We think of written language as pretty similar to spoken, but the awareness of how it is not becomes clear the minute you try to learn to write- without errors- in a foreign language. As part of my studies, I’ve been writing weekly “letters” – really just paragraphs about any topic- and Kifah corrects them.  This is what they look like after correction:

2016-03-16 09.24.26

Basically, not a sentence goes by that is correct. And if it is technically correct for spoken language, it’s not fluid as written language. I’m showing these examples because it’s been fascinating to me to realize how much more challenging it is to have facility with written language than with spoken.  We notice if someone has a foreign accent, sure, but it becomes of little note if two-way comprehension is clear.  Yet with written language, the spoken accent is absent and only the errors remain.

The errors vary, from forms that I know and can correctly produce in speech, but forget in written language, to forms that are very hard for me to produce on the fly because they are so dissimilar to English, to words that can’t be translated directly without a little padding of meaning, such as elopement, to spelling errors, courtesy of Google Translate (which is quite good for english-to-germanic-or-romance languages, but lacking in less-related languages), or courtesy of my own misremembering of the sounds.

However, with this increased focus on writing, I find I myself actively noticing forms of speech as I read. Reading truly is the key to learning how to write.


I should make a list of common errors English speakers make in Arabic and post it somewhere. Such as the use of the definite article after this, so what in english would be “this dog” becomes “this the dog”  –  a form that is particularly hard for English speakers to remember.  Or how written Arabic prefers the pairing of a verb with a noun form, where English would require two verbs:  “I want to get a dog” becomes “I want the getting of a dog” or such. Or properly handling “to have” in the past and future tense. Or the problem of alif.



Posted by:Brook DeLorme

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