Studying Arabic in Palestine is a big part of all our volunteers’ experiences. Whether you come to us at the Excellence Center to teach English, Intern, teach your specialty and run workshops at university or write for us here in Hebron about Palestine—Arabic study will be part of what you receive from us at the Excellence Center.
Whatever level of Arabic skill you come to us with, we will find you adequate instruction. Some of our volunteers come to us with prior Arabic knowledge, speaking skills and study and others come to us not knowing a single word of the language. If you are familiar with the Arabic script that is a wonderful plus but it definitely is not required.
Regardless of what program you come to participate in you will receive three hours of free Arabic lessons a week (unless of course you are just for Arabic study in which case you will receive more than three hours per week.) For the most part your Arabic instruction will be one on one with one of our teachers. However sometimes when we find it more helpful we may group you with another volunteer. For instance two of our recently arrived volunteers, Paulina from Finland and Maneesha from the United States came us at the Excellence Center at the same time and neither of them have prior knowledge of Arabic. Maneesha and Paulina are happy to be paired together, Paulina tells us, “I am very glad to be together, it is less pressure and also we learn the same things together so we can practice off one another outside of our lessons.” Paulina feels that, “two is the perfect number, if there were three of us it would be too many.”
It is not necessary to understand Arabic script before beginning the language study with us. Of course the skill is a plus, but do not be worried if you cannot decipher it before arriving. For Paulina and Maneesha, they are working mainly on basic greetings and sentences to help them get around town. They are able to write down the phonetics of the words in English to help them learn. However, Victor from Belgium who also came to us with no Arabic knowledge prefers to tackle the task of learning to read the Arabic script. That is the best part of the Arabic study we offer you, because you are not put into a large class and instead you get one on one or two on one instruction, we will cater your lessons to what you would most like to learn.
One of the decisions you will make regarding your Arabic lessons with us is whether you will study Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or local Palestinian dialect. Modern Standard Arabic is understood throughout the entire Middle East and is the form of Arabic that the news on television, radio and newspaper is delivered in. However, just because it is understood throughout the region that does not mean that everyone can speak it, therefore when people speak in dialect and you only understand MSA you may not decipher what they are trying to communicate to you. Conversely local dialect allows you to speak and understand the locals in their own form of the language. However, should your travel to another area of the Middle East, outside of the Levant , and you try to speak Hebron/Palestinian dialect to the locals there, they may not be able to understand you or you them. There are pros and cons of both paths to study Arabic, it really depends on your future plans and goals with regards to your knowledge of Arabic and your specific travel plans.
Alexa from the United States is participating in our “Volunteer to write about Palestine” program. Alexa has prior Arabic knowledge from previous study in college, additionally she spent time living in the Middle East during her studies. While in University Alexa was taught Modern Standard Arabic and is thus understood upon arriving in Palestine, however while she is here volunteering with us at the Excellence Center Alexa has elected to begin study in the local Palestinian dialect. She tells us, “it is difficult because it has been many years since I studied Arabic in school, so first when I speak I am constantly pulling knowledge back from quite a while ago, often I almost have a word but it feels like it is stuck on the tip of my tongue.” Alexa speaks to her studies in the local dialect after having only studied Modern Standard in the past, “after I recall what I am trying to say, it is often in MSA, then I must shift into dialect before I speak, sometimes it just feels like my brain is being twisted haha.” Alexa tells she has always wanted to learn the language outside MSA but, “I never had the opportunity or the need until now.”
We love to assist our volunteers in their study of Arabic in Palestine. Yes it can be a difficult learning curve at the beginning but the rewards you will reap from this experience and the knowledge you will gain will be many. If you are new to Arabic, the first time you are able to carry on greetings and conversation with locals will be a thrill the same is true for those who are learning dialect with prior knowledge of MSA. And of course some volunteers do arrive knowing all of the above, but receive the same feelings when they are able to delve into a deep discussion on complex topics.