Chennai, India!

Since December 3rd 2014, I have been based in Chennai, India, enjoying the opportunity to spend time visiting my in-laws, while doing some sightseeing and experiencing the country’s diverse culture. I have included a map below with a pin on Chennai.

I’m also using this time to focus on my linguistic skills. As well as having fun trying out the local language (Tamil), I’m also continuing to advance my Arabic through a combination of translation practice, vocabulary learning, and the production of original Arabic materials, including infographics and word maps.

You can view an example of my most recent work here. I look forward to sharing more very soon!

Nigel Naumann in Chennai, India

Map of Chennai, India

An Arabic “Word Tree”: Quarrelling Like a Forest?

One of the best ways to grasp the complex yet elegant structure of Arabic is to unlock its system of roots. To illustrate this system I have created an Arabic “word tree” – another kind of word map – to demonstrate how a single root in Arabic produces many distinct yet related words. In this case I have presented a tree made from the triliteral root ش – ج – ر (shjr).

These three Arabic consonants (“sh”, “j” and “r”), when they appear in that sequence, carry with them a particular meaning and can produce different words related to that meaning. If the order of the root letters is changed then the meaning will also change completely.

I thought it would be fun to use the root ش – ج – ر (shjr) in particular for a word tree since this root actually produces the Arabic word for “tree”.

Another example of a root in Arabic is the three consonants ك – ت – ب (ktb), written in that order, which carries the meaning of “writing” and produces various words, such as كتاب (kitaab) = “book”, مكتبة (maktaba) = “library”, and أكتب (aktub) = “I write”. There is also the root د – ر – س  (drs), which carries the meaning of “studying” and produces words like درس (dars) = “lesson”, مدرسة (madrasa) = “school”, and أدرس (adrus) = “I study”.

Interestingly, as well as words to do with trees, the root ش – ج – ر (sh – j – r) also produces words associated with quarrelling and unrest. I have coloured the words associated with trees in green and those about quarrelling in dark red.

One might speculate that the two seemingly unrelated offshoots of the same root are in fact connected. Perhaps the breaking out of unrest or a quarrel erupting and spreading is analogous to the growth of a forest that begins with only a few trees and expands outwards, getting ever bigger and more tangled. I would be very interested to hear other theories or explanations anyone else might have about the possible link between the two groups of words produced from this single root.

The Arabic words presented in this tree, along with their English translations, have been taken from A Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic by Hans Wehr. These are not the only words that I could have included, but are the ones that I felt were most relevant for the purposes of this illustration.

It was great to see so many people interested in my last infographic of an Arabic Verb Map, which has received over 4,700 views and counting, from over 80 different countries, since its posting on January 21st! So I hope you enjoy this one too. Feel free to share with others and please do let me know if you have any feedback. Thanks!

An Arabic Word Tree by Nigel of Arabia


This creatively designed and detailed word tree is now available as a poster – perfect for use as a resource in the classroom or at home, or simply used as decoration – also making an intriguing conversation piece!

Click here to view the poster on sale in my official Zazzle store.


Map: What an Arabic Verb Looks Like!

This verb map (available at the official Nigel of Arabia Store) I created in order to demonstrate both the complexity and elegance of the Arabic verb. In this case, I have illustrated the verb ‘to do; to affect’ (فَعَلَ), which is a “Form I” verb (derived from the triliteral root ف-ع-ل).

I chose to illustrate this root in particular as it is the root that is most commonly used in Arabic grammar references and textbooks to present all of the different word forms possible in Arabic.

Although very detailed, this map is by no means exhaustive, as I have not included all of the various verb conjugations and words derived from Forms II-XIV. I have also not given the different forms of the active and passive participles.

To make the most of the map, I recommend you begin from the root, which is given in the large red box and is the heart of the verb map. From there the map provides a quick glimpse of Forms II-XIV of the root (next to the grey boxes), before proceeding to the main subject of the map – the Form I verb فَعَلَ (given in the blue box).

It is important to note that not all Form I verbs in Arabic have the same voweling as the verb فَعَلَ. For example, many Form I verbs are voweled using the pattern فَعِلَ such as the verb شَرِبَ (‘to drink’), and a relatively rare number of Arabic verbs use the pattern فَعُلَ , such as the verb كَثُرَ (“to be numerous”).

In order to conserve space I have omitted the terms ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’. Instead, I have colour-coded words where relevant; blue for ‘masculine‘ and red for ‘feminine‘. The ordinal numbers refer to the person (e.g. 2nd = second person, “you”). For those unfamiliar with the “dual” – it is a form used in Arabic when addressing or referring to two people or things.

The grammatical terms I have chosen to use in my map are not the only ones used to describe those parts of the verbs. For example, the “imperfect” form of the verb in many contexts could be described as the “present” tense; the “perfect” is sometimes called the “aorist”; and the “verbal noun” is sometimes referred to as the “infinitive” or “gerund”. Therefore, I have included the corresponding Arabic terms to avoid possible confusion.

I hope you enjoy the map and also find it to be a useful resource. To get your own copy, visit the official Nigel of Arabia store!  – Thanks!

Arabic Verb Map To Do by Nigel of Arabia Nigel Naumann


…Whether for home, or posted on the classroom wall, this unique Arabic verb map poster will prove to be an invaluable resource, worthy of the incredible effort and time that has gone into its research and creation.

Click here to view the poster on sale in my official Zazzle store.


The Maldives!

Since January 10th 2013, I’ve had the incredible privilege of living and working in one of the most beautiful countries in the world – the Maldives! I work as an English Teacher and the Head of the English Department at Lale Youth International School, based in Hulhumalé. I live in Malé, the capital island, so I commute to and from work by ferry. You can see the island locations on the map below. The capital island is also a short speed boat trip away from the many luxurious resorts that the Maldives is most famous for. Being able to escape to dream-like tropical islands on the weekends has been a huge perk of living and working in the Maldives!

Me in the Maldives  Map of Malé and Hulhumalé

Ha’il Compound Apartment (Photos)

Hiking in Ha’il (Photos)

Settling into Ha’il

I’m pleased to report that I arrived safely into Ha’il on Tuesday, the 28th of August. The trip was about 220 miles (from Sakaka), made in a pick-up truck packed with all my furniture. It took about four hours in total, and the truck didn’t have any air-conditioning, so needless to say it wasn’t the most comfortable of journeys through the scorching Saudi desert! As you can imagine, I’ve been quite busy settling in since my arrival, unpacking all my stuff and installing my furniture into my new apartment, which is situated on the compound provided for the teachers.

The very next day after arriving, I started work! Still with the same company, Al-Khaleej Training & Education, I’m now positioned at the University of Ha’il, teaching English to students of the university’s Preparatory Year. My first day at the university was pretty busy. I was given a quick tour of the campus and introduced to the head of the English department and then the Dean of the Preparatory Year. Before long I was assigned to help invigilate the placement exams, which were held in a huge auditorium, and then helped with the marking.

Actual teaching began on Sunday, the 2nd of September and it’s been going very well so far. The students here are much the same as those I taught at Al-Jouf University, so there haven’t been any real surprises. I have been very impressed, however, with the relatively high level of organisation here (for Saudi Arabia, that is!). For example, there is a clear support structure in place, so that you know who your first port of call is in case of any questions or concerns. There are also various committees in place, such as the Exam Committee, Social Committee and even a Welcoming Committee, whose chairman introduced himself to me and was extremely helpful. Later, a meeting was held for all new teachers, during which we had the opportunity to ask more about the system and procedures here.

At the moment I have about 30 students in each of my two classes. Because this is the Preparatory Year, most students are aged 19, and once they pass the Preparatory Year, which includes Maths and Study Skills in addition to English Language, they then go on to specialise in their various fields. Medicine, for example, is taught largely in English and utilizes English textbooks, so a good command of the language is essential. It’s always a little scary when you ask Preparatory Year students what they want to be and they answer; “I am want be doctor in future”. I just hope I never have to make a trip to the hospital!

The teaching hours are quite comfortable; each teacher has four 50-minute classes a day. Mine begin at 8:00am, with a two-hour break for lunch, then finish at 2:00pm, at which point I’m free to go home! Our company provides a bus to and from the compound, which is only 20 minutes door to door. So we don’t have to leave the compound in the mornings until 7:30am and then get back at around 2:30pm – not bad at all, really!

After living and working in Sakaka for a year, it’s impossible not to compare it to Ha’il, which is significantly larger. The compound is not as isolated as the one in Sakaka, but is still on the outskirts of the city. Within about 20 minutes, by bus or taxi, you can reach the centre of Ha’il, where there are all kinds of shops, restaurants and malls. So far I have seen McDonald’s, Subway, Pizza Hut, Little Caesar’s Pizza, Domino’s Pizza, Baskin Robbins, an Indian place called “Spiceland”, as well as Arab fast-food places, such as “Harfy”, “Kudu” and “Marky”. Like in Riyadh, when you order a Big Mac at a McDonald’s here, they ask you if you want the beef Big Mac or the chicken one! Granted I’ve been out of the real world for sometime now, so they might have chicken Big Macs in the US and UK, too, but I’ve never seen them! Do they have chicken Big Macs in the US and UK now? Be sure to leave a comment if you’ve tried it before! Here they also have the large supermarket chain, Panda, including a couple Hyper-Pandas, which rival the likes of Walmart in the US! These humungous stores have pretty much everything – and not just Middle Eastern products, but also British and American.

The compound is also much larger than the one in Sakaka, with about 100 apartments of various kinds and sizes. Most are single-occupancy, like mine, but there are also some designed for those teachers with families. In the middle is even a playground for kids, which is like a giant sandbox! So both male and female teachers live on the compound, and since it’s surrounded by high walls, women can walk freely about without having to wear the abaya or niqaab. At the same time, however, there are both Muslims and non-Muslims living here, so there is also a small mosque on the compound.

There is plenty of space to walk around and get some exercise; in fact, I brought my bike with me all the way from Sakaka with the rest of my stuff, so I’ve been enjoying riding about the place. There’s not a lot of grass on the compound, but there are plenty of trees and small bushes surrounding a lot of the housing, some with colourful blossoms, which add some welcome colour to the otherwise rocky landscape. There is some wildlife, too; cats, of course! You see them everywhere on the compound!

Although the compound has not one, but two swimming pools, both are empty! There is no sign of anyone planning to fill them, which is a real shame, especially with this heat. There’s also a huge building that was recently built to house a gym, but again, this has been left empty. Apparently, the workers rushed the job and the building has been deemed structurally unsound and unfit for use. It’s hard though to know if this is not simply an excuse to avoid having to fork out for some gym equipment and pay for pool maintenance. In much the same (disheartening) spirit, there is an outdoor tennis court and basketball court, both of which are in complete disrepair and have clearly been neglected for some time. Several teachers have their own car; so some go into town to use a gym instead. The sports clubs in town have swimming pools and even Jacuzzis and saunas. I heard from one teacher that his membership costs about 300 Saudi Riyals a month ($75), which I suppose is not too bad, as long as you make full use of your membership.

There is, however, a small “recreational room”. It’s a very simple space, which residents use for various things. Last night, in fact, we had a pot-luck social there, which was quite successful – and people seemed to like my chicken Korma with rice! Sometimes they host a “movie-night” there, using a projector and speakers to give it the feel of a cinema. Even the inside walls are decorated with movie posters. There is also an old ping-pong table and a small library of books – of all kinds – which are freely available for residents to borrow. In the past there have also been Arabic classes and even dance classes offered there, but how the space is used is all dependent on the residents that year and what they are interested in.

One thing I particularly love about the compound is the striking scenery! Engulfing the compound on three sides and overlooking the housing are these tall, boulder-rock hills. Almost as if brooding, these dark hills quietly watch on as they jut upwards, silhouetted against the clear skies. When I first saw them, they seemed unreal, like something out of a Hollywood film set or the constructed landscape of a Disney park. So, however much the compound may look like a prison from the outside, with its high walls and copious security, there is a lot to be said for the beauty that can be seen from within its walls. I have included some photos in the previous post below. Enjoy!

The Compound in Ha’il (Photos)

Ha’il, Saudi Arabia

Since the 28th of August, 2012, I have been living and working in the city of Ha’il, Ha’il Province, Saudi Arabia. Working for the Saudi company, Al-Khaleej Training & Education, I teach English to students of the Preparatory Year at the University of Ha’il.

Saudi Arabia Map Ha'il

Off to Ha’il!

It’s official – I have been assigned a position at the university project in Ha’il and will be moving this Tuesday (28th August). I will be teaching at the University of Ha’il, where their academic year is about to begin. I have organised for a van to take me and my things, including all of my furniture. I couldn’t well leave behind my nice hardwood desk, lazyboi chair and grandfather clock, could I? It’s going to be a bit of a mission because this stuff is heavy, but it’ll definitely be worth the effort.

I will be staying, at least initially, at the compound provided for the teachers by the company. I have no idea what the compound is like and how it compares to the one in Sakaka – hopefully it’s nice and large, with a swimming pool, like the compound in Tabuk, but I’m not getting my hopes up! In any case, I’ll have the option again to move into town and get my own apartment. So we’ll see what happens – I shall keep you updated on the move!