Novel Reading Excercise–Tilka al-Ra’iha

Tips for Finding a Language Mentor for MSA

Looking at UW Madison

Arabic TAs.  Visit office hours for Arabic TAs (see Language at UW: Arabic or African Cultural Studies: Arabic.  Office hours may simply provide an opportunity to practice speaking MSA and asking questions about grammar (which would not normally be done with a mentor).  Alternatively, you may find that a TA is willing to meet with you regularly outside of office hours and serve as your mentor.  They also may know of other qualified individuals who would be willing to do so.

Fulbright Fellows.  Scour department websites and announcements to see if there are Fulbright fellows from Arabic-speaking countries.  These individuals may be open to mentoring you, or they may not.  Source the African Studies Program first as these individuals are may be more enthusiastic at the prospect of being a language mentor.  Also, check out staff listed at the African Cultural Studies Department and the Arabic-language program staff and faculty here.

African Studies Program.  Talk to staff in the Africa Studies Program (e.g. the instructor of Africa 671!) and ask if they know of anyone in the department (or elsewhere) that might be qualified for and interested in serving as a language mentor.

Arabic Roundtable.  A group of students enrolled in 3rd and 5th year Arabic meets with an Arabic TA each evening Monday through Thursday from 5-6pm.  I have found the group to be welcoming, focused, and diligent in only speaking in Arabic (for the most part).  Through this group, you may find potential mentors (e.g. the TA, friends of the TA, friends of the students).  Even if you do not find a mentor, the time spent speaking Arabic will certainly be fruitful.  You can view the calendar here.

Looking into the Madison community

Be mindful of Arabic varieties/dialects when sources the community for potential mentors.  Be sure that you are connecting with individuals that are fluent in MSA or the variety in which you are interested.

Madison Restaurants. Speak to the owners of restaurants that serve food endemic to Arabic-speaking countries.  For example, I have had luck speaking to the owner of Buraka, an Ethiopian restaurant on Willy St.

MATC Arabic Courses.  Contact the instructor for the MATC Arabic courses.  As with the Arabic TAs (above), this individual may be a potential mentor, or may know of qualified and interested individuals.

African and American Store.  Stop in this shop on the corner of East Wash and East Johnson.  The proprietor is a lovely woman who will be more than happy to help you.  I have not found a mentor through this connection yet, but I know that Mariam is well connected and she may connect me with a potential mentor in the future.  As with Madison Restaurants (above), any person I connect with through the African and American Store may only speak a variety/dialect of Arabic (which can still be very helpful!).

Looking Outside the Madison community

There are a variety of online sources that offer relatively inexpensive language tutoring services outside the the UW-Madison community. This includes services such as iTalki, and other Arabic-specific services such as NaTakallam and PaperPlanes. The later have the double advantage of often conversing directly with someone in the region who can offer direct cultural insights. Many of the tutors in these services are current or former Arabic teachers in the region who have been displaced from their countries of origin due to recent regional conflicts. As such, the use of these two particular services are recommended as a way to offer a nominal amount of support to displaced persons. In the view of this author and many others in the Arabic language learning community, these individuals are often exceptional at providing quality tutoring and guidance.

That said, two caveats are important to keep in mind. First, these partners may be less familiar with the self-instructor model than those in the UW-Madison community, it is therefore important to communicate expectations clearly and focus on language needs rather than bogging them down in the specifics of one’s ISP. Second, it is particularly essential that students using these services be mindful of the time commitments they make to the partners, as they often have busy schedules that they need to plan their time around. In short, keep your appointments, be understanding if your partner misses an appointment, and calculate for time difference so as not to accidentally ask a partner to meet at a highly unreasonable time.


Final Note: In all your searching, consider whether it will be best to work with a male or female mentor.  You may decide that it does not matter enough to affect your choice of language mentor, but at least give it some thought.


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Resources for Self-Instructional Learners of Less Commonly Taught Languages Copyright © by University of Wisconsin-Madison Students in African 671 is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.