Saturday, November 11, 2006

Reading... It's Good for the Mind

The other day I was having a very interesting conversation with two people at a business workshop. It was the first time I had met them both and we got into a conversation about reading. One of the others has children (5 of them, wow!) and we were discussing the challenge in finding good reading material. Those who know me know I am a very avid reader. I have been for many, many, many years. For as long as I can remember, I've read books nearly constantly. I got my first library card when I was about 6, I think. Before we moved, I went to the library every week or two and checked out 10 or so books. Books are amazing, they open up other worlds to you. Often they show you places you have not only never been but will never go. So, I've always thought it was sad when people don't read.

When El 3atal and I were dating he, like most Arabs, didn't read - ever. I just finished reading a really good book that was steeped in a fine Mediterranean culture and thought he'd enjoy it. I pushed and pushed and convinced him to read the Godfather. He hasn't stopped reading since. He always has a book to read. And, as a consequence, his spoken English and vocabulary are much better than most Americans.

The lack of public libraries in every neighborhood where I can go check out romance novels (no investment, easy to read, happy ending guaranteed) has been a huge adjustment. Luckily, however, we have lots and lots of books for the kids. We keep the sturdier books in the playroom and I counted about 150 of those. There are an additional 100 or so with soft easy to rip pages that live in ButterBean's room. So, we're fairly well set there and ButterBean's school also checks one out to her per day. In fact, one of the early ones she brought home was one we already have :). Good to know she likes it that much.

In order to improve my Arabic, I've begun reading the kids' Arabic books to them at night. Depending on the level of the book they choose, I may read the whole thing or may read one or two pages. And, it's working. My reading is getting faster. It's encouraging, but soon I'll need to read for content as well as just words. And, it opens my eyes to how hard it is to learn to read at an advanced age. I feel so silly sounding out words. But, I know it's the only way to learn. I'm trying to teach my brain to recognize the patterns of the words. And, I didn't have the head start of doing it a little at a time over a number of years. So, I see reading as a good way to expand my knowledge, vocabulary, and abilities in Arabic just as it did for El 3atal many years ago in English.

One of my goals, here in Jordan, is to help improve the reading habits of those I meet. I'm trying to excite people at work about it. I hope it will catch on and give them an outlet for their mental energies. I also hope it may help expand their horizons and improve their reading habits in Arabic. My honest bottom line hope is that they will learn to love to read and pass it on to their kids. And, I hope that by reading, they can stay in touch with the very rich literary heritage in the lovely part of the world. So, as Lina said on her blog... Get Caught Reading!

Happy Reading!


At 3:15 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for your posts, they make a perfect book of a western perspective on life in the East.It is actually enlightening for people on both ends of the globe.I respect you for committing yourself to this.

As a Jordanian, I have always asked myself, why Arabs in general do not have a liking to reading. One of the major reasons I think (other than being part of the third world where a disinterest in reading is a normal characteristic) is the fact that books are written in Standard Arabic only, a language that is not spoken nor is close to one's everyday expressions. So childresn learn Standard Arabic only through reading and at school and do not acquire it from their parents. A 6 year old Arab girl has to be competent in Standard Arabic in order to enjoy kids stories, a language she does not use daily...which is not encouraging.On the otherhand, a British child would enjoy 'Goldilocks and the Three Bears' since it is written in a language he uses and speaks. We as Arabs do not often notice this very important factor. Most Arab kids who develop a liking to reading start as either teenagers or older, when they have mastered a level of Standard Arabic (a difficult and sophisticated language) that enables them to understand sophisticated structures and expressions for deep shades of meaning.

This is the problem of Arabic in the Arab world. There are two languages used (linguists call this a diaglossia) a colloquial/spoken Arabic and a Formal/written Arabic, which are very differnt as if two differnt languages. The case in English and most languages in the world is different, spoken and written English are mutually comprehended. If you speak Jordanian this does not mean you can understand Standard Arabic, but if someone speaks American English he can easliy understand Standard English.

Sorry for the long comment, I just thought it would be an eye opener. This does not mean of course that parents are excused for not nurturing the love of reading in their kids, which as you probably noticed is lacking in Jordan!

At 10:22 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...


Thansk for your comments. I agree and had actually not even thought of that, although I'm going through that pain right now. I take Arabic class and do 2 days per week spoken and 2 days written. The only point which I would disagree on is the idea that there is a "standard English". In fact, there are many standard Englishes (and that isn't a word in any of them) depending on location. However, in each location, books are written in the standard spoken english :). Thanks for your comment and welcome!

At 9:35 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

where do you take arabic lessons?they only place i know of is jordan university

At 7:36 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

I actually take private lessons from a tutor that I met through an intensive program I took in the summer. It's a school called Kelsey.

At 5:48 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

could you please tell where they are located and there phone number so i can call them


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