Finding a mentor during a global pandemic can be hard: nobody wants to meet up in person, everyone has screen fatigue, and many of our tried and true methods for expanding our networks (e.g., showing up to events) no longer are effective. Finding a mentor for a dialect can be even harder. Some instructors of MSA may think you’re crazy, and try to convince you to find a mentor for MSA instead. So here are some tips for successfully finding a mentor:
Arabic dialects lie on a continuum, so if you’re learning a less-commonly taught dialect (i.e., anything other than Levantine, Egyptian, and possibly Moroccan), you may have to be flexible. For instance, students of Tunisian Arabic should consider reaching out to Libyan and Algerian mentors, or students of Yemeni Arabic should consider mentors fluent in Hijazi Arabic or Dhofari Arabic. While these might have noticeable differences from your target dialect, mutual intelligibility will still be very high, so you’ll be well on your way to your target dialect.
Search faculty directories:
The Middle Eastern Studies program has a directory of affiliated faculty, many of whom are Arab. Try contacting faculty off this list. Of course, don’t just ask people to teach you Arabic because they have an Arab name! Do your homework and try to ascertain if they speak the language before contacting them.
Leverage your professional network:
You might not know many native Arabic speakers, but your former Arabic professors certainly do! Try reaching out to former professors to see if they have colleagues or friends fluent in your target dialect. They’ll be excited to hear from you.
Professional online tutors:
There are a slew of websites now that promise to connect students with experienced Arabic tutors. Three of the most well-know websites are iTalki, Preply, and Verbling. These websites typically do not advertise that they support less-commonly-taught dialects, but try scrolling through instructor bios to find instructors from the linguistic area you’re interested them. If you message them asking to learn their dialect, they’re likely to be receptive!
Language exchanges are great because they’re free, but for grad students that already have very little time as it is, these might be more of a time commitment than you’re willing to take on. But on the other hand, helping someone else along on their language journey can be very satisfying! Some popular options are MyLanguageExchange, Language Exchange, ConversationExchange, and EasyLanguageExchange. These websites are not keen on creative naming.
Even with COVID-19 pandemic, many local businesses are still open. Try stopping by some Arab-owned businesses and introducing yourself. You might just find someone willing to help!