The debate raged yesterday between two groups from the forum about the best way to teach the Arabic language: one calls for teaching Arabic grammar first and that calls for frequently reading Arabic texts hence learning intuitively and naturally (Al-Sulaika in Arabic)!
This reminds the very old question: which existed first chicken or the egg?
My memories went back in time to the childhood of my brother Salah, who is three years and a few months younger than me and whose birthday coincides tomorrow!
His complexions differed from mine; he had blond hair which bore folds, he had a lighter skin colour and green eyes.
He was distinguished by his fluency early through his first year and I still remember the first words he uttered addressing Mary, our uncle Nagy’s wife : ‘’my loafers are red’’ pointing at his shoes .
My father was sent to Paris as an envoy from the Ministry of Finance to study the French system of indirect taxes and stayed there for six months.
Back then, phone calls were difficult and my father communicated with my mother by writing a letter every day. She used to diligently read those upon their arrival which was a few weeks after the mailing date. It is worth mentioning that my father’s writing was always in a distinct literary style!
Two weeks before Christmas, he mailed us a greeting card which was different from any we were used to seeing; It was square in shape and contained a voice letter uttered by my father. We used to play it on the disk player which was popular in those days.
I only can remember the beginning: ‘’from the banks of the Seine River …’’
We listened to his recording, time and over especially when relatives were visiting.
To our complete surprise my brother Salah memorized the entire text and began reciting very correctly.
Remember, at the time, he was no more than a year and a half old.
In those days, everybody at home used to listen to the radio, which required about two minutes to warm-up before functioning and the Broadcasters seldom misread the newscasts.
I remember the first day my brother went to school, he was four years old, and our Autocar (school bus) passed in front of our building entrance to pick him up and drive him to the French Lycee School. He cried a lot before entering the bus!
At the end of the day, upon returning home, he said: ‘’The school is finished, I graduated and I am on the top of my class”
Two months or more after the school year started and during the Christmas break, our home doorbell rang.
I opened the small glass window at the top of the door to check who was it and saw a poor behind the iron bars protecting the small window: he was a beggar. I went to tell my mother who was taking her afternoon nap! Salah was standing next to me. I told her that a beggar was at the door! She said: ‘’Give him a loaf of bread. I want to sleep’’
I went to give him a loaf of bread, but Salah did not like that at all.
While he had not yet learned much in school about Arabic he asked me to operate the voice recorder which had the big tape reels.
He then stood behind the microphone and delivered a speech in the proper Arabic. The speech title was :
‘’The Poor man and Christmas”.
I forgot the exact contents but my father discovered the recording later in time and admired how his son was able to make a full grammatically correct speech in a language he never learned to speak.
Later on, my mother asked Salah to make a “speech” at every occasion.
He would retreat for a few minutes prior to the speech then came back to solemnly make it among the group of people standing like an orator on a wooden pallet!
He had mastered the Arabic language without learning grammar first.