My Journey of Relearning My Mother Tongue



I’m Egyptian born and raised. My mother’s Egyptian, my father’s Egyptian, all my grandparents are Egyptian – you get the point, I’m as Egyptian as it gets. You might as well consider me a pharaoh (although those aren’t actually my descendants, but that story’s for another time). Since I’m so Egyptian, my mother tongue is Arabic, and English is my boo on the side, along with whatever other language I decided to learn.

You’d think that since I’m so Egyptian, my mother tongue is Arabic, and English is my boo on the side, along with whatever other language I decided to learn.
Well, that’s not actually the case.

Well, that’s not actually the case. Let’s rewind to 2003 when your girl was starting kindergarten. My incredibly generous parents wanted to put me in the best education they could, and we were lucky enough to afford sending me to a high-level bilingual kindergarten where I learned English as a first language. Right from the get-go, your girl was speaking English at school, Arabic at home. I remember a point in Elementary school where we were even yelled at, at school, for speaking Arabic during any class other than Arabic class. That includes Science, Math, Social Studies and anything else our little 5th grade selves were studying at that point. The idea was that English is elite, English is what you speak to sound smart – and that idea stuck with me for a very long time.

Fast forward to middle school where I was lucky enough to move to an even more “elite” school, an international American one. Again, this isn’t a story of how sad my life is, I’m incredibly grateful to my parents and these experiences that completely changed my life as it is now. But again, I digress. This school was a great school where I learned a lot, but as a school based in the heart of Cairo, Egypt – it had no regards to the Arabic Language as a whole. Students scurried to get their English homework done on time but skipped Arabic class. The teachers themselves didn’t really care about their delivery since they knew no one really cared. I caught myself riding that wave. I didn’t care about Arabic class, Arabic itself as a language and I watched myself as my Arabic skills got lower, and my English more and more become my main language. As my friends and I went through teen-hood, English was the cool language. We’d watch Disney Channel and Nickelodeon and basically aspired to live our lives the way the characters on those shows did. I read English magazines, watched American YouTubers, and eventually conditioned myself to even think in English.

So here I am, an Egyptian who’s lived her whole life in Cairo, who’s more comfortable speaking and writing in English than Arabic. Cairo isn’t a Montreal or a Jakarta – 99% of us mainly speak Arabic to communicate. OK, that’s a made-up statistic but I’m pretty sure it’s true. So, how much sense does it make that I speak English more confidently – for what? To sound cool? For who? It’s a real shame.

Orientalism: a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Arab peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S. It often involves seeing Arab culture as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous.

The thing about Orientalism is that one of its most powerful aspects is impacting its subjects themselves. I believed that English was superior to Arabic – a big part of the country does too. English is linked to higher education and material status. If you’re on the street and you hear a woman speaking English with an Egyptian-American accent, you know she’s “important.”

Important where? and to whom? It’s all subjective.

Arabic is dying, and I’m a catalyst. Since the Arab Spring jumpstarted in 2011, production of Arabic books has been on a harsh decline. I can’t remember the last time I read an Arabic book – hell, I get lazy to read an Arabic Facebook post that’s longer than a sentence. Then my hypocritical self opens up Duolingo to learn French or Spanish. Other than the fact that Duolingo’s useless in my opinion – why are we running off to learn other languages when we don’t even know our own too well?

As a sixth grader, I could write a whole essay in Arabic easily, now, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to write an article like this in Arabic. So, I’m going to start relearning my own language and omitting the countless English words I use throughout speaking Arabic to literally everyone.

Arabic is a beautiful poetic language that’s based on symbolism and metaphors – it’s the real language of love if you’re asking me. Arabic calligraphy is an amazing form of art.

Go love on the mother language you’ve neglected for so long! I’ll sure love on mine.

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