I was about four years old when I started learning my second language. My mother quickly began to teach me how to read and write the alphabet in Arabic. Although my family is Turkish I couldn’t seem to understand why my mother was stacking two different languages on me at once. I grew aggravated at my mother for drilling in the more complex Arabic language into me because I hadn’t been to Turkey for more than a month at the time. I personally felt like I didn’t need more than the basics. At the end of my fourth grade school year I was in complete shock when I learned that my parents wanted to move to Syria. I was going to have to start fresh and I would lose all the friends I made throughout my life. I lived in a cul de sac so my neighborhood was close with each other. I used to hangout with my neighbors almost everyday but I never imagined I would have to tell them that I was moving and would never come back and see them again. It was one of the most difficult things I had to do in my life. My fourth grade class even had a party for me and many of my fellow classmates brought me gifts and told me that they would miss me. I remember the day my family pulled out of the driveway to leave to the airport almost all my neighbors were watching and waving goodbye to me and my sister in tears. I don’t remember a time I was more emotional than that day. “Goodbye Tommy and Casey” I shouted with excruciating pain. I couldn’t believe I lost my best friends and all the work I put in to make my friends didn’t even matter anymore. My stomach started to burn as the plane finally landed. Twenty long hours later and I still couldn’t believe that I would spend the next school year in Aleppo, Syria. I didn’t know what to expect in a new environment as well as a different culture for school. So many different thoughts in my head, all I did was worry. I only knew the basic Arabic terms such as the greetings, alphabet, and some general terms. I doubted if I could get around on my own before the school year started. It was the first time I was really forced out of my comfort zone but surely if I stayed with the flow I would be alright.
My father stayed in America so he could work while my mother and I, as well as my twin sister stayed at my grandmother’s house. My mom quickly suggested that my sister and I needed a tutor for the summer leading to my fifth grade school year so we could get on the right track with our Arabic. I knew it would take a lot of hard work but I was up for the challenge because I wanted to make my family proud and show them how much I could improve my language. I started to go outside and interact with different types of people and I noticed that when I spoke with friends they would speak in a different way and style compared to an employee at the store because there was modern Arabic as well as the classical version. I swiftly caught on and learned the style to talk to someone depending on who it was.
My mother hired a tutor that was a relative who taught at a middle school nearby. She taught us all sorts of things, the language is much different from English. Although I knew most of the basics she went through some of the background information on the language. She started by explaining that in Arabic each letter has three forms, a beginning, middle, and an end. As well as there were 28 different letters in the language. The language is also written from right to left rather than left to right compared to english. Arabic has no capital letters instead quotation marks are used for emphasis. The letters are usually joined together while typing and writing. One of the things I had to get used to was that verbs come first and then adjectives come next. “Ring, ring, ring” the alarm for the for bell rang as I was in the seat of my new 5th grade private school. Instead of going to each of my classrooms we had a set class of students but the teachers would come to us. In school we had to learn Arabic, English, French, history, science, as well as religion. The first class was English which was funny because I was technically teaching the class. My classmates realized I was from America and I knew what I was talking about after I corrected the teacher. I had no problem making friends because most of the students would ask me for help while filling out English multiple choice questions as well as grammatical questions. My sister and I also didn’t have an accent when we spoke English so my classmates looked up to us for help.
In the first three months of school I struggled with the Arabic component because we had to memorize almost everything and would have to take two big quizzes and a final exam at the end of the year which ultimately decided if we passed the year or not. I studied almost every night with the help of my mother. The fluency in my languages greatly enhanced, so did my skills. I could finally understand the difference between the two languages and I started to process things better. Now I use both languages to my advantage at home and my academic career. I was ignorant and didn’t understand why my mother forced me to learn another language. I learned to appreciate being bilingual. I often spoke to my parents in English at home but I learned to cut the habit and respond to them with the language they were speaking. Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.” I took the statement with pride and continued to take my mother’s advice legitimately. Halfway through the school year and I didn’t need my mothers help with writing or memorizing any of the homework anymore. I could study on my own and get my work done at an rapid pace. I was selected as the top English student in the class so I competed against other students in other parts of the country for a prize of about a thousand dollars. We did many spelling tests and after my fourth trip within the school program I learned I won. I started to simply appreciate the value of knowing a language well. It pushed me to be open minded and try new things in my academic career. The end of the school year approached and I would continue to write letters to my neighbors back home often times a copy with both languages on it to show them I was progressing.
I finished the school year off with a grade of an 84 I was satisfied with my results but my mother told me I would have to study harder because in highschool everyone had to take a big test and the results you got would determine your future and what type of job you could get. At the end of the night my mother was always studying for her English literature degree and I was interested and read with her when I had the chance. I would lay down in my my room some nights and think how my friends were doing fearful of not being able to see them again. I wondered how they were doing in school and couldn’t wait to tell them about the experience I had learning Arabic. I was excited for another year to improve my skills but I returned to America because the civil war started and it wasn’t safe anymore. I was absolutely thrilled to see my friends and father again. The war didn’t stop me from continuing to improve my language. When I got back to America I took my mother’s advice again and enrolled in a Sunday school religious program because I stayed dedicated to enrich my writing and vocabulary skills because of the benefits it provided.