of Persian came as a breath of fresh air. Once again, I was afraid that I might confuse languages and mix up my Arabic and Persian, but actually I found that the overlap in vocabulary helped immensely in acquiring and using new words in Persian.
Since Urdu is based primarily on Arabic, Persian and Hindi, it feels like a natural progression from the Arabic and Persian that I have studied. Although I haven’t taken any classes in Urdu, I have begun exploring the language on my own, using Teach Yourself Urdu as a guide. I plan to continue reading more about the language and may decide one day to pursue the language more seriously.
Since visiting Turkey, New Year’s 2011, I’ve been doing some reading up on Turkish and have developed a keen interest for the language. I’ve found the incredibly logical nature of the language and its agglutinating structure particularly fascinating. As a guide to learning Turkish, I’ve been using the book Complete Turkish from the ‘Teach Yourself’ series. Its a fantastic book, which I highly recommend.