Sabith Khan in The Christian Science Monitor:
I am a university professor. I make my living teaching and doing research at a liberal arts school in Southern California. Last year, I took a brave step: I decided to become a student and signed up for online Arabic classes. I joined an online language course offered by a company based in Cairo. Full disclosure: This was my third attempt at learning Arabic over the past 10 years. Arabic is a notoriously hard language, given its expansive vocabulary. A Moroccan feminist scholar told me once that there are 50 words for “love” in Arabic – a fascinating and intimidating fact. My earlier attempts at mastering synonyms had proved her right.
“Salaam,” I said, greeting my online instructor in the little Arabic I knew. “I am Sabith. Nice to meet you.” “Ahlan, ya Sabith” (“Hello, O Sabith”), replied my new teacher, and thus began our journey as student and teacher. He was Cairo-based and about my own age. We would meet a few times a month to practice conversation and go over grammar. I’d do the assigned reading in the textbook, as well as some writing, and we’d discuss the chapter in our Zoom calls. During our conversation practice, he also shared details of his life, including his struggle to care for two young children and older parents in the midst of a pandemic.