This semester I am once again interning with the Smithsonian Institute’s Conflict Cultures project. I have been assigned the North Africa workbook, which has engaged me in new ways. This region is my academic specialty, and therefore I find I have more motivation to whittle away at the museum listing than last semester. At the same time, I find that I must confront the single most challenging aspect of academia- foreign languages.
Languages do not come easily to me, and although I consistently do well in my language classes. I test well, because I can take time to prepare and think through the logic puzzle of grammar. But when it comes to real-life applications, I feel like a fish out of water. People speak too fast, and I feel I stumble through sentences. For this internship, I have to read through both French and Arabic articles. I have studied both languages extensively, but find myself resorting to Google translate more often than I would like. Part of the problem is that many of the websites I find with pertinent information are not written by professional journalists, so the grammar, spelling, and vocabulary are not what I learned in class. Additionally, North Africans speak an Arabic dialect which is a mixture of French and Arabic. Although I spent more than a month in Tunisia, I often cannot understand these dialects.
This language challenge is, counter intuitively, making me feel more comfortable with French and Arabic writing. In class, I was so worried about minute grammar rules that I lost sight of the totality of language. Now that I don’t have corrected translations turned back to me, I feel more comfortable with not knowing a few words or phrases, but understanding the meaning of the sentence. Additionally, I feel more confident that I can read for content knowledge, which wasn’t a major part of my formal language education. I spent hours analyzing grammar constructions, but not much time attending to the meaning of a reading.
I look forward to continue to work with these languages and the museums of North Africa. Already I have learned about aspects of modern history, culture, and language that I didn’t know before. Additionally, I am passionate about preserving heritage in North Africa, a place where antiquity has long been controlled by religious and political agents.