Language Acquisition VS. Language Learning – By Arwa Al-Moghrabi

Languages are treasures, that’s what I’ve always believed. The more languages you’ve acquired or learned the better and healthier of an individual you are! First things first we have to understand that learning a language is for adults acquiring is for children as they use both sides of the brain unlike adults after the age of puberty they use one side of the brain to “learn” a language due to lateralization (specializing sections of the left side of the brain for language learning) thus experience, social filter, and the physiology of the tongue play a huge role in positive, negative, or neutral transfer.

Furthermore, some languages when learned are easy others are difficult depending on the makeup of the individual’s first language e.g. if you are a Spanish, French, or Italian speaker learning any of those with a first language background of the previously mentioned languages will facilitate positive transfer. That’s why these languages are grouped as “Romantic Languages”­. Another example if you were an Arabic and English speaker German would be easy to learn due to the similarities between those languages whether vocabulary or sound system of vowels and consonants etc…

Now when it comes to the learning method there’s not a right or wrong way to learning a language however there are a couple of things that need to be considered:
Goal of the learner: Accuracy or Fluency of a language?
Style: Academic or Everyday language?
Learning Style: Auditory, Visual, Kinesthetic, or a combination?
Natural Acquiring Stages of any language in children: Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing

Some have mentioned that living in the place where the language comes from is a must that is a myth it’s a huge facilitator agreed and it supports the theory of exposure where you’re stripped from your own mother tongue and exposed and forced to communicate in the target language. This wouldn’t work with most adults as they won’t feel secure while learning the language. On the other hand, with kids if the target language is not introduced properly by monitoring the progress of the mother tongue an overlap will occur meaning language shift happens the child might lose their first language and acquire the target language as their mother tongue instead.

From my personal experience as a learner and linguist I’ve recently acquired a Tunisian accent never been to Tunisia in my life nor have I been exposed to the accent! I’ve been working for the past 3 years with two Tunisians ladies at the gym and I was exposed daily to their accent for the first couple of months I was just listening to what they were saying and observing how they create sentences and phrases trying to understand what their vocabulary is made out of along with the accent’s grammatical makeup

Hijazi Arabic Dialect: 7agi, zoj, sayara etc
Tunisian Arabic Accent: mtai3i, zooz, karhba etc
English: mine, pair, car etc
Hijazi Arabic Dialect: ana ashta3’il fi nadi riyadi
Tunisian Arabic Accent: ena ni5dim fi centre sportif
English: I work at a gym

Hijazi Arabic Dialect: fainik? doobi jeet wu ma lagaitik
Tunisian Arabic Accent: weinik? tawa jeet wu ma lqeeteksh
English: Where have you been? I just arrived and couldn’t find you

Hijazi Arabic Dialect: ana basawi al 3asha
Tunisian Arabic Accent: ena n6yaib fil e3sheh
English: I’m preparing dinner

Hijazi Arabic Dialect: salam kaif 7alik wu aish a7walik inshallah b5air?
Tunisian Arabic Accent: 3aslema keefik shnowa 7wailek leh bes?
English: Hello how are you how’s it going hope everything’s ok?

Hijazi Arabic Dialect: minjidik? bilahi aish hada?
Tunisian Arabic Accent: ta7ki bi erasmi? brabi shnowa hatha?
English: For real? What on earth is this?

I started making comparisons between the two and trying to understand what the girls were saying from context as we communicated verbally they would tell certain stories or ask and answer certain questions with one another this came handy as an auditory learner. I’ve decided to make this a listening only period which in comparison to a child it’s called the silent period where a child is exposed to a language and would listen without production of speech. The second month I found myself speaking to them using some of their vocab whichcomparing to a child acquiring a language it’s called the one or two word stage. I would at times mis-use the vocab for example they have two words for describing something that’s good for things Tunisian would use the word bahi in Hijazi we say kwais in English we would use the word good. However, for food Tunisians would use the word bneen in Hijazi we could say lazeez and in English I would definitely say delicious. I remember myself always using bahi for both where thing or food and at times I would be aware of what I was saying so I’d correct myself directly and replace the words at other times I’d be passive and just let go. Another thing anybody would notice about the Tunisian accent is that it has a very interesting intonation pattern they always sound like they are asking a question I thought I wouldn’t get that but thankfully with time it came out naturally (so language is not just words and grammar intonation is also considered!)

What I liked about the girls was that they allowed me to make mistakes however corrected my mistakes by using comprehension checks and indirect references to the mis-chosen vocab words. The thing that made the learning process smooth and fast was that I was never discouraged or felt bad about making mistakes in front of them nor was embarrassed about the fact that other people in the gym were hearing me speak in a different accent (so basically acting like a child that has a low social filter!). The girls were very motivating and happy that I was learning their accent which is by the way a key when learning a language for adults.

At the end of the year I had to move to Dubai to study my master’s program and left the girls but we stayed in touch however not like the gym where contact was intensive and on daily basis. Therefore I took it further and started listening (again knowing your learning style makes it even easier I’m an auditory learner) to their national radio stations while I was away from them believe it or not I started to distinguish their dialects which made it more fun and interesting to learn more about their accent!

Funny stories happened to me in Dubai due to my accurate and fluent usage of the accent while I was at the Tunisian pavilion in Global village I thought to myself why not exercise your new accent with people you don’t know and see where you stand. When I started speaking to the Tunisians over there they kept asking which part of Tunisia are you from and when I told them that I’m not Tunisian they couldn’t believe it and thought I was making it up they made me swear a couple of times they were like you sound so native how come?! So then I told them about my friends etc…. Another similar incident happened however indirectly through a phone call. My mom found a Tunisian old lady at a shop they were both buying abayas due to the lady’s accent the shop keeper couldn’t understand what she was trying to say mom helped out and then they talked for a while then mom mentioned that I spoke Tunisian the lady was like where is your daughter my mom said let me call her for you as she isn’t her physically I spoke to her and she didn’t believe that I’ve never been to her country in my life nor was I a Tunisian citizen. She was like you sound like a Qarwaneeyah (from the city al Qayrawan) I was like it would be an honor to be one thank you!!!

When I went back to Jeddah and met my Tunisian friends again I started to tell them about these incidents they were thrilled and so proud of me moreover I went further and asked which of them was from a Qayrawani descent apparently one of the girls her father is from that city originally and her speech is very similar to his thus I knew where my accent came from at the end. My other friend was so jealous she was like I have to start speaking more to you so you could sound like a Nableeya (she’s from the city of Nabil) I was like sure that’s my next step inshallah!


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