Month: January 2022

Top 5 Reasons To Learn Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)

Reading Time: 2 minutes

A common dilemma faced by Arabic learners has been: should one learn fusHa (فصحى), otherwise known as Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), or ʿāmmiyya (عامية), a colloquial dialect? While both are important for mastering the Arabic language, here are our top 5 reasons why you should learn MSA.

1. Used across the MENA region


Arabic is the 5th most spoken language in the world, so being able to understand MSA is a huge advantage! MSA is used for print and broadcast media, law, legislation, academia, and modern literature throughout the Middle East and North Africa regions. It is likely that many people in these regions understand it to some extent, having heard it on news broadcasts, read it in books and/or learnt it at school. Therefore, MSA provides a common language among the Arabic-speaking countries, meaning you should be able to communicate with most Arabic speakers to a certain extent.

2. A practical basis for learning other dialects


Modern Standard Arabic provides a solid foundation for learning the different spoken varieties of Arabic (dialects) across the Arab world. Although there are many differences between the various dialects and MSA, a lot of words can be traced back to their roots in MSA. For instance, in Levantine dialect, to ask ‘How are you?’ you would say ‘كيفك’ keefak/fik which is very similar to MSA’s ‘كيف حالك’ keef halak/lik.

3. A consistent way of understanding the Arab world


Modern Standard Arabic is a beautiful and complex language. It is a variety of standardized, literary Arabic developed in the 19th and 20th centuries, heralding a modern period for Arabic language. For Arabic learners, MSA can provide a more grammatically consistent route into the Arabic linguistic and cultural world.

4. Accessing Arabic media & culture


Want to understand news channels or read poems by Mahmoud Darwish in its original language? Then you should choose to learn MSA as it is the language of media and literature in the Arab world and the vast majority of news channels, newspapers and radio productions. Therefore, understanding MSA is key for accessing the world of journalism and foreign affairs in the MENA region.

5. Extensive economic and business advantages


Arabic is the official language of 22 countries and is one of the 6 official languages at the United Nations. The economic and business advantages of understanding MSA are abundant and having Arabic on your CV can boost your job prospects massively! For example, did you know that the Arab world has a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion?


Yalla! What are you waiting for? Kick-start your Arabic journey here or if you’re looking for a deep-dive, try NaTakallam’s one-of-a-kind Integrated Arabic Curriculum which combines MSA AND Levantine dialect! Try a FREE curriculum session here before you commit.

What’s more? You’ll make an impact by supporting the livelihoods of NaTakallam’s language partners from displaced backgrounds.

How People Express Laughter in Different Languages

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Laughter is a universal yet culturally-tinted phenomenon. It draws people together and has the power to stimulate physical, emotional, psychological and social changes. Ever wondered how people from different cultures conveyed laughter and humor? Join us as we explore laughter and humor in five different language-cultures!

1. PERSIAN

In Persian, laughter is transcribed as either خخخخخ (khkhkhkhkh), ههههه (hahahahaha), or هاهاهاها (ha ha ha ha). 

Central to Persian popular humor is the figure of Mulla Nasruddin Khodja. Born in Seljuk Sultanate of Rum in the 13th century, Khodja was a philosopher and a wise man who imparted his wisdom through witty jokes and funny tales. A famous Khodja tale that Persian-speakers (and others) chuckled to over generations goes as follows: 

Mulla had lost his ring in the living room. He searched for it for a while, but since he could not find it, he went out into the yard and began to look there. His wife, who saw what he was doing, asked: “Mulla, you lost your ring in the room, why are you looking for it in the yard?” Mulla stroked his beard and said: “The room is too dark and I can’t see very well. I came out to the courtyard to look for my ring because there is much more light out here”.

2. ARABIC

In Arabic, laughter is written as ههههه (hhhhh or hahahaha), هاهاها (hā hā hā), or even هع هع هع (ha’ ha’ ha’). 

Like Mulla Nasruddin Khodja in the Persian-speaking world, Arabic-speaking countries too have a popular figure who effortlessly combines humor and wisdom. Known as Juha, Djoha, or Goha, this figure first appeared in Al-Jahiz’s 9th-century book “Saying on Mules” (القول في البغال). However, over the centuries, the character of Juha was merged with that of Mulla Nasruddin Khodja. Juha appears in thousands of tales, always witty, sometimes wise, and other times gently absurd – a butt of his own jokes. 

In one story, a man sees Juha across a raging river. “How do I get across?” the man cries. “You are there already!” Juha shouts back.

3. SPANISH

In Spanish, laughter is expressed as jajajaja (hahahaha). 

The Spanish sense of humor is well encapsulated in Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a mock epic which satirizes early modern obsession with noble knights, ridiculous quests and chivalric attitudes. Published in two parts, in 1605 and 1615, it is considered one of the founding works of western literature. Humor in Don Quixote is subtle but sharp. Cervantes sets his story as follows, before going on to describe the absurd adventures of his titular character:

“En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no hace mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.”

(‘‘Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing.’’)

4. ARMENIAN

In Armenian, laughter is transcribed as հա հա հա (ha ha ha). 

Humor, in more recent times, has been used by Armenians as a form of resistance and empowerment. The famous Radio Yerevan jokes are an example. Popular in the 20th century, these jokes took a Question & Answer format, mimicking that of popular series on Armenian Radio. 

When asked ‘‘Could an atomic bomb destroy our beloved town, Yerevan, with its splendid buildings and beautiful gardens?’’

Radio Yerevan answered: ‘‘In principle, yes. But Moscow is a far more beautiful city.’’

5. FRENCH

In French, laughter is often expressed with the initials mdr’ for mort de rire (dying of laughter) – equivalent to LOL in English. 

French humor is celebrated in cartoonist André Franquin’s Gaston, a gag-a-day comic strip first published in 1957 in the comic strip Spirou. The series focuses on the everyday life of Gaston Lagaffe (meaning Gaston “the blunder”), a lazy and accident-prone office junior working at Spirou’s office in Brussels. It is much loved not only for its perfectly timed comedy, but also for its warm outlook on everyday life.

Explore humor and laughter in different languages this New Year with NaTakallam’s native language partners! Sign up for sessions here or spread the laughter (it’s contagious!) with a loved one by gifting a NaTakallam session here – an experience like no other.

Gaston comic visual source: philonomist.com/en/article/innovation-smile-gaston-lagaffe

8 New Year’s Traditions Around The World

Reading Time: 5 minutes

As we ring in New Year 2022, here are different traditions that mark the beginning of the year from around the world!

 

1. Syria & Lebanon: a ‘‘white dish’’


In Syria and parts of
Lebanon, New Year’s is celebrated with a “white dish” representing the hope for all things good for the year. The ‘‘white dish’’ could be a scrumptious plate of shakriyeh, kibbeh labanieh, sheikh el mahshi, muhalabia or just a simple bowl of cereal with milk1. As in several other cultures, the color white is considered particularly auspicious for New Year’s as it is associated with new beginnings, peace and prosperity. 

2. Ecuador: burning the Año Viejo (‘‘old year’’)


In Ecuador, the New Year is ushered in with the burning of effigies of all people/things that represent the year gone by. These effigies could range from that of politicians, television personalities to that of beloved superheroes and cartoon characters. As a part of the
tradition of Año Viejo, revelers jump over the burning effigies twelve times for each month of the year in a symbolic cleansing of the bad from the past year before commencing the New Year.2

3. Armenia: breaking of the ‘‘year bread’’


In Armenia, a sweet bread called the
‘‘year bread’’ (also known as gata, darin, or darehats) is baked to mark the New Year. Although the recipe for this bread varies from region to region, it usually consists of flour, sugar, butter, eggs and often an Armenian yogurt known as matsoni. A coin, walnut, or a button is hidden in this bread and when it is broken (yes, broken not cut)3 on New Year’s the person who finds it in their piece is considered to have the best fortune for the year. 

4. Spain: las doce uvas de la suerte (the 12 grapes of luck)


In Spain, twelve grapes are eaten, synchronized with the sound of the twelve strikes of the bell marking the New Year.
This tradition is believed to lead an individual into twelve lucky and prosperous months. In more recent years, the grapes are stuffed into the mouth all at once and the ringing of the bell is substituted with loud cheers from family and friends.

5. Peru: three potatoes 


In Peru, three potatoes – one peeled, one half peeled, and one unpeeled – are hidden under a chair or a couch before midnight. When family/friends gather at midnight, a potato is picked at random.
This potato is believed to predict the person’s/family’s fortunes for the year to come. The peeled potato signifies bad financial fortune, half-peeled signifies a normal year, and unpeeled signifies a great bounty in the year ahead.

6. France: galette de Rois (‘‘Kings’ cake’’)


In France, New Year celebrations extend to January 6, when the feast of Epiphany – marking the three wise men’s visit to baby Jesus – is celebrated. On this day, people tuck into a sweet pastry called
galette des Rois. Two little figurines are hidden inside the pastry; whoever finds it is deemed King or Queen for the day. 

 

7. Iran: the haftseen (هفت‌ سین), table spread of seven S’s


Iranians celebrate their New Year,
Nowruz (نوروز), at the beginning of spring (on March 20th or 21st). They usher in the New Year with a ‘haft-seen’ table, set with seven symbolic dishes starting with the Persian letter seen (س, S). These may include sabzeh (سبزه, sprouts) for rebirth, sekkeh (سکه, coins) for wealth, sib (سیب, apple) for beauty, samanoo (سمنو, pudding) for bravery, sumaq (سماق, spice) for sunshine, seer (سیر, garlic) for health, and serkeh (سرکه, vinegar) for patience. 

8. From ancient Babylonia to you (wherever you are) today: New Year’s resolutions


The Babylonian
akitu festival is one of the oldest recorded New Year celebrations in the world. It developed from a semiannual agricultural festival to an annual New Year’s national holiday, and reached its zenith in the first millennium B.C.E.4 As a part of the festivities, Babylonians would make promises to gods to return borrowed objects and to pay any outstanding debts – these became an early forerunner to our own New Year’s resolutions today! According to a 2016 study, 41% of Americans make New Year’s resolutions. They are, after all, a triumph of hope over experience.

As we see above, different countries and regions of the world usher in the New Year in their own unique ways, however, common to them all is the hope for a new year full of happiness, peace and prosperity. 

If your New Year celebrations this year include a resolution, consider learning a new language or brushing up an old one! If you’re on the fence, check out our top 10 reasons why learning a new language will benefit you. NaTakallam’s language learning is taught by displaced, native speakers and is available in Armenian, Arabic (MSA+ dialects), English, French, Kurdish, Persian and Spanish. This New Year, learn new languages, create new experiences!

Wishing all our readers and learners a happy, peaceful and prosperous New Year 2022!

 


1  Siham Tergeman. Daughter of Damascus: A Memoir. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994. p.52. 
2 This symbolic jumping over flames can also be found in Iranian New Year (Nowruz) celebrations. See, no. 7 to learn more.
3 To some Armenians, bread symbolizes abundance, and hence, it is never cut with a knife (but broken) so as not to curb their good luck. For more, see: Nane Khachatryan, New Year in Armenia: A Festive Dinner, ecokayan.com/armenia/travel/explore/new-year-dinner-in-armenia. 
4 Julye M. Bidmead, The Akitu Festival: Religious Continuity and Royal Legitimation in Mesopotamia. Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2004. Introduction.

 

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