Learning Darija (Moroccan Arabic) has been one of the biggest challenges for us so far. The hardest part has been learning to communicate while our Darija is still extremely limited. Here’s a typical conversation that happened the first couple days we were here for illustration:
Mama Naima: S-salam! Labas? * followed by more unknown words that we think are welcoming us home* (Hi! How are you? …)
Us: “Salam! Labas! Bixir?” (Hi! I’m great! How are you?)
Mama Naima: *Long string of sentences that could include anything. We usually guess they include: How was your day? What did you learn? Are you sure you’re well? Is everything good? Are you happy? Are you ready for dinner?*
Us: Mzyan bzzaaaaaaaaf! (really good!!!!)
Mama Naima: Mzyan! *accompanied by loud laughing* (good!)
Now that we’ve been here for a week or so we’ve started to notice some very gradual improvement; the people we interact with are very good about speaking slowly enough to us that now we can usually answer at least one of Mama Naima’s questions when we get home. We learned to say “ma-fhmtsh” (I don’t understand) and “shwiya bshwiya” (little by little) to say that slowly but surely we’re learning and we’ll be able to communicate better tomorrow.
We’ve naturally come to depend a lot on hand signs and acting. Our host brother is especially good at acting out his messages multiple ways and giving examples so that we can understand. Sometimes, though, we just end up moving on if we continually can’t understand something. Here’s a sample conversation with our host brother Anass:
Anass: *Multiple sentences in Darija about our plans for later that day. Maybe something about a café for watching soccer? Or maybe about how our class went? Or maybe something more abstract?*
Matt: *Thinks for a bit, then tries a combo of signs, acting, Darija and English.*
Anass: *Shakes head, looks confused.*
Matt: Aud afak? (repeat please?)
Anass: *Tries again with a different combination of English, Darija and acting.*
Matt: Ma-fhmtsh. *shrugs* (I don’t understand)
Anass: *Throws hands in the air with a big smile and says “Communication!!” (one of the words he knows in English).
That usually ends the discussion and we all decide that the info exchange isn’t worth the time.
When we first got to Mama Naima’s house and introduced ourselves, she gave us Arabic names since our English names are difficult for her to pronounce. In Mama Naima’s house, Matt is known as Ahmed and Cori is now Layla. One of our foolproof methods of conversation is just an exchange of names: Anass says “Ahmeddddd!” and Matt responds with “Anassssss!”. Mama Naima and Cori sometimes join in, although Cori usually gets made fun of for being too quiet.
Despite these difficulties, we do actually exchange a lot of information and we usually have at least an idea what they are saying. We’ve definitely noticed an increase in comprehension since we first arrived, and with 5-6 hours of Darija lessons each day we should be able to have real conversations at some point. Until then, it’s communication, shwiya bshwiya.
Matt and Cori