I met Dania briefly during the Fulbright gateway orientation in Miami. This lovely girl comes from Jordan and she was so proud to showcase her country’s culture by wearing a beautiful national costume in a combination of white and red and to share a few fascinating facts about Jordan in the form of a quiz. We didn’t have much time back in Miami and honestly, I wasn’t sure if we would ever cross paths again. It is amazing how destiny and circumstances put you back in touch with wonderful people you hadn’t previously had much of a chance to connect with. That was what happened as Dania came to visit me here for “the Miami group” reunion.
We do tend to stereotype people based on the way they look or on the country they come from. Anyone who falls into that pattern would have a particularly hard time with Dania. Her native language is Arabic and as many diverse and multiple speakers this language has around the globe resulting in a myriad of linguistic varieties, some people would have a specific image of an Arabic speaker. Sadly, it is often based on twisted political narratives and biased media coverage. The way Dania speaks English can hardly say where she comes from and what her native language is. She is here in the USA on the Fulbright program doing her masters in Landscape Architecture. What really amazed me about Dania is her passion and drive for languages. She started learning English at primary school, which was a modern American school, so English “was just there” as a natural means of connecting with people from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Grammar wasn’t something Dania enjoyed as she loved the language without wanting to have to know how the whole system “came about”. There was no particular focus on a specific aspect and thus combination of literature, art, and of course grammar and speaking was taught. According to Dania, they were lucky that King Hussein of Jordan implemented English as a second language in the country. Certainly, not everyone was equally happy about learning it, but those who sought to “keep up with the progress of the world” were enthusiastic. Dania does recollect having a few difficulties with actually speaking English outside her home where she would practise with her other siblings. It took a lot of work to eventually get there. As they had a number of native speakers as teachers, it was hard to find a certain pronunciation standard to follow, but for Dania that was an American accent that stuck with her. Apart from English, French and rarely Spanish are taught in Jordan.
As someone who also speaks French, Spanish and starting to learn Chinese, Dania believes that any new languages we make an effort to master open a lot of new doors for us. She assumes there has to be a limit of around five or six as otherwise perfecting your languages would be way too challenging. She actually feels sorry for people who can only speak English as a foreign language as there is so much more to learn and embrace beyond this common international lingua franca. For instance, speaking a Latin language facilitates learning another one, Arabic provides passageways for Hebrew and Turkish, etc.
Dania certainly notices changes in her while she is switching between languages. She even finds herself dressing differently to fit her mood as she thinks that whatever language you are learning becomes an essential part of you and fashion serves fabulously well as an outlet for this other identity of yours. Of course, languages we choose to speak in a particular situation are an outlet for our emotions as well. Dania finds herself expressing anger in Arabic and embracing her beautiful delicate and sweet side using French. Actually I found in her a fellow dreamer and believer, which is so rare these days. But as she is also an achiever, she sees her goals through and romanticizing languages seems to be simply a way of making the process more enjoyable.
Finally, Dania firmly believes that there is no age limit to being involved in language learning once you discover your own brain’s capacity to store “gigabytes” of data. Of course, among other things, one shouldn’t forget about foreign languages minimizing one’s risks of developing Alzheimer’s later in life. If one stays as enthusiastic as Dania, they are very likely to enjoy living in a foreign land as much as her. The best of luck to this beautiful person and a whole bunch of new inspiring dreams to write a fascinating story of her life!