Category Archives: language

Madrasa’s out for summer! Madrasa’s out forever??

Today, in a few hours, the first leg of my journey through Arabic will come to a close. It’s the last day of spring quarter of Arabic 2. In no extended metaphors, this is the end of a chapter. A book. Four books, really. 

It all began with Alif Baa, where I learned the alphabet and began my hate-hate relationship with the ع

Then, there was Al-Kitaab, which saw the worse-than-telenovela drama of Meha, the lonely Egyptian girl who studies English literature at NYU. Good thing her first cousin Khaled is also oh so very lonely…

Then, we switched over to Arabic for Life, a new textbook out of Claremont. Its early chapters definitely made me feel smarter. Sneaky book pumps you full of confidence before it strips that all away with excerpts of Arabic poetry. Uncool!

And at last, we have the fourth book (pictured above). It’s a 3rd grade-level book and it’s my final project due in class today. I get to give a little presentation. The title means “Always late!” And it’s beyond appropriate. I’m always the last one to arrive in class even with the shortest commute. I work on the same campus!! I’m always late in doing my homework (that happens when you don’t take it for credit).


Now, before I lose two years’ worth of Arabic knowledge and the ability to use a dictionary, I need to move onto the next leg of my journey. It’s quite unlikely that there will be an Arabic 3 offered, what with budget cuts and diminished interest. My current class includes one (1!!!) other person who started with me in the fall 2010. I guess I could invest in Rosetta Stone or watch more Al-Jazeera or make my way through elementary grade reading material OR (and this one seems most appealing) I could opt for a full-immersion crash course through the Middle East. It’s time to reprioritize my travel plans and put Petra/Egypt/Morocco back on top where they belong. Oops. I mean to say…

البتراء / مصر / مغربي

My only skill cannot be pointing out how awful Cesc’s tattoo looks. Although, it’s pretty cool that I know how to say soccer in another language

!كرة القدم


The Arabic tattoo seen round the world

Last weekend, there was a little spat among some La Liga players.  I didn’t see the game, but the post-match played out on Twitter.  Again, not known to me are the particulars, but I’m guessing that somewhere in the melee someone called Cesc Fabregas racist.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to come up with this since Cesc tweeted how adamantly non-racist he is. Among the evidence: His Lebanese girlfriend and Arabic tattoo.

Yay for tolerance, open-mindedness and not being racist.

That’s not what this post is about.

This is about that “Arabic” tattoo.

I don’t know what offends me the mot about this — the fact that it’s ugly OR that there’s a lame little star in the middle of it OR that there’s an even lamer “D” within that star (doesn’t he know rule #1 of relationship tattoos — don’t get em) OR that it’s not even in Arabic. It has been transliterated. In my class, that’s forbidden!

I’m willing to forgive Cutie Fabregas anything, except this gross injustice.

Before I even saw it, I read that the tattoo said “My Life ‘D’ Forever.” And when I finally saw the picture, I immediately felt like all my Arabic studies were in vain. I COULDN’T READ IT.
But fear not. It took me a good minute to realize that I couldn’t understand this monstrosity because I was reading it from right to left and looking for Arabic letters. The way you’re supposed to!

I’m not saying that all Arabic tattoos need to be in Arabic. But why not? You’re still going to have to translate it for everyone. Which one do you think is cooler?




And besides, when you stick to the original script, you avoid inconsistencies with transliteration. I mean how many different ways are there to spell Moammar Gadhafi?

Check these calligraphy tattoos. It’ll make you look twice at Cutie Fabregas’.

PHOTOS: Cesc showing off his left forearm tattoo and close-up of Arabic (both from tumblr).

When search terms make you smile


I thought this was amazing and needed to be shared with everyone!  Earlier this week, I logged in and saw this funny duo in my search engine.

First, se la perdio seems to be very popular.  I get a lot of traffic from people who are searching for a translation.  If you search Google, top referral is to my spiffy fluff piece on Univision and the great job the Spanish station does during  fútbol telecasts.  Ironically, I never actually translate se la perdio, but rather equate it to the taunting Airball, Airball in basketball.  So here’s my chance to right this wrong.  For all who stumble on this in search of a translation: Se la perdio means he missed it; he missed; he missed out; failure; massive fail!

But that’s not even the best part of that duo.  It’s the second piece in Arabic and it’s prime because of two things:

  1. I CAN READ IT!!!!! Totally making progress.  Arabic Year 2, I’m coming after you.
  2. Someone out there in the Arabic-speaking world is looking for… are you ready???  Are you??  Looking for… ROBERTO BAGGIO!!!
  3. Talk about the biggest se la perdio moment.

Love it and love whoever was searching for him and his glorious ponytail.  Stuff like this makes me smile because I witness the cross-cultural reach of soccer, football, fút or كرة القدم

Boundaries be damned!

One Month check-in

It’s February = time to check in on New Year’s resolution progress

Revisiting 2010

  • GOAL: Read 30 new books. As of today, I have read 1.5 books, loads of magazine articles and too many stories about protests in the Middle East. But, because not much of this counts toward my goal, the official tallY is 1. 29 to go.
  • GOAL: Run 500 miles. I knew this was going to be hard since I started the year unable to jog and with no clear deadline of when I would be able to. I have not run a single mile since October 2010, but I have walked briskly a respectable 2 miles in the past month. I’m counting that towards my goal. Again, official tally stands at 2. 498 to go.
  • GOAL: Eat more kosher meals. I’ve done fairly well but haven’t been able to string together a few days’ worth of kosher eating habits. AMENDMENT: Kosher Mondays. I’ll post my Monday meals here so you know what I’m up to.

My B4-30s

  • Started accordion lessons on Saturday afternoons. More to come…
  • Arabic studies continue. Watched Al-Jazeera in recent class and could make out a few things. Progress!
  • AHHHH! Even before I write it, while I’m thinking of writing it, I’m peeved. I had booked my trip to Egypt and Jordan almost two months ago and now, because of obvious circumstances, that trip is on hold. I sympathize with all those people protesting and find it exciting that such changes are unfolding across the Middle East. But, I’m also bummed that I might not be able to go. How awesome to be in that midst and witness history?! If I’m forced to change my travel plans, then I likely won’t see those World Wonders before my deadline.


  • Total failure. Life remains as cluttered as before.

Ahlan wa Sahlan!

Ahlan Bikum!!

Welcome to Day 99 of Operation KickAss aka Learning Arabic.

I just now did the math and that looks mighty impressive. Sadly, a bit misguided. It has indeed been 99 days since I walked into my first Arabic class not understanding anything and clutching to my ability to imitate the same sounds everyone else made. The small detail I’ve avoided (until now) is that I haven’t touched my books, flashcards or cracked open my notebook since I turned in my final a month ago.

A key campaign in Operation KickAss was that I would spend the few weeks between classes, studying grammar and memorizing words so I’d be ready to kick ass on the first day of class. Woops.

Not only is that not going to happen, but I’m pretty sure I’ve forgotten about 40% of last quarter. To borrow a phrase from these football-fevered times, I’VE BEEN SACKED. Well behind the line of scrimmage. Is that even correct usage??

Class starts tonight and I need a quick cram session. So…


PHOTO: Ahlan wa sahlan or “welcome” on a coffee cup.

What resolve!

I made the deadline. My own internal, meaningless deadline.

To make sure I was serious about my New Year’s resolutions, I vowed to write them out by the end of the first week of January. First, it was Dec. 31. But laziness impeded that. Then, it was Jan. 1, then the end of the weekend and finally, the end of the first week.

Writing them out and posting them, holds me accountable. It also helps provide a reference because, unfortunately, my resolutions don’t read like deep life-changing goals. More like a To-Do list or some weekend errands.

REvisiting 2010

I roundly failed at each and every one of my resolutions from last year. Which means? I’m trying them again. To recap: I resolve to read 30 new books, run 500 miles, eat kosher (for more than one day in a row), do a pull-up. It won’t be easy. I’ve already started off on a bad foot/ankle. Haven’t run more than a couple yards to beat the bathroom crowd at HP7Pt1 in mid-November. Even that was ill-advised. But things are looking up. I’ve started PT and hope to be back to the back-of-the-pack by February.

But for everything else, I’m looking good. I have a shiny, new Kindle for the reading. I’m cutting down on cheese, which will undoubtedly, help me in my attempts to have a few back-to-back-to-back kosher meals. I’m focusing more on upper-body strength (thanks to a weak ankle) so I’ll be able to conquer that elusive pull-up, my own personal Windmill.

My Before-30 List

The crux of this blog. I need to get cracking on the list of things I wanted to do. I, sadly, can’t run The LA Marathon this year, but maybe once I’m all healed I’ll be able to run a marathon in Los Angeles. Lame. This is what I absolutely will do this year: watch AFI’s 100 best movies, find my red lipstick, play the accordion, ride a horse, visit two world wonders, continue my Arabic studies, shoot a gun, go rock-climbing, run in Central Park and see a Broadway play on Broadway, win at chess, take a dance class, take a martial arts class, take a cooking lesson, relax at a spa… ahhh!

And there’s still more…

Year of the Great Purge

In terms of resolutions, this one will truly require my constant attention. I am up-chucking everything!! Clothes I haven’t worn in the last year. Jewelry that I haven’t sported since I was a freshman at UCLA, which is really not that long ago ;). Shoes that don’t fit or don’t get rocked! Shit in storage that’s been sitting in storage FOR-EV-ER. I’m also going to tame that impulse I have to buy meaningless knick-knacks and tchotchkies. Get stripped down to the basics.

Once upon a time, I lived “comfortably” with two other roommates in a cell dorm known as Rieber Hall. I only had some storage under my bed and a small-ass armoire to put my shit in, on and around. “Comfortable” may be too strong. The point is, I managed. How’s it possible that my larger bedroom with a closet, a nine-drawer dresser, a four-drawer dresser, a bookshelf and a jewelry stand is not enough?! My place always looks like a disaster zone and attempts to organize it are full-day affairs! That’s ridiculous! RI-DIC-U-LOUS!!

Operation Kick Ass just went astronomical

Wednesday, Oct. 27… Day 23

That’s right, boys and girls. Claudia is a star pupil in Arabic class. I’m getting my name on the board. I’m winning points for my team. And I’m acing my exams.

That last one was an exaggeration. But the rest are 100% true, if not more.

After a slow and unsteady start, I’m gaining confidence in this class. I can ask quetions… in Arabic. I can write with the vowel markings. It’s taking less time to make out words and sounds. I’m correcting the teacher’s mistakes. Life is good again. I’m riding high on my language gravy train.

The one glitch in my giddy up is that I didn’t come out the gate at full sprint. I didn’t ace that first quiz like I said I would. It was a three-parter: 1. Dictation. 2. Translation Arabic to English vocabulary. 3. Translation Engligh to Arabic. I got what I deserved. I probably got more than I deserved since I totally slacked on the vocabulary. I still haven’t memorized about 20 adjectives for hot, cold, tired, exhausted, thirsty, hungry, etc… I ended up with a respectable 78 points out of 100. That includes 6 points in a bonus question. I’m a C+ student. LAME

It’s sad that I’m OK with my grade because I know people did absolutely worse than me. I beat out a handful of colloquial Arabic speakers. Sucks for them. Good for me. Schadenfreude.

But I also noticed the ringers. This one nice, quiet girl got a 110%. Another dude got 106%. I’ve got my sights on these fools. They won’t get in the way of Operation Kick Ass.

They may have taken Round 1, but I clawed back during the hard-fought Chalkboard Races from Hell, scoring the only point for my motley crew team. Also, I showed off my skill when I recited our homework… a short graph that had the dreaded “United Nations” in it. No problem. I’ll say الأمم المتحدة …until the cows come home!

And by the way, that’s how I earned my second cosmic kudo. I kindly asked the professor if he meant to put a fatha where there should have been a domma and, just like that, I got a crescent moon! I guess there’s a whole system… apparently there may be full moons and comets in my future.

Quiz No. 2 is next week. I will ace that sucka and beating Quiet Girl and Le Foo will be my reward.

PHOTOS: A shot of the chalkboard with my awesome name and star beside it. Leaping in front of my peers with a crescent moon. Can she keep up the momentum?

jesus moses allah

Thursday, Oct. 21, 2010… Day 17

This week in Arabic, my أستاذ (professor) said that success in the class requires eight (ثَمَانِيَه or ٨) hours of homework a week. That’s two (إِثْنَيْن or ٢) hours for every hour in class. A little more than an hour a day. Doable and Practical.

Last night, I took my Arabic on the road. On a boulevard. On Pico Boulevard.

I was on my way to a screening of a new comedy meant to build bridges and discuss complexities of identity. (More on this later.) It was sponsored by the Levantine Center and naturally, I was headed to their offices in the Pico-Robertson area. Driving down Pico, stuck in traffic, I had the opportunity to put my new skills in action.

Success! I could read all the signs!! I didn’t really know what they all meant, but I could definitely sound them out. This is HUGE! Arabic is no longer a series of squiggles to me. It’s a handwritten language where I can differentiate letters and sounds. Still can’t get over how awesome that is! Let me give you an example of one of the things that I saw and read.

Most Angelenos have heard of, driven by, stepped inside of or shopped at Elat Market on Pico. If you haven’t, it’s a must. Just make sure you go in ready to brave the crowds.

Yesterday, while I was twiddling my thumbs in traffic, I noticed the sign for the market in Arabic. I’m studying it. Starting. Then, I realize that the first word spells out “Elat.” Go figure. Now, I tackle the second word. Before my brain has time to process what I’m reading, I start laughing.

Here’s another sign. Can you tell why this is funny to me?

Done guessing?

Because it reads “Elat Market.” Seriously, ELAT MARKET. Not the Arabic for “market,” just plain old MARKET. Who knew they were cognates? hehehe


Anyway, the whole reason I was on Pico last night was to see a movie. A movie, it turns out, wasn’t even showing on Pico. Lame.

The Levantine Center was screening the latest in their New Voices in Middle Eastern Cinema, followed by a panel with the cast. Once I finally got to the right place, which meant going north on Fairfax from Pico to Sunset (ugh!), I was just in time for the movie.

This is what I was racing towards:  It’s called The Infidel. It includes funnyman Omid Djalili, Richard Schiff of West Wing fame, Archie Panjabi, the Emmy-winning Good Wife actress. It looks at being Jewish, being Muslim, being moderate, being fanatic. Jesus, Moses, Allah! It’s about a middle-aged man, who finds out after his mother passed away, that not only was he adopted, but he was Jewish and born Solly Shimshillewitz. Or as, Lenny says, “Why didn’t they just name you Jew JaJewJaJew?” All this while his son is trying to seek the approval to marry a fundamentalist cleric’s stepdaughter. Oi vey.

kayfa naquul… kick ass?!

Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010… Day 8

After attending first class and being completely overwhelmed, I vowed to go home, study hard and come back to the next session and rock it out. Easier said than done.

Here’s how fast a week can go by:

TUESDAY—attend first Arabic class. Starts at 6 p.m. Ends at 10 p.m.!!!

WEDNESDAY—After previous night’s four-hour session, decide to take a mind break.

THURSDAY—Working late. Going to spin class after work. Packing for weekend conference.

FRIDAY—First night of Lake Arrowhead conference. Between sessions, dinner and other incidentals, no time was left for my studies.

SATURDAY—Full day planned. Sessions from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. with lunch and dinner breaks. Can’t ditch. I’m Official Photographer. Eff, studying Arabic.

SUNDAY—Ok, let’s get serious. First quiz is coming up and haven’t even learned how to pronounce more than the first five letters. Drive home from Lake Arrowhead. Watch a couple episodes of BSG. Study FOR THE FIRST TIME!

MONDAY—After work, go home and glance at the book.

TUESDAY—Glance at book some more and hope teacher decides to quiz Chapters 1-3.

That last line was the plan for the evening. Now, let me tell you what really happened.

I made my peace with failing my first test. Out of 28 consonants and long vowels, I could recognize about 15. There were another five that I sorta new on sight, but could not differentiate. Like the “th” of three, that or THough (with a little bit of D). That would screw me on the dictation portion of the exam.

When I arrived in class, I found a room half full of students poring over books and cramming with flashcards. I started making my own flashcards, but stopped after 20. I hear two students talking about some random letter I hadn’t learned. Brief moment of panic disrupts my serenity.

Is that really going to be on the test?

I guess so. It’s in the book.

But it’s not in the first six chapters!

Yeah, but our test is on the whole book.

Frak me! (I said something else here)

Well, you have another week.


You have another week.

And that, my friends, is better than being Saved by the Bell.





Tuesday, Oct. 5, 2010… Day 1

Here’s what I know. I know that I can pick up languages fairly easily. I know I have no troubles with enclitics. I know how to maintain the study of a language that no one seems to speak anymore and if they do, they do it wrong. (It’s pronounced weni, widi, wiki, people… not veni, vidi, vichi!!!)

And this is what I don’t know. I don’t know how to make guttural stops. I don’t know how to write Arabic. I don’t know how to read it. I don’t know how to do much other than pay attention, copy what homeboy is doing and pretend like I know what I’m doing.

I do that pretty well. There were two other newbies in the class and I won the chalkboard race. Don’t ask me what I spelled out or how to pronounce it. I remember it ended with an “n” sound and there were some floating 9s at the end.

I also seem to have picked up the first seven letters of the alphabet.

Now I have a week to learn the rest of the alphabet. Learn how to read it. Learn how to write it—elisions and all. Learn what an effing hamza is AND ace my first quiz next week.

I wasn’t a complete mess (as evidenced by my superior chalk skills and rote memorization). I did also pick up FOUR NEW SENTENCES. Since I’m expressly forbidden from transliterating, you’re going to get the English translation. There needs to be a level of trust that I am not lying when I suggest I can say the following in Arabic.

I am a student.
My name is Claudia.
I live in Los Angeles and am studying Arabic.

PHOTO: Charlie Brown, with head on desk, pen in the and look of defeat on face, resembling me last night.