Julie Cmelik is an alumna of the Arabic Virtual NSLI-Y Winter Cohort from January-March 2020.
When my mom first told me about learning Arabic through Virtual NSLI-Y, I was quite interested; studying Arabic had been a dream of mine for some years due to the beauty and mystery surrounding its written form. After being accepted, I was looking forward to starting the classes and meeting new people. As I logged into Zoom that first day, I was filled with excitement and nervousness. Would I do well? Would my classmates and I get along? Would the internet connection work at the local library where I was going to log onto the classes? Would I be able to use the technology correctly? Once the class started, our teacher Ms. Marwa began by making sure we knew how to mute and un-mute ourselves and then continued with showing us Arabic-speaking countries and explaining how the Arabic alphabet has 28 letters and how 6 of those letters are non-connectors (meaning they do not attach to letters following them.) By the end of the first class, I had been taught how to greet and to introduce myself using phrases such as “Little Rock مرحبا! انا اسمي خولي. انا من أمريكا. اسكن قي” (Hello! My name is Julie. I am from America. I live in Little Rock.) From there, we went to numbers and covered topics ranging from the days of the week to our daily schedules. Every class, I was rushing to scribble down vocabulary, pronunciations, and other bits of knowledge. All of those questions that I had before that first class, began to fade away as I got more and more into the class.
My teacher was absolutely wonderful and very encouraging. Even though class time was a late hour in her country due to the time difference, she came to each lesson with enthusiasm and patiently answered all of our questions, while keeping the class fun and interactive.
One of my favorite topics was learning how to order food. This was partly due to the fact that for my cultural presentation I had chosen “Food in the Arab World.” Ms. Marwa had us do exercises like role-playing a restaurant scene and making our own menu. I never knew how much delicious looking dishes Arabic-speaking countries had! Knowledge of Arabic culture was also something that I gained throughout the 10 weeks. It was so amazing to discover the beauty of their architecture, dances, and art.
I never believed that I could learn as much as I did over those 10 weeks. Not only did VNSLI-Y teach me how to communicate about various topics, but it also awakened a love of languages. I have studied languages almost all of my life, but never have I been this excited about them. Whether it was humming an Arabic song to learn the days of the week, greeting my Jordanian friend at the store with “مرحبا! بخير الحمد لله” (Hello! I am good thanks to God) or teaching my parents how to reply when I said “!صباح الخير” (Good morning!), Arabic made me excited about language learning. Was it hard? Yes, being introduced to a new language is never easy, and sometimes homework took up a lot of time. Also, Arabic has some sounds that do not exist in English (like the guttural ج “gHa” sound). But was it worth it? Absolutely. One of the most gratifying experiences was when I had to write a page describing what I did each day. In the end, it took about 2 hours to complete this task, but I was so proud of the paragraphs that I wrote and about the fact that I was able to read most of the words without writing out the pronunciation. It was one of most gratifying memories of my Virtual NSLI-Y experience.
By doing the class virtually I had easy access to quality teaching of the Arabic language. Having a live biweekly class gave accountability and something to look forward to each week. Even though our lessons were not in a traditional setting, all of us were able to participate easily even to the point of giving slideshow presentations in class. I have done other virtual language learning but none have been as challenging and rewarding as Virtual NSLI-Y.
My advice to students wanting to learn languages virtually encompasses the 4 main steps to language learning: listening, speaking, reading, and writing.
1) Listening: Pay attention during class, take notes every chance you get, and do not zone out just because the lesson is online. Soak up as much knowledge as possible and listen to the small tips that your teacher gives. There is nothing better than being able to look back at your notes while doing homework.
2) Speaking: Participate in every chance you get; ask questions and answer questions. Also, outside of class, connect with your classmates, whether it be though call or text; they can be a wonderful support system.
3) Reading: Read the language in and out of class every chance you get.
4) Writing: Write, write, write. Whether it be taking notes or working on homework, writing is one of the most effective ways to connect what you hear in class to your memory.
The influence of Virtual NSLI-Y has spread into other areas of my life. Through this program I met wonderful classmates who I now call my friends. Because of the teaching format that I was exposed to, I am able to ask better questions in my other foreign language class. Instead of just wanting to learn the vocabulary, I want to know how to use the vocabulary. Virtual NSLI-Y also made me more comfortable with participating virtually in language learning.
I try to read Arabic almost every chance I get. Whether it is watching movies in Arabic or trying to read it from a book, Virtual NSLI-Y introduced me to a language that I never want to forget. I plan on continuing my Arabic using various online resources suggested by NSLI-Y, and I know that I will continue humming that Arabic song about the days of the week, greeting my Jordanian friend in Arabic, and repeating various phases every chance I get.