25 Jan 2016
Tounsi in Djerba

First day in Djerba: so you want to learn Tounsi?

Hi, it’s me, the new intern! I’m here for a month, doing 40 hours of Tounsi, visiting cultural sites, and learning about the amazing culture and history of Tunisia. Over the next few weeks you’ll get several posts from me, telling of life in Djerba from my perspective.

On my first full day in Djerba I experienced my first lesson in Tounsi, or Tunisian Arabic.

Now, you have to understand that I like languages. I love the intricacy of each language’s system of self-understanding. I love the technicality of grammar combined with the beauty of new sounds fitting together in ways I’m not accustomed to hearing. I love the art of crafting a good sentence, which is both technically correct and sounds pleasant to the ear.

But the first bit of learning a language is just ear training. In music, you train your ears to recognize certain sounds before you can work at reproducing them. At first the different between a second interval and a third may be difficult, but after a bit you naturally recognize the different intervals as they occur. Then you can start producing them. Soon, you look at a piece of music and can sing it with no problem, despite never having heard it before.

Languages are kind of like that too. At first nothing makes sense. Everything sounds like variations of the same thing and separate words and phrases don’t seem to exist. There are sounds that you can’t even imagine being able to produce with your own voice.

Then over time your ears adjust. Your brain hears sounds and they’re recognizable and familiar instead of being obscure and foreign.

This is one of the strengths of G.P.A., the language learning method that they use here at the Tunisian Door. For the first several hours you don’t really have to produce language on your own. You just train your ears to hear and your brain to recognize the new sounds of Tounsi. Then, as it starts to sound familiar, you begin to teach your mouth, throat, tongue, and teeth to reproduce what you’re hearing, all with the help of a friendly language nurturer who is leading you in the learning journey.

This is language learning, and I love it.


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