I’m 29 years old and I’m learning to read…………………………………… in Arabic. I know how to read in English (of course) and French & Spanish (kind of), but learning how to read in Arabic means learning a whole new alphabet and learning to read in a whole new direction. I truly feel like I’m learning to read all over again, and it’s really helping me understand how my students feel when they are learning how to read. Since most people don’t remember the cognitive processes they used when they were learning to read, I thought I would share some of my experiences and insights.
I am only beginning to learn (I’ve been at it about a month.), so I have a long ways to go – but here’s what I’ve already learned about reading by learning how to read all over again.
1. Different variations of a letter don’t look the same until you train your brain to see them that way. When I began working on the alphabet, my husband pointed at two letters and called them both the same letter - Ghayn - he couldn’t figure out why they didn’t look like the same letter to me. I couldn’t figure out how they looked the same to him. (In Arabic, there are no Capitols and Lowercase, rather the letters look different depending on where they are in a word.) Then, it occurred to me that a capitol A and a lowercase a really don’t look like they belong together at all. The only reason we know that these letters are the same is that we have train our brains to see them both as the same thing.
2. I can sound out words very well, but have no idea what that word means. I know we have all had word callers in our class, and know that this phenomena is common, but I never understood it in the same way as when I sounded out this great, long word in Arabic and realized that it head no meaning to me whatsoever. Now, when that word is next to a picture, or written in a place in my notebook that helps me remember what it means, I’m good, but written in a random place in a book, and I’m lost!
3. Handwriting is important. In English, my handwriting stinks, and I’ve never really thought it was all that important, as long as it was legible. However, I have realized that different handwritings can be like different fonts. Just like the capitol A and the lowercase a don’t look like each other – different people’s a’s might also look different. I know that the pretty, neat writing that my teacher uses doesn’t always reflect my husband’s quickly written Arabic, or the fancy Arabic fonts that can be found on cereal boxes and billboard signs.
4. Environmental print encourages reading. Now that I can sound out words, I am starting to make more sense of all these Arabic words that have been surrounding me for the past 9 months. I see Arabic everywhere here in Morocco – street signs, billboards, packaging, books, etc. However, much of the time, the Arabic words have corresponding French words, which are MUCH easier for me to figure out, so my eyes have pretty much skipped over the Arabic writing as a whole. Now that I know what the letters are, my eyes are beginning to search for the Arabic and trying to sound out words everywhere. (It’s actually driving my husband a little crazy – lol!)