The Single Most Important Arabic Word

Posted on 25. Nov, 2015 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Inshallah

Listen, I like procrastinating as much as the next guy. I like to live in the moment, you know? And sometimes that means not doing things that would make that moment boring and unmemorable, and pushing that burden on some future version of yourself that will hate you. I’m not the worst procrastinator in the world, but it’s not often that I’ll decide to get a jump start on my taxes or pay my bills early or do next week’s work this week. Life’s too short! Sometimes living in the moment means wasting what precious little time is given to you by binge-watching the latest garbage TV show.

Fair enough. We’ve all done it. But in the Middle East, they have taken procrastination to a whole new level, and it all comes from one little innocent-sounding word: inshallah.

Inshallah literally means “if God wills it,” though it’s not really used the same way we use “God willing.” It’s closer to “we’ll see.” It’s stuck at the end of any kind of declaration about the future, large or small, good or bad, accompanied by a humble shrug and a resigned smile. “I hope it doesn’t rain this afternoon.” Inshallah. “Next week my parents are coming to town!” Inshallah. “Yes, I will absolutely, definitely, positively pay you back those 10 bucks I owe you tomorrow.” Inshallah.

Basically, inshallah absolves you of any kind of responsibility about the future so that you don’t break any promises. After all, it’s the future! You can’t control the future, can you? I’d love to be able to come to your birthday party on Wednesday, but anything could happen between now and then! I might get hit by a truck and fall into a coma, and then I will be breaking a promise I made to you that I would be there. Better to just leave it in the hands of fate. If it’s “decided” that I will attend your party, I will of course attend. All I can do is express my desire to be present and hope that the Powers That Be agree with me. If not, it’s not my fault!

As you might imagine, this can quickly get frustrating, especially when relying on others to get something done. Westerners are used to a more goal-driven, self-motivated attitude in which God more or less minds his own business. In the Middle East, you’ll find that God often wills it that you spend your day chatting idly over sugary tea with your friends and neighbors than getting anything accomplished. If something needs doing right now, it’s up and at ’em, no time to waste! But if it needs to be done in an hour, well . . . inshallah.

The thing to realize about this slippery little word is that it’s a two-way street. That’s right, you get just as much right to inshallah yourself out of promises and commitments as anyone else. Being pestered by a local merchant to spend some expensive time in his shop? “I’ll be back in an hour, inshallah.” Can’t pay your rent on time? “I’ll have it next month, inshallah.” The wife wants you to get off the couch and do the dishes for once? “Absolutely, I promise, I’ll do them today! Inshallah.”

After all, those dishes might need to stay dirty for a very good reason. God works in mysterious ways.

30 New Languages Now Available in Transparent Language Online

Posted on 23. Nov, 2015 by in Company News, Language Learning, Language News, Product Announcements

new languages

You can never know enough languages. That’s why we add a few new languages to Transparent Language Online each year. Over time, our language scientists have experimented with several dozen languages that we never released to our individual consumers (though you may have seen these languages before if you were ever registered through a subscribing library, school, or corporate organization).

Today, we’re opening up our not-so-evil language laboratory! 30 new languages are now available in Transparent Language Online for our independent learners, including:

Afrikaans Esperanto Maori
Arabic (Levantine) French (Canadian) Mirandese
Balinese Hausa Nogai
Baluchi Hawaiian Oji-Cree
Bengali Icelandic Ojibwe
Breton Kalmyk Quechua
Buriat Koasati Scottish Gaelic
Cree Koyukon Tajiki
Dakota Latin Welsh
Denesuline Malagasy Yoruba

Language lovers can now purchase a subscription in any of more than 100 languages, including those listed above. Content will vary by language, so we recommend signing up for a free trial first to see what’s available!

There is no Arabic

Posted on 18. Nov, 2015 by in Uncategorized

Itchy Feet: Vanilla Arabic
Indecision. It’s the worst.

Just the word sounds nasty. Too close to “incision” for my taste, like something sharp and precise but brutal. Not being able to decide between options is crippling. It’s like being frozen by some kind of cruel ice witch, unable to move forward or side to side or even backward. It prevents you from making any progress of any kind. It’s far better to make a bad decision and deal with the consequences than to remain in that ghastly no-mans-land of indecision, straddling the fence, unable to put your foot down on either side.

Simple, everyday choices can be sabotaged by indecision. What should I wear to work? That’s nice, but I wore it last time, and I don’t want them to think I’ve only got one set of clothes. That’s also nice, but I don’t know if I’ll be warm enough on the ride over. What about this third option? It’s warmer and I didn’t wear it last time, but it’s not very comfortable. Is it better to be warm, comfortable or stylish? Don’t I have something that fits all three requirements? Yes, I do! Except…this one looks terrible with my shoes. I’m your regular vanilla straight white male, and this particular indecision often brings me literally to my knees, rooting around in the bottom drawer for something that might work better than the options I simply can’t decide between.

But the terrible purgatory of indecision lasts far longer, and has more devastating effect, with larger life decisions. For example, I have always wanted to learn Arabic. I’m already quite addicted to speaking foreign languages while traveling, ever since I learned that my passable French was a lifesaver in Morocco. I love the idea of traveling through the Middle East, delighting locals with enough Arabic to get me invited for tea at their homes, using it as a surprise bargaining chip when haggling in the markets and feeling better about myself not being “that” kind of westerner only peering at their culture from across the language barrier.

There’s just one problem: “Arabic” is not a language.

As demonstrated in the comic above, “Arabic” is more accurately a term for a collection of related languages, sort of like Romance languages are related through Latin. And just like speaking French does not mean you’ll understand Portuguese, learning one kind of Arabic does not necessarily grant you access to the other types. Unlike European languages, however, Arabic throws on a second layer of complication: media Arabic vs. colloquial Arabic. If you’re in Italy, the TV and newspapers will use regular old standard Italian, which everyone also speaks. Yes, you might hear a very strange, very different dialect between locals in the countryside, but for the most part everyone can still speak the standard version. With Arabic, Modern Standard (MSA) is exclusively used in the media, and as it’s not based on any particular dialect, nobody speaks it on the street. You might make yourself understood, but you aren’t going to understand what anyone else is saying. If you want to do that, you essentially have to choose one of the chief dialects, depending on your area of interest: Maghrebi Arabic (for North Africa), Egyptian Arabic (for Egypt; also the most common dialect used in television show dubbing), Gulf Arabic (for Saudia Arabia and the other Gulf states) or Levantine Arabic (for Syria, Palestine, Jordan, etc). Generally speaking, these dialects are not mutually intelligible, so you might as well be choosing between Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese.

And this is where my old nemesis indecision comes in.

I can’t choose between the dialects. I don’t favor one region over another, and I know that if I focus on one, I’ll find myself in situations wishing I had learned another. It’s probably not a good idea to learn two or three at the same time, or I’ll just get them all confused. So what do I do? What do I do?

Currently, nothing. I’m so paralyzed by my indecision on this matter that I’ve learned exactly zero Arabic. It’s a shame, because it’s a language I would really enjoy learning, to get away from the Euro-languages in which I’m currently steeped and see the world from another linguistic perspective. It’s topical, especially living in Europe, with so many immigrants coming in from Arabic-speaking countries, and my wife is obsessed with Arabic culture, so I know I’d have a study partner. I really want to learn Arabic!

But then I remember: there is no “Arabic,” and I’m paralyzed again.

What do you think I should do?