March 4, 2012

Speaking English in Egypt

I just saw this tweet by Londoneya and it got me thinking. I see this happen a lot. Egyptians speaking English for show. I guess I just don't understand it. I mean, I don't care, speak whatever language you want, but I have a serious dislike for phony people.  It just comes of pretentious and show-offy.  It's seen as a status thing to speak English well.   I do see the value in learning another language, especially English. Don't get me wrong, it's good to know your stuff but isn't it just odd that a group of Egyptians whose first language is Araby sit around speaking in English just 'cause it looks cool?

I had one woman I've known for a while now, recently confess to me that when she first met me, thought that I was speaking "that way" just to "etdala3" or playing dumb/being showy.  "That way" meaning that my Arabic apparently comes out somehow... off and I sometimes throw in English words, inadvertently or because I don't know the Arabic word.  I kind of cringed at the thought that people think I'm doing that.  I am/look Egyptian so there's no way for people to know I wasn't brought up here so the assumption, is that I'm doing that.

That's why I like people to know off the bat, my background so they don't assume I'm either an idiot or being silly or acting dumb.  Until recently I kind of thought my Egyptian Arabic was pretty good but recent  comments by people have pointed to the contrary.  Even my own daughter, Zayneb sort of laughs to herself when I tell her I speak Arabic pretty well.  I suppose I should have known because people always ask me where I'm from but all this time, I thought it was just a general question but more and more people say it's because I have a slight accent.  And here I thought I was so good.

Another thing, is that it makes me self conscious to speak English to  my kids in the company of Egyptians.  I feel awkward because I can speak to them in Arabic just fine.  I don't want people to think I'm showing off.  It's stupid, because I have to know consciously remind myself to speak to them in English more because they aren't as fluent as most kids with an American mom.  I feel like it's a shame that they don't speak perfect English and it's my own doing.  I got in the habit of speaking to them in Arabic from when they were young. I'm now speaking to them in English most of the time at home but I'm still struggling to do so while in public.  First of all it's never a good idea to speak English in shops if you can avoid it. You'll get a higher price.  End of story.  As for while we are with friends, I guess I just feel odd speaking English when I can speak Arabic.  I don't know it's complex I suppose.

What do you think?  Is it weird to speak English in the presence of Arabic speaking people?  Would you assume that one doing so is showing off?

28 comments:

  1. I think it`s better to not think that much about what people think of you.
    Speak the way you feel like you should do.

    But maybe the Egyptians who are speaking English together maybe are practising or maybe there is one person the the group who is not from Egypt.

    But i know what you mean, in the Netherland we have dutch people who are speaking with a moroccan or Turkish accent, while there parent are dutch :-S Most of the time teenagers untill
    mid twentiers. I find that akward too.

    XO Arezu

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    1. Thanks, I know, I need to just stop caring. I suppose some people might be doing it for the benefit of someone in their group or practicing but it's a known thing that occurs. Interesting about the Netherlands, hmm.

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  2. This is a perfect post because I'm always faced with the same thoughts. To be honest, I speak in English in public because it comes out naturally like that. Sometimes people will take a look at me, realise I'm hijabi so must be a Gypo, so must be showing off. But a lot of the time people know from my accent that I'm not showing off, that I'm a "foriegner" (like the taxi driver today. Had the meter on so couldn't over charge me. Heh.)

    The past few months have made me not really give a damn. I'll speak the lingo I want & to hell with people's reaction. It still does nag at me a little. There are places I'll be (in a shop) and talk to a family member in English (it's my natural lingo) and they'll tell me off slightly. Ehem.

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    1. Lol, taxi drivers here almost never turn on the meter! Ugh, but in small doses my Arabic is passable, I think. It's when I start talking more that people start to wonder.

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  3. fuck. i just wrote a long reply and then it just disappeared.

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    1. Oh please repost it! Or give me the general idea?

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    2. one time i was in a beauty/perfume shop in alex when these snotty nose bitchy shop assistants started teasing my english as i was speaking to my mother-in-law (bcos as you know i dont speak arabic). they kept repeating everything i was saying and laughing. so annoying, condescending and unnecessary.

      another time we were at the cinemas in alex and a group of young gypos in the row behind us kept talking in their shitty version of english the whole time. i felt like reaching back and punching this one girl in the face every time she said rather loudly "OH MY GOD" in a very over the top put-on amercian accent that no american would ever use. they were obviously all home-grown egyptian (you could tell by the style of clothing they wore, i find foreign born egyptians dress differently) so i dont understand why they were doing it, unless to show off.

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    3. Thanks for reposting. I don't know what people's problem is. Really, maybe it's cool within their circle but to people who actually speak the language, they sound lame. I hate the overly obvious trying to do the American accent, not people who are just trying to pronounce things right, but you know the ones who are obviously overdoing it.

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    4. i just hope the new generation of egyptians dont lose their language.

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    5. My initial reaction is, oh that can't happen, but yea, you never know. I hope not either.

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  4. its the same with Turks Mona... they hate it! they think we r showing off when we start writing half turkish half english on fb for example.. they say 'u know turkish, why speak english.. to show off?' ...little do they know that we only do it out of convenience and comfort... so do as u wish, don't let anyone tell u what u should speak or not :)

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    1. I suppose it happens a lot of places then. I'm glad most people in my circle know so they don't judge me, inshaAllah.

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  5. I don't bother with Somali nor Arabi because me speaking in any of them....people would rather me speak English. Funny I'm the opposite, when I speak Somali I all of a sudden start mixing in Arabic (although the two languages are similar its difference is that of maghrebi arabi and shami arabi lets say) Then when I speak arabi I mix in English... Then when its English I'm throwing in all of the above! LOL I cannot speak either one fluently so my future kids will have one heck of a language :P

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    1. Yea, I don't notice it because it's normal to me but other people lol when I we mix Arabic and English in a sentence. Even in a word, like adding ed or ing to an Arabic word, heh.

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  6. I'm not a native Arabic speaker, but I know when I speak English in front of my Syrian in-laws, they loooove to poke fun lol. Especially my sister-in-law... She'll put on a mock-pretentious accent and say "How are you??" and just start laughing like it's the funniest thing on Earth. Even when my husband translates what they are saying or asking me -because my Arabic is about as advanced as a toddler's- they poke fun at him speaking English and ask him if he thinks of himself as some kind of VIP now LOL. I know here also some people think if someone is speaking English all the time when they could be speaking Arabic, they're "snobby" or something. I think more than anything, knowing English has become somewhat of stereotyped status symbol.

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    1. Omg, that's so annoying. I know people who always ask me to say different words in English then they laugh like crazy. I'm glad I can entertain them, lol.

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  7. I completely understand what you mean Mona. I grew up with parents who spoke little Somali to my siblings and I, my dad spoke in English so we could be fluent in it and my mum practised her Arabic on us.

    Now, I speak English 90% of the time, and when I do speak Arabic, I mix in some english just because the arabic word would escape me or it would be easier to explain my point in English. I find myself becoming embarrassed and flustered whenever I speak in English to an arab just because I don't know what they might think of me. I certainly don't want people to think I'm showing off, and I don't want to have to explain myself to them everytime.

    It's a little worse when I attempt to speak in Somali because I know toddlers who speak better Somali than I do. But I find most Somali elders don't accept the fact that my parents didn't teach me the language as an excuse, and I usually get told off for "not trying". It's only been a few years since I've started learning the language, and considering we don't speak it at home, I'd say I've done well.

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    1. It's so complex! Another thing is when my kids deliberately speak in a Gypo accent cause they don't want to be different. Or if I'm ordering something I have to say it in an accent so they'll understand, like can't say Coca cola, like normal, I have to say it coa-cola or you have to say espegatti so people know what you are saying. It's hilarious.

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  8. That's how I used to feel when I went to Pakistan and my Urdu was awful. Ppl thought I was showing off the fact that I was an American and can speak English.

    BTW - My husband is just like you. He thinks his Arabic is amazing and since we've moved to the Middle East...any time he tells ppl he is Lebanese...they don't believe him! Haha. They always tell him he has a funny mixed Arabic accent (he comes from a diverse Arab community back in the states). He is working so hard to improve his accent now.

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    1. One of the many nuances of being first generation.

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  9. It goes the other way too...

    In my home town there are a lot of Saudis. When American girls hang out with the Saudis like to throw around Arabic to seem cool, especially when there is a new girl around to impress. :-P I don't see this a whole lot in the people who actually convert to Islam, but mostly the Christian or athiest/agnostic girls who hang around muslims, you know?

    I can understand quite a bit of Arabic, but I'm so shy to speak it that I almost always answer in English. But I look American... so most people don't get confused and just randomly speak to me in Arabic.

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    1. Wow, interesting. I am glad though, that my parents insisted we speak Arabic at home.

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    2. Yes I think it is really important to preserve the language at home if it isn't used commonly outside. InshaAllah my children if I am able to have them will be able to speak both English and Arabic. I'd like it even better if they would learn some Spanish as well since this language is becoming increasingly a part of my own culture. I plan to use all of them in the house inshaAllah.

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  10. Speak English to your kids as much as you can. Living here they will become native speakers of Egyptian Arabic but will forget more and more English terminology and phrases if they do not hear it regularly. To hell with people who think you are "showing off". They think it because they have an inferiority complex. Their problem not yours. Stick some French and German in just to ice the cake. In fact get on the net now, and work out how to say, "Now!.....Now I'm showing off!" in Japanese and throw that in the conversation for good measure.

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    1. Wow I'm late replying to this one! Yea, I'm trying to more and more. Lol,yea I need to care less.

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  11. hi u know the problem is the bad education here. im a colege graduated and most of my friends think im a very good english speaker while i know im very bad in english and i can see that when i speak with one of my american friends .its all about hosny mubarak education guys!!!!!

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    1. You are definitely much better than most people I've met because you can get your point across in understandable sentences. But education is definitely a factor.

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Thanks for commenting!