Monday, January 30, 2006

We are here as liberators not as occupiers...

Jeremy Palmer over at his blog, Learning and Teaching Arabic, posted a rather neat link to Defense Language Institute's free online Basics of Iraqi Arabic course.

The course is set up in a phrase book style, complete with the Arabic writing, the audio, and the transliteration of the word/phrase in question (in Iraqi dialect where applicable).

When you view this please keep in mind that it was written for use by the US Military; although, there is plenty that can be used in a non-military sense. However, being designed for use by the US Military gives it a slightly Orwellian overtone sometimes.

The most hilarious phrase I found was: “We are here as liberators not as occupiers. And we must cooperate with each other.” The most hilarious section on the site is the Conciliatory Sentences section which provides handy gems such as:

“We are American.”
“We are your friends.
“We are not your enemies.”

Also of interest on the site is a free The Online Learning Sustainment and Enhancement Language Course for Arabic. It’s a bit confusing and is geared towards slightly more advanced students but still well worth a look for those who have had about a year of Arabic study.

The site also contains a Countries in Perspective series that is “under development” and currently has modules for both Syria and Iraq (Iran too). These are very well done for those people interested in learning more about a specific country. These are very detailed profiles that can also be downloaded in PDF format. I personally feel that the country profiles are the jewel of the site and highly recommend them for those curious about the countries behind the Arabic language. I like it so much that I’ve added the specific link for Syria, Iraq and Iran to my Miscellaneous links section.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

We don't need no stinking badges!

Well, I’m feeling much better tonight as I finally decided to call CALES about my visa problem and spoke with the school’s Director, Jameel Al-Bazeli. Jameel said that it was not a problem that the Yemeni consulate in Washington DC won’t issue me a student visa or tourist visa.

So now the plan is to fly on out to Yemen and get a one-month tourist visa issued at the airport, after which CALES can get my visa extended for a year. Again, according to Jameel, this is not a problem.

I did consider contacting one of the other schools to possibly get an actual student visa before I got to Yemen, but I've sort of had my mind set on CALES for a while now and I'm willing to believe that Jameel knows what he's talking about.

And that reminds me of an interesting quote from the movie Surviving Desire, by Robert Altman. It goes something like this:

"That's the problem with us Americans, is that we always want a tragedy with a happy ending." :)~

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Radio Tunis

I've added a link to the Tunis National Radio to my news link section.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Frankly Mr. Shankly

Right then, about all I have left for my trip to Yemen is to get my visa.

I figured I would be getting it soon as the paperwork I sent had been signed for by the Consulate of the Republic of Yemen on January 9th. Then, bright and early this morning the telephone rang and from that point on I felt a little like Arthur Dent when he discovered his house was to be bull-dozed.

I’ve nobody to blame but myself. I made the rookie mistake of being honest. When asked on the application, I told them that I was going to be in Yemen for 12 months and that I was going there to study Arabic. And there begins the bull-dozing of my house.

A consulate employee called at about 6:35am (Pacific) and left a message informing me that there was a problem with my visa and that I should contact them after 10am (Eastern). I checked the answering machine right after he called and returned his call immediately. Of course, immediately happened to be 15 minute to 10am (Eastern) and I was promptly asked to call back in about 30 minutes.

Fair enough, he did say after 10am. When I called back the employee in question explains to me that since I am going to be a student, my school in Yemen would need to make my visa application. Not wanting to delay issuance of my visa, I told him not to worry about a 12 month student visa and asked him to just issue me a 3 month tourist visa.

Unfortunately, Mr. Consulate Employee informs me that he knows that I will be a student and that he can’t just ignore the application and issue me a tourist visa. I was trapped by his unflappable logic and my own willing suspension of disbelief. It was at this moment I expected a pitch for a bribe, but no such luck.

So now I’ve emailed CALES and told them of my situation and asked that they do whatever it is that they have to do to get me a visa. At this point I’m not holding my breath as I came across a recent blog (recent as in this month) where the writer says she had to switch from CALES to the Yemen Language Center because CALES couldn’t get her a visa.

What then, are my choices? Firstly, I suppose I must wait for a reply from CALES. If I get a positive reply, all my worries are over. If I get a negative reply, I will contact either SIAL or YLC and see if they can get the necessary paperwork to the Yemeni consulate in Washington DC. Worst case scenario, I will just get my passport back from the consulate and take my flight to Sana’a and hope to be issued a visa at the airport.

If anybody has bothered to read this far and you are planning on studying in Yemen, just apply for a tourist visa through your embassy and let your school change your residency AFTER you’re in Yemen! I beg of you – don’t end up like me – a statistical reminder of a bureaucracy that doesn't care.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

International Digital Children’s Library

Perhaps one of the more frustrating things about studying Arabic is that there isn’t much access, if any, to Arabic language materials. I don’t mean Arabic study materials; although, it’s hard enough to find good Arabic study materials too. There are few Arabic Readers available to the student of Arabic.

That is why I was excited to find the link to the International Digital Children’s Library (ICDL). Don’t laugh, even if you are okay at reading a newspaper in Arabic, reading a novel, even a children’s novel, can be a challenge. ICDL has 26 books that have been translated to Arabic, for ages 3-13, which are free to view online.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Aswaat Arabiyya

Aswaat Arabiyya is back up and running.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Links Verified

Because of the problem with Aswaat Arabiyya, I verified that all the links in my link section are working properly.

The link to Aswaat Arabiyya still works but you cannot currently access the parts of the site mentioned in my previous post.

Aswaat Arabiyya Update

Just an update on Aswaat Arabiyya – It doesn’t seem to be working at the moment.

The website works fine but the program won’t load (says the xml data is not available). There is also a movie index but I could not get any of them to work nor did the link to download the program work.

I sent an email to the webmaster, so hopefully they can get it fixed soon.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

A Yemen Pictorial

I just stumbled upon an excellent collection of photographs for the country of Yemen and its people. The photographs in question were taken by Brian McMorrow and well worth your time.

Each thumbnail photo on the main page leads to additional thumbnail photos on the subsequent page, which in turn leads to a photo set, so although it doesn't initially look like it, there are literally hundreds of photographs!

http://www.pbase.com/bmcmorrow/yemen

Enjoy!

Monday, January 09, 2006

A Review of Arabic Study Materials, Part 4

I’ve spent untold hours looking umpteen pages deep in Google searches for things related to Arabic study. One of my most unusual of my finds turned out to be the Interactive Drama’s, Virtual Conversations Language Programs – The Arabic Series.

The Arabic Series appears to have been adapted to assist military linguists with maintaining their language skills, supported by funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the Department of Defense.

Here is Interactive Drama’s (http://www.idrama.com/ArabicSeries.htm) description of the program:

“This is a role-playing, educational experience designed to help you speak and understand the Arabic language. Four Virtual Conversations® programs allow you to gather information through direct dialogues with native Arabic speakers. Assume the role of "Interrogator" and you can engage in hours of face-to-face dialogue with these charismatic native Arabs as they reveal their intriguing stories. An intelligent prompting system will guide you through a perfect interview. Also, each simulation includes a video Instructor who will help you pronounce the Arabic”

It looked very intriguing so, a couple months ago I bought it. Interactive Drama lists the complete four volume set at $229.00; although, you may get a better price elsewhere as I know other sites sell it. You can also buy each module individually. I’ve honestly forgotten how much I paid for it.

So, each CD contains a different scenario. The four different scenarios consist of:

1. A pilot in the Iraqi air force who has decided to defect. (Keep in mind that these courses were designed after the first Gulf War but before the second Gulf war)

2. A civilian student at Baghdad University, who was arrested for political reasons by Saddam’s regime and has fled Iraq and is now seeking to emigrate to the United States.

3. A Kurdish refugee who, along with is family, are in a camp being organized by U.S. Special Operations Forces. The refugee “appears to be an educated man with the potential to help manage the camp.”

4. The final scenario involves an enemy prisoner of war captured near the Kuwait border.

Each module allows you to review and practice the questions that are to be asked, which and what surprised me the most is that the majority of the questions (maybe 90%) are directly usable in a non-“Interrogator” sense.

Of the four different CDs, I felt that the POW module would be of the least benefit as a large majority of the questions involve asking about what he knows about Saddam’s military machine. At first I thought the POW module would be mostly useless for non-military linguists, but then I decided that if a person really wanted to be fluent in Arabic, they should know military terminology also (eventually anyway).

The program monitors your pronunciation of the question and if you pronounce it well enough, the person you are interviewing responds and allows you to ask further questions. The questions you are allowed to, ask at any given time, scroll across the bottom of the screen. You don’t have to enter the interrogation mode and could just practice your pronunciation by repeating after the instructor and having the program tell you how well you are pronouncing each sentence.

You do have to download an Iraqi Font update from iDrama’s website in order for the questions to appear in something other than gibberish and you have to have the specific scenario CD in your CD drive in order for the program to run. If you load the font update, you’ll probably have to reboot your PC in order for the gibberish to go away when you run the program. Because of the requirement to have the CD loaded to run a module, I strongly recommend making copies of this software.

What I like about this series is that you really get the impression you are in a dialogue with a native speaker of Arabic and it allows for the questions to be asked in Iraqi dialect, in addition to Modern Standard Arabic (in three of the four modules I think). In order to switch back from MSA to Iraqi dialect, all you have to do is click on a tab.

What I don’t like is that being a circa 1994 program, it isn’t as polished as what we’ve come to expect. It isn’t entirely clear that you need to download the font update until you do some searching on iDrama’s website, which is pretty damn frustrating. And finally, the software as it is very sensitive to ambient sound and you may have problems using it in a noisy place like a café.

Ultimately, this program series targets linguists that have at least a limited working proficiency and isn’t really appropriate for somebody just beginning to learn Arabic. This isn’t a “must have” item; although, I think many linguists may find it useful at keeping in practice speaking. It does expose a person to the Iraqi dialect too.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Mosaic: World News From The Middle East

So the other day I was surfing (No, not at the beach, on my TV) and I decided to check channel 375, on DirecTV, which is LinkTV here in Seattle. It was at that exact time that divine providence (or maybe dumb luck) allowed me to stumble upon Mosaic: World News from the Middle East.

As luck would have it, that show had a segment on about the recent kidnapping of some Italian tourists. The segment showed a rally in Sana’a against the kidnappings and interviewed several demonstrators who denounced the actions of the kidnappers.

A government spokesperson also denounced the kidnappings and reaffirmed Yemen’s desire to grow its tourism industry. Just the sort of encouragement I need before trudging off to Sana’a.

What I thought was interesting is that I didn’t see any women at the demonstration and then – BOOM! All of a sudden a woman appears, out of the blue, to give a statement to the camera. Covered head to foot, to be sure, but hey, you can’t have everything.

One thing I found interesting is that the broadcasters from the different countries never referred to an Arab as being killed, but as being martyred.

It was rather interesting to see news events as an Arab would see them. Here is the program’s description per LinkTV:

“Mosaic features selections from daily TV news programs produced by national broadcasters throughout the Middle East. The news reports are presented unedited and translated, when necessary, into English.Mosaic includes television news broadcasts from selected national and regional entities. Some of the broadcasters are state controlled and others are private networks, often affiliated with political factions. These news reports are regularly watched by 300 million people in 22 countries all over the Middle East.”

LinkTV also allows a person to view streaming video from past episodes online, just in case you don’t get LinkTV through your local cable provider. The show is on at 10:30pm Eastern time and 7:30 Pacific.

http://www.worldlinktv.org/programming/programDescription.php4?code=mosaic

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Alif Baa and Al-Kitaab

The Arabist (That’s me!) has uncovered a handy little gem for all you aspiring Arabic linguists out there.

In a word – PowerPoint. Andrew Freeman, an instructor at the University of Washington posted these presentations online for his Arabic 401 – Summer Intensive Beginner Program, 2003. All the presentations work when viewed online. You can download all but one (I think that’s right) of the Al-Kitaab presentations (if you have PowerPoint). The Alif Baa series can only be viewed online (I could only download one of them) but most people should breeze right past Alif Baa.

Most of Mr. Freeman’s links don’t work, so I would recommend downloading the Al-Kitaab presentations if you are currently using or plan to use Al-Kitaab; just in case the site goes completely away one day. I’ve saved the downloadable presentations for Al-Kitaab, so please feel free to email me for them if you experience problems downloading them.

The links are as follows:

Alif Baa:
http://home.myuw.net/andyf/arabic_401/powerpoints/alif_baa/

Al-Kitaab:
http://home.myuw.net/andyf/arabic_401/powerpoints/al_kitaab/

Enjoy!

Please Note: To download and save the Al-Kitaab PowerPoint presentations, I opened them for editing with PowerPoint and then saved them to my computer.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Almost Ready

I wasn’t quite able to complete everything by week’s end, but two out of three isn’t bad I suppose. My tickets to Sana’a were purchased through a local STA Travel office (www.statravel.com) for $1,739 (round trip). This is the student price. I had to have CALES to send me an acknowledgement of my enrollment to give to them; although, they let me submit this afterwards so it was no big deal. I leave Seattle on the morning of the 19th of February and arrive in Sana’a on the morning of the 21st of February.

STA could only make the reservation through the middle of November, so I will have to pay another $50 dollars to extend my departure date once I get close to November. It will probably cost another $50 or so for them to mail it to me. Unfortunately, I have to keep track of a paper ticket as Yemenia Air does not allow for electronic ticketing.

I wired my deposit to CALES via Western Union and it was received by the institute without a hitch. It cost $22 for the wire but the cost depends on the amount of the wire transfer and from where the wire transfer is being sent.

There was a delay in applying for my visa. I didn’t realize that I needed a letter from my doctor as to my good health and lack of contagious diseases. Anyway, since CALES sent me a letter verifying that I was to be a student at their institute for a period of 12 months, I’m going to ask for a 12 month student visa from the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen which, per their website, costs $150. I’m going to include another $30 to have it expedited.

Note: It is my understanding that if you have an entry/exit stamp from either Israel or Pakistan, you won’t be allowed a visa for Yemen. So, if this applies to you, please contact the embassy for verification.

Hopefully I can get the letter from my doctor tomorrow, get a couple more passport photos taken to include with the application (you can do this a Kinkos), and get everything in the mail.

Speaking of doctors, I forgot to mention that I received the first of my vaccinations a couple of weeks ago and I go back this Thursday for the second part. If I was going for just a few weeks I don’t know if my doctor would want me to take all the vaccinations that I’m taking for being in Yemen for 12 months. Regardless, before you go, you should speak with your doctor about whether you should receive any vaccinations before your departure. I recommend you schedule an appointment at least four to six weeks before you plan to depart for Yemen.