Finding a Mentor for a Medievalist Studying Arabic
Finding a Mentor
Are you a graduate student working in Medieval Studies? Here, I will discuss how I went about selecting my Arabic mentor as well as why. Even if you are not a medievalist per-se, this chapter might be very helpful to see why different language learners might select different types of mentors, thereby helping you to figure out what qualities you want to focus on when finding a mentor.
According to Terry Marshall, a mentor should be a system where “in which a language learner plans and directs learning experience which are guided by a native speaker (my emphasis)” (55). Indeed, I feel this is the most important aspect as the native speaker will be most primed to correct your mistakes without having to first having to think about what you are trying to say. It is in this same spirit that I would recommend a mentor with a teaching background. While Marshall notes that a mentor might not need to have teaching experience, I feel I benefit from the structure provided from a Furthermore, I believe that it is important if you are not in situ to have a bilingual mentor to better facilitate your language study. The realities of in situ necessity might engender a learner to learn from a when they are in a foreign country. However, if you have are studying Arabic at UW-Madison or the United States writ large, you will not be using Arabic at every moment in your day-to-day life. Thus you want a teacher you can communicate comfortably with as to not waste your time.
Potential Mentor Spaces
Professor Mustafa: For those in second or third year Arabic you are probably familiar with Professor Mustafa. After full years of Arabic (technically 3 years of instruction material) I knew that I wanted to continue to study because of his ability to drill information into me. Repetition is how I learn and he understands this. Moreover Professor Mustafa, has a vast knowledge of history of the Arabic World as well as extensive reading material to match your learning needs. For example, my sessions with him currently consist of improving my Arabic reading, writing, speaking by reading articles from the Pre-Islamic world, The Rise of Islam and into the Medieval. We have even planned to even incorporate stories from 1001 Nights. To this extent he is also very helpful in knowing different types of vocabulary I might need for studying Islamic architecture, culture & history, which can often be archaic and might not be known to other native speakers. Indeed, Professor Mustafa is excellent at not only providing new vocabulary but all the different modifications of the root. As the Press Corps handbook states, a “language helper” should help guide the learner towards words their selection and practice of words (Peace Corps 42). Professor Mustafa does this in spades and I often find that I learn three words instead of just one!
Graduate Students in African Cultural Studies: Want to find a mentor and support your fellow Graduate Students? Check out the African Cultural Studies Grad Students. Some of these folks are already teaching their own 1st year class. Given this, it is important to be vary of their time and to not forget that you should compensate them in some form (Marshall, 61). This does not have to be financial. Do you have a skill or understanding of theory that they need help with? Do they need someone to read over their term papers? You can ostensibly create an exchange. Again, make sure you do this in a culturally sensitive way and also mind their time (Marshall, 61). They are students too!
Italki: I have only recently discovered Italki and have not set up a meeting yet but I believe this will be an incredible resource. While Professor Mustafa is wonderful we focus on fusha, that is to say Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). Due to the nature of my studies (focusing in part on Ayyubid and Mamluk Architecture) I am going to need to travel to Egypt. The dialect in Egypt is very different (as I have already experienced in conversation with Egyptian teachers and colleagues so I want to get some basics down before I travel. Italki has a great system where you can do trial lessons (anywhere between $1-5 dollars) to see which teachers that are the most helpful. The Italki teachers are from all over the world, with many different pedagogical styles and dialects so you can find that matches your needs. I have included a couple here that I am looking into working with!
- Marshall, Terry. The Whole World Guide to Language Learning. Intercultural Press Incorporated, 1989.
- Peace Corps. Volunteer on-Going Language Learning Manual: Beyond Hello. Peace Corps, 2000.