Arabic: Speaking 5, Reading 0

TALIMblog Arabic S5 R0 Imagine this: you reach the age of, say, 35, and you’re driving down the expressway with the kids in the back seat.

You get hopelessly lost a half hour from home.  You decide, then and there, to sign up at the program offered by the Tangier American Legation Institute for Moroccan Studies, TALIM.

The course?  GPS navigation?  No.  Map reading?  Not quite.  Reading, period.  And writing.  Our lost housewife is among the new illiterate, and she has decided to join the ranks of hundreds of women from the medina who have gone through a program that garners little publicity, but which has become a cornerstone of this institution.

The woman speaking above is Fatima Benguerch, who has taught the program for several years.  She and TALIM Associate Director Yhtimad Bouziane (standing in the background), know the life-changing value that readin’ and ritin’ can bring a person.  Fatima, probably the first person in her medina entourage to have obtained a university degree, shared her experiences with a group of American university students and their teachers at the just-concluded Critical Language Scholarship (CLS, State Department funded, CAORC-administered through AIMS-TALIM) course in Tangier.  Academic director Abdelhak Akjeje is seated at the left.

When you’ve always been literate – our American students having mastered their native English from their pre-school days – it’s kind of hard to imagine an adult woman having to learn how to hold a pencil.  Then applying that pencil to a straight line on the page, then progressing to letters and words.  That’s what Fatima does with her beginning students, who then go through four levels of written classical Arabic.  Via the literacy classes, they can also enroll in handicraft, sewing, or cooking classes, and volunteers also teach English, French, and Spanish.

Another neighborhood Fatima, Fatima Gharbaoui, attended literacy classes a few years ago.  TALIM Associate Director Bouziane, seeing a budding artistic talent, encouraged Gharbaoui to develop her skill.  The result: an art exhibition of her “naive” portrayals of urban and bucolic scenes, garnering much-needed income.  And what did Gharbaoui do with her proceeds?  She had electricity and running water connected to her modest medina home.  Life changing indeed.

This September we’ll have the latest class of beginners start to learn how to hold that pencil.  One of the enrollees was born in 1929.  You do the math.

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Note on this post's title: the widely used Foreign Service Institute (FSI) language scale runs from 0 (no knowledge) to 5 (native fluency), in both Speaking (S) and Reading (R). Most students manage to get similar scores ("3/3") in both areas.

Gerald Loftus

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