I’ve been speaking Arabic for a number of years. And although I spoke mainly one dialect, I have been blessed to understand almost all of them. Let me emphasize the almost. There are a few I don’t understand at all and others I don’t understand some of the words they use or how they use certain words. In any case, I am able to speak and understand.
Initially, I wouldn’t let people know that I understood, except for those who knew me and had actually spoken to me in Arabic. Later, my secret got out and I started using it more often and with more confidence. But when I got to Saudi Arabia, things changed.
First of all, we were told not to use Arabic in the classroom. “It’s and English only environment.” So, I tried to follow that, even when I thought that it may be beneficial to use it from time to time. What was funny and interesting though was the fact that my students didn’t know what to make of me at first. I had this Arabic name so they thought I must be Arab. My name is the only Arab thing about me. Oh let’s get that out of the way right now. I legally changed my name, my entire name, when I converted to Islam. Now back to the story. I watched my students covering their mouths when they spoke for fear that I could read their lips. I can’t read lips in English let alone Arabic. Eventually, as time went on I started letting people know that I did in fact understand and speak Arabic. I don’t do it often so it’s become a bit of an obsession for some.
That’s at work, but what do I do when I’m out in public? Oh I feel so guilty sometimes, but I also find it funny. How else am I to entertain myself here in Yanbu? There are two places where I never use Arabic though, the bank and the hospital. I don’t want to screw up my money or health because I misunderstood something.
Anyway, because of the way I’m dressed, it’s assumed that I speak Arabic and depending on my mood, I will. But there are times when I really act a nut and pretend I don’t understand. For example, I went into the Body Shop and said a few words in English. The man working there quickly said, “No English!” What did I do? I walked out, lol. It’s not like I couldn’t have spoken to him in Arabic, but I didn’t. Even as I walked out, I wasn’t sure why I didn’t just speak to him in Arabic. What did I have to lose?
On another occasion, the salesman spoke and I shrugged my shoulders