Tag Archives: french

English Lessons


One of my host moms, Jamila, is all about learning English, and I love giving lessons whenever we find ourselves with a free hour. We’ll translate misspelled French sentences into weird Arabic transliteration, then she’ll write try to write out the English in Latin script and I’ll correct her spelling. Or something like that.

Native Arabic speakers have difficulty WITH: the P sound (which does not exist in Arabic), the American R (that one, I believe, periodically causes aneurysms for many non-native English speakers trying to learn the language. It’s a rrrreal killer), and the “th” sound, both voiced and unvoiced (which I actually don’t get, because those exact same sounds DO exist in Arabic: ث and ذ; but hey, I sound like an idiot when I try to speak Arabic, so who am I to judge?). Anyway it’s great fun, because I learn a lot of Arabic, we both practice French, and I get to discover over and over how FIDDLY the English language is.

When Jamila and the kids borrowed a French and/or Arabic-English dictionary the other night, the first word they decided to yell was: “BLOW!”

I giggled. They were using it as a noun, as in “hit” or “punch,” and I could already see them heading down hilariously dangerous path of noun/verb usage (“I BLOW YOU” as opposed to “I HIT YOU,” for example) and proceeded to define what “to blow” meant as a verb (AS IN BLOWING OUT BIRTHDAY CANDLES GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER) and told them to be careful of their usage because it’s got a sexual connotation as well. They giggled  too.


Oui, ça veut dire “aussi.”

“What about to?”

“That’s a preposition, as in I go to school, or a part of the infinitive form of a verb.”

“…what about two?”




Today, during teatime, I taught my host family the verb “to fart” and its proper usage when referring to the Rim the Farty Kitty (I’ve renamed her now, since she’s no longer pregnant. I think Rim the Farty Kitty goes rather well with Tomi the Barfy Kitty, don’t you?). As Abir, Abdenmabi, and Jamila repeated, “da cad – the cad- the CAT…FARDED!” I recalled walking to school with Ernie and his host brothers one morning in Buknari.

(For new readers: I went to the Republic of Georgia for spring break to visit Ernie, who teaches English there.)

“Ernie, you are suck,” Tengo said, as Temo walked stoically beside him.

Tengo and Temo are Ernie’s ninth-grade Georgian host brothers. Tengo is tall and talkative and Temo is short and silent, though Ernie says that’s only because he speaks less English. Tengo tied a piece of brown yarn around my wrist one evening to join the other bracelets there, which was probably some kind of weird Georgian marriage proposal. Temo is a wrestling champion who changed into his tight blue wrestling onesie and medals when I brought out my camera so we could take pictures of him, his medals, and his muscles. Temo enjoys doing backflips off the giant Soviet truck in the yard, and Tengo enjoys swearing at Ernie.

“You are sucking,” Ernie corrected him. “It’s the present continuous, remember.”

“Fuck you,” he replied, and looked over at me. “Ernie is beautiful woman.”

It’s funny: here in Morocco, saying bad words can either be really, really bad, or a strangely hilarious translation misfire. I was talking to another of my host moms about how weird it is to try to translate directly from French to English, from French to Arabic, la dee dah, and she agreed.

“Par exemple,” she said, “le mot: fucky.

I choked on my tea.

She laughed and went on to explain how that’s the way this particular Arabic word is translated into English, though it has a more pedestrian and everyday meaning in Arabic. Shit’s bizarre.  Also, who decided that “fucky” was an acceptable English swearword in the first place, much less one that could serve as a decent translation from Arabic?! “That’s pretty fucky” is a swear that makes “motha’ flippin” feel better about itself.

Anyway, this weekend’s pretty awesome thus far. I was going to do work, but I ended up sitting up in the room on the rooftop terrace listening to the rain and working my way through the View Askewniverse: Clerks, couldn’t get Mallrats to work, Chasing Amy. Next up, Dogma (again), and then Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, then Clerks II.

I love Kevin Smith. I love watching Kevin Smith movies while the pouring rain pounds the roof and terrorizes the cats on the riverbank fifty feet below us. What a delightfully improbable situation!

Oh, I like that phrase. A Delightfully Improbable Situation: A Memoir.

Pax in terra, bros.


Schnou ça?!


My French is going to be awful by the time I get back. No, I don’t mean that—I’ll be speaking much more fluently, but I’m also developing a habit for mixing it up with Darija.  Schnou ça? Bonjour, le bes? Hemdullah! Bon journée, bslema! It’s a wonderful language. It’s my kind of language. Darijais? Françija?

Darija is, as I’ve mentioned, completely oral, and a strange enough dialect of Arabic that they are studied as completely different languages. Etudiez-vous l’Fous7a ou l’Darija? Mais les deux, bien sûr!

Apart from the regional differences in the dialect from city to city, the language changes according to social class, neighborhood, your mood, whether you have enough saliva in the back of your throat. Honestly, for much of it, you make it up as you go—yeah, it’s my kind of language. I love it. I LOVE IT.

Still, picking up 2 new languages is going to be challenging, despite our 4-hour intensive Darija classes this and next week. I find myself defaulting to French whenever I’m actually doing something in the city, because everyone speaks French here, though I know that I’ll get better prices in the medina if I speak Darija.

Arabic numbers though? NO. Especially since I’ve officially renounced the French system and adopted the Belgian (soixante, septante, octante, nonante—none of this quatre-vingt-dix-merde anymore. No way. Get real. I’m in love with the seahorses).

Also, this.

I live here.

u jelly?

jk. e-mail me bros. tell me how yous doing.