So it’s official: my Oral Proficiency Interview in Arabic is in exactly 3 days. If you don’t know what an OPI is, imagine someone speaking at you in rapid-fire Arabic (or any language of your choice) and having to come up with grammatically pristine responses in a native-speaker amount of time. At the end, you get rated with one of 10 qualitative scores based on your performance anywhere from Novice Low to Superior. Naturally, the higher up your competency is, the more time it takes to move from level to level.
Now I’m hoping to achieve a score that’s somewhere between 1 and 2 levels above where I’m *guessing* that I am right now. Is this impossible? Maybe not. I’m sure I know more than I think I do but my struggles typically come from the fact that I’m not a very chatty person in any language. If someone asks me to describe my house I’d probably stall for half a minute or so and eventually say “It’s like small-ish I guess idk we live on a hill.” If I were to say that in Arabic, that really just that I don’t have a good command of the language when in reality, I just don’t ever really think about descriptors for something so normalised to me.
So how do I plan on cramming for the OPI you ask? Well I’m lucky because I’ve taken it twice before once in Arabic and once in Persian so I have an idea of the kind of questions that are asked and the format of it already. I plan on formulating lengthy, grammatically correct answers for the questions I already have an idea that they might ask. Granted all of these questions would be at the Novice Level which I’m most definitely not in, but I don’t want to be asked a question like “tell me about yourself” and reply with a 4 word answer because I don’t know what points I am linguistically able to cover.
Secondly, I’m watching A LOT of TV. I’m sure it’s far too late in the game for me to think I’m going to get drastically better as a result of passive listening but it’s the first time in a while where I don’t have a million and one things to do so I’m excited to be able to kick back, relax, and watch Fairly Odd Parents dubbed into Arabic for hours on end. While the focus of the OPI is on how well I am able to speaking, I also need to be able to understand the examiner’s questions in order to answer them. Related to my show of choice: I absolutely love watching children’s programs because a) they’re more likely to be Modern Standard Arabic, b) they don’t use overladen jargon or too-specific cultural references (especially shows that are dubbed), c) they’re typically shorter than your average show (Phineas and Ferb episodes are only 10 minutes!) which is good for a host of reasons one being that you’re not burned out halfway through the episode, d) and lastly, they’re just fun.
But overall, I’m preparing for this OPI by making sure I am hearing and speaking as much Arabic as possible in the days leading up to it. It’s not a competition and whatever OPI score I achieve does not particularly matter because I know that I have the rest of my life to get better which is one of the greatest parts of language learning.
Cabs are the best way to get around the Amman, especially if you’re not as familiar with the bus routes or schedules. Relative to prices back in Boston, cabs here are an absolute steal. I could get from one corner of the city to the opposite one for something like $4.50JOD which is about $6.35USD. At home, I think I could get from my driveway to the next driveway for $6.35. On a GOOD day. Nevertheless, here are some *major keys* for getting cabs like a true Jordanian:
- Patience is key. Waiting for cabs can take anywhere between 15 seconds and 15 minutes. Don’t be discouraged if it seems like a bunch of empty cabs are driving on by: sometimes cabbies are just done for the day and going home. You could also download Careem. It’s more expensive but useful for when you’re trying to navigate at an odd hour.
- The word “aadad” is key. It means meter and it’s a good word to know. Look for the meter as you get in the taxi. Drivers sometime try to be slick and tuck it between the chairs where you can’t see it and tell you the final reading is more than it really is. If he doesn’t turn the meter on or he tells you it doesn’t work, feel free to get out. Cabs are a dime a dozen, trust.
- Speaking of trust, trust is key. You may get into cabs where your driver is texting his habib, changing the radio station, rolling down his window, driving stick, and still somehow doing 80 and weaving in and out of pedestrians and other vehicles. These guys are pros. Their cars are their income so they wouldn’t do anything to put their vehicles (or their passengers) in danger.
- Planning your travel outside of rush hour is key. You’re gonna be overcharged during rush hour. Most of the time, it’s not worth the hour+ wait for it to clear up and for cabs to start using the meter again. if you’re broke like me, you’d learn that 9km is a stone’s throw…walk it. (Just kidding, you just have to accept it.) Secondly, Amman traffic is on its own level. If you can avoid the “zahme,” please do. If you can’t, yikes.
This is Part III in my series about thriving in Jordan. Check out my other posts as well!
- Don’t fill up on bread. Drink and appetizers will be out momentarily. This is a pretty standard rule for any country, honestly.
- Don’t fill up on appetizers, even if they look like a full meal. Look around, if you’re the only person going to town on the baba ghanoush and mutabbal, I think it’s safe to say there’s more food coming out.
- Don’t fill up on the entree, because dessert and tea are a must.
- Desserts are sweet. Sweeter than sweet. So sweet, that you can probably skimp out on the sugar in your tea. I promise you won’t need it.
- Try everything, especially if you don’t know what it is.
- Related to that: Learn how to say, “I’m allergic to soy and pistachios” before you chow down. Eating in Jordan is supposed to be a fun and enjoyable event, not a hospital trip.
- If you don’t know how to pour tea without is spilling everywhere, enlist help, I implore you. Don’t be that guy.
- Feel free to just c h i l l. There’s no need to rush through your meal. Chat with your pals and enjoy being there. Get arguileh if you’re into that.
- The garcon will be by with the check. They understand that that is part of their job. There is genuinely no need to yell, “THE CHECK? THE CHECK PLEASE. GARCON, THE CHECK” over and over again.*
*This may or may not be from personal experience.
I started up on anti-biotics the other day and realised that my final dose will be on Thursday evening just as I’m checking into Logan Airport. Talk about tangibility.
I was getting my typhoid shot on that same day and the nurse asked me where I was going. When I told her, “Jordan,” and explained what I was going to be doing there, she called me brave. (If you’re laughing at that concept, that’s fine because I was too.) I don’t feel brave at all. I’m going to Jordan because I want to get better at Arabic, and what better way to do that than to go to the source. I’m going to Jordan because I want international work/internship experience. But that’s not to say I’m not absolutely tweaking out at the prospect of having to communicate entirely in Shaami for 4 months. There is a very huge part of me that genuinely doesn’t want to go. I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t looking up Turkish Airlines’ refund policy the other night. Nothing in that screams bravery to me.
People say being brave is being afraid–but doing it anyway. Of course I’m going to do it anyway. I can’t not go: I would be letting down far too many people, myself included. But I don’t think that’s being brave I think that’s being obligated.
I’m excited, I promise. I’ve been very cool, calm, and collected up until this point and now everything is just happening and I can’t rationalise as quickly as I can feel so that’s where we’re at.
Logistic updates: I still haven’t packed or figured out how to get from the airport to the apartment or even looked up the USD/JOD exchange rate. I’m doing great, y’all.