The case for learning Arabic & BDLA16

This is only vaguely related to Banque du Liban Accelerate 2016, as some of the points I will bring up relate to the promise and purpose of the conference and I got this question a lot there – but also before and after. (Somewhat surprisingly, I think I got it more often from Arabs than others.) Other than that, it is basically a personal post, somewhat off topic from the usual topics on my blog. The question is:

Why the f**k do you want to learn Arabic?

In the following lines, let me explain myself, and also explain why I think it might be a good idea if more people did the same.

It’s a challenge

Simple thing. For me, as well as for most Europeans, learning Arabic is rather tough. This makes it more interesting and the potential feeling of achievement greater. I believe it is a good thing to continously try to challenge one-self – within reason, of course. (At least for now, I do not think it is pushing me too far, although it seems to get tougher and tougher to make progress. ūüėČ )

I like learning languages

I guess you could just say “you either like to or not”, however, to expand a bit on this: I think it is both something immediately useful, to be able to talk to more people, as well as something that you can give you additional options, which you cannot even anticipate beforehand.

I do not have a high priority for “netflix and chill”…

Sure, there are some TV shows I would like to catch up with and watch. Eventually. Some day. I just do not assign a high priority to it. When in doubt, basketball (coaching and playing), learning Arabic (or, before, other languages) and meeting people etc. pretty much always win out.

… but I do not want to learn things only directly related to my current job

There is only so much work-related code I can look at and write on a day. Then it is time for something else. I think it is rather not productive to get stuck on any one thing, all day, every day. I like to do things related to and contributing to the company I work for beyond the “core” of my ¬†job, but I prefer those things to be other, non-coding things, i.e., for example, trying to recruit people to work for us.

I am into reading about Lebanese politics

Hard to explain this one to most people. I guess maybe I just like strange, complicated things? Or I just got into it for no good reason and then I could not stop following this trainwreck?

I like Lebanon – for vacations, at least

For the people that have been there, this one should be easy to understand. For the people that know a bit more about the place, it will also be understandable why I add a¬†“qualifier” in the end. A condensed, simplified explanation for this qualifier comes down to: it is very hard to make a living in the country, but easy to enjoy it, if you have some extra money (which you probably earned in a place where life is easier).

Access to the best ideas

The West lead the way in many things – so far. After the Brexit vote, now Trump, the phenomon of post-factualism etc., I do not think I have to elaborate on why I think it will not necessarily continue like that. Arguably, we are moving backwards in some ways already for a while. The best, most innovative ideas, in many fields, with the highest potential to improve the status quo, often come from younger people, with some¬†education – but not necessarily academics. What do many parts of the West lack today? Young people; and this will only continue to get worse. When I’m in Berlin, I feel like I’m around many people my age. In Beirut, I start to feel old. In parts of Germany other than Berlin, I often feel depressed by seeing very few young people.¬†A significant share of interesting viewpoints, observations, ideas etc. already come from people in the Arab World and Latin America. Some¬†of¬†these people primarily communicate in English, but often they reference things published in their native languages, i.e. Arabic or Spanish. For Arabs, I think good example of this are¬†Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi¬†and Karl Sharro, the writer behind Karl ReMarks.

Now you might say, wait a minute, there is young people in Africa and Asia, too. Certainly true. However, the sun has not set completely on “the West” just yet and the Arab World and Latin America are culturally closer to it, making ideas from there more likely to be impactful. Also they are simply more likely to be intelligble and relatable for me personally, as a Westerner. ūüėČ

A developing market

This very much relates to the previous point, looking at it from the business, technological and startup angle, rather than the political and cultural. Markets in the West are largely saturated, for many goods and services, as the population is no longer growing and most needs are already met. – Outside of the West, not so much.

Usage across a diverse region

Some other languages might be more widely spoken, in terms of number of speakers or parts of the world the language in question is spoken in, however, Arabic is speaken across a rather¬†hetereogeneus region. Admittedly, this is a bit of “cheating”, because what is actually spoken are many different dialects of Arabic. However, Modern Standard Arabic (MSA( is the “entry-level drug” to that and I am hopeful¬†that after managing that properly, getting into dialects is also manageable, just like learning Latin gets you a good basis to learn Spanish, Italian, French, or Romanian etc..