Arabic is spoken throughout the world but, like English, there are variations of the language from region to region.
Navy Seaman Kenneth Wilkerson is training at the Defense Language Institute in the Arabic dialect prominent in Iraq, which is “one of the closer ones to modern, standard Arabic. It’s a far cry from” the Arabic spoken in northern African countries. There are different speech patterns, a lot of common vocabulary changes to “street” vocabulary, and in some cases grammar usage.
Much of the curriculum has been written in the Iraqi-Arabic dialect so when reading text, students can practice on the how the language should be spoken in the region.
Wilkerson took Spanish for five years in high school and college, but he feels he has a much better grasp on speaking Arabic than he ever did Spanish.
“We transitioned into a new unit that was focused on speaking in daily activities such as going to the post office or birthday parties,” Wilkerson said. “Once we started to do some of those around week eight or 10, it was a comfortable thing for me to hear, and everyone sort of found their own comfort zone.”
Adding, “At this point, 24 of 64 weeks, we’re all very comfortable, even with things we’ve never heard before – certain words or expressions.”
Even away from campus and in the town of Monterey, he finds himself thinking in Arabic and wanting to speak it.
“For me, I’m so completely immersed trying to make the most of the 64 weeks, sometimes I’m speaking to people in Arabic, but they don’t understand it,” he said with a laugh.
Wilkerson ended up in the Navy and at DLI because he wanted to work in the intelligence field. He also feels training in Arabic will be good for his career whether he stays in the military or not.
“The Middle East is ever emerging in our politics,” Wilkerson said. And simply, Arabic is also “more enjoyable.”