War on Terrorism

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Basra Education Center Introduces Arabic to Troops

By Army 1st Sgt. Larry J. Mears
American Forces Press Service

Aug. 12, 2009 - U.S. Soldiers, airmen and civilians here are taking part in a special opportunity to learn Arabic. On the first day of the first Introduction to Arabic class offered here through the Basra Education Center, their teacher, an Army interpreter known as Ms. Lucy, wasted no time with instruction.

"Wa asalama laikum," she greeted the students as they entered the classroom. A few students returned the greeting, some returned alternate greetings and some returned apprehensive looks and weren't sure what to say.

"Now you say, 'A laikum as salam,'" she explained.
The students, a mix of soldiers, airmen and civilians, attended the two-week class for two hours each day. Ms. Lucy didn't waste any time exposing students to the written and spoken language.

It was the first time Ms. Lucy, who has master's degrees in theology and architecture, attempted to teach an Arabic class, and she wasn't sure what to expect.

"I started the first day with the alphabet," she said, "and took baby steps each day."

Ms. Lucy gauged the students' progress each day, then prepared and refined the class for the following day.

To help learn the class learn numbers and pronunciation, Ms. Lucy chose students to call out numbers for other students to write on the board and perform simple math problems. This was a big hit with some students.

"Relearning how to add and subtract using Arabic numbers was my favorite part of the class," said Army Spc. Elaine Santiago, an air traffic controller with the 34th Infantry Division. "I had to decipher the numbers, write it in Arabic numerals and then figure out what I just wrote to solve the problem."

"Wahit za'ed wahit sowee ashera," said a jovial Santiago, a Chicago native, as she explained the difficulty in translating the words to numerals that look completely different, then performing the math problem.

It's a good thing Ms. Lucy didn't deduct points for math skills, because that translates to, "1 plus 1 equals 10."

Army Maj. Juan Jose S. Perez knew no Arabic before starting the class.

"I wanted to be able to understand the alphabet and the sounds of the language," explained Perez, Multinational Division South's deputy director for safety. "We had an excellent instructor who made very difficult material very easy to learn."

Many students said they hoped to be able to communicate with the local Iraqi workers and grasp a better understanding of their culture. "I will be able to interact with them more now," said Perez, who is from Indianapolis.

(Army 1st Sgt. Larry J. Mears serves with the Multinational Division South public affairs office.)

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