The Language Learning Process

We’ve  been in Morocco a little over a year now, and the 4 of us who didn’t speak Arabic or French when we arrived have all increased our knowledge of these two languages.  However, as I stopped to reflect, I realized we also all represent different types of language learners, and thereby we have achieved different levels of success with Arabic and French.  Here’s where we currently are as language learners:

DSCF2731Samir – Sam is a baby and so knew nothing when we arrived.  He was only 3 months old after all.  However, now at 16 months old, he completely understand when you speak to him in Arabic, just the same as you had spoken to him in English.  He doesn’t have much spoken vocabulary yet, but his receptive vocabulary is very high in both Arabic and English.  He has had very little exposure to French, as he has spent his days with me (in English) or my husband and/or the nanny (in Arabic), but I can tell by how he responds to the Arabic that if he continues to be in this type of environment, he will view Arabic as a mother tongue.  He will be my truly “native speaker”.

DSCF2668Zaiyd – Zaiyd was 3 1/2 when we came to Morocco.  He knew how to speak very well in English, and was beginning to learn to read in English.  In Arabic, he knew the letters and a few key words and phrases.  In French, he knew nothing.  He began school in a program where 1/2 of his day is spent in French and 1/2 of his day is spent in Arabic.  Although his day was quite long, it was more focused on coloring, singing and vocabulary.  He amassed a huge vocabulary in both Arabic and French quite quickly.  However, due to his personality, he chooses not to speak in French or Arabic as often as he can get away with, to the point of hearing and understanding the French sentence, and then responding directly in English, showing he understands, but does not want to take the time to work on the spoken piece if he can be understood in English.  Zaiyd also took a preference for French over Arabic and so his French vocabulary started to surpass his Arabic vocabulary.  There are certain concepts that he learned in school (in French and/or Arabic) before we worked on them at home in English.  For example, Zaiyd is much more comfortable with the days of the week in French than he is in English.  While French and Arabic will never be Zaiyd’s mother tounge, it seems that if he continues to be in this type of environment, he will definitely be fluent in both shortly.

DSCF2567Khalil – Kal was 7 when we came to Morocco.  He attended Prek – 1st grade in a Georgia Public School in the US.  He could read and write well in English.  In Arabic, he knew the letters, his body parts, and a few key words and phrases.  In French. he knew nothing.  He began school in a program where 1/2 of his day is spent in French and 1/2 of his day is spent in Arabic.  Instead of going to second grade, he completed first grade again.  He learned to read and write again, both in French and in Arabic.  He learned grammar, memorized poems and Koran verses, and learned to write in pen.  He had some difficulty with the differences in the school systems, but he thoroughly enjoyed school.  Kal loves to learn and he threw himself into conquering these two languages.  Kal took a preference for Arabic and really enjoyed reading the street signs to us and reciting the Koran verses he had memorized via rote (even if he didn’t completely understand them yet.)  He was able to use his base in English to understand new concepts, and still translates his learning from Arabic (or French) into English in order to understand it completely.  Like Zaiyd, Kal will be fluent if he continues to be in this type of environment, in fact he already communicates quite well in both languages.  However, most of the concepts Kal learns in English and then his brain does a lot of translating between languages.

headshotMe – I was 28 when we came to Morocco.  I was (and still am) a teacher, who is used to helping kids learn English, but I never mastered a language myself.  I learned quite a bit of Spanish in high school, but was never immersed into the language and have never felt that I am fluent there – although I am quite comfortable with the language.  I took one semester of French in college, so I had a small base of French.  I visited Morocco 6 years ago, and have lived with a Moroccan (my wonderful husband) for almost 10 years, so I knew some key phrases in Arabic, lots of food names, animal names, body parts etc., but I was far from fluent, and barely comfortable, in Arabic.  Unlike the kids, I don’t get to spend my days immersed in the language.  Instead, I teach English all day, and am in English speaking environments about 80% to 90% of the time.  I did take Arabic classes (twice a week for an hour at a time), and I’ve been in plenty of situations where no one speaks English.  However, after a year here, I’m still so very far from capable.  I can get through the pleasantries of polite conversations.  I can get my basic needs met.  I can understand the gist of a conversation, and I know how much the merchants are asking for when I buy something.  However, there is so much I would like to say, and understand in French and Arabic, that I don’t.  I have had to make myself understand that my boys will ALWAYS speak better French and Arabic than I do.  I have had to make myself understand that I’m doing the best that I can.  I’ve had to remind myself that I am speaking and understanding much more than I was last year.  I have to remind myself that it doesn’t happen overnight.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be fluent in French or Arabic, but I know I’ll keep trying and learning.

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources and Journey to Morocco   

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Posted by on July 15, 2012 in Arabic, French, Language Learning


Neighbourhood Walk Around the World–Casablanca, Morocco


Jo Ebisjum of JoJebi Designs is doing a “neighbourhood walk around the world”.  I thought this was a great idea, and wanted to share a look at our neighborhood here in Casablanca, Morocco.  After you check out our pictures, please feel free to click on the badge to find all the other neighborhoods around the world.

1.  A mail box – We don’t really have a mailbox, but this is where we get our mail – these are our electric meters.  If you have anything really important, like a package, they leave you a note and you have to go to the post office and pick it up.

Electric Meters in Morocco

2.  A local store – called a Hanut, they have a little bit of everything!

Local store, or hanut in Morocco

3.  A manhole cover

Man Hole Cover in Morocco

4.  A park/play area – these are so far and few between, that we don’t have any in our area.  Here’s the “jardin” where my kids play.  It’s in the center of the apartment buildings, and it gets loud in the afternoons with rousing games of soccer!

Garden (Jardin) play area in Morocco

5.  A View of the Street – We have a café right where the apartments meet the road.  When there is a soccer game, the café fills up with people and we can hear them cheer all the way back in our apartment.

View of a Street in Morocco

6.  A Local Form of Transport – Since moving to Boskura, my kids love that you can catch a horse taxi so close by.

Local Transportation in Morocco - Horse Taxi

7. A Local Animal – In addition to wild cats, donkeys are the animal you see most often in the streets here.  They pull everything from fruit to wood to garbage.  You can find a donkey on every streets and my kids can even differentiate the sound between a donkey and a horse now!

Local Animals in Morocco - Donkey Transportation

8. A Picture of a Local Shopping Center – These are the stores you can find in the Marjane shopping center.

Stores and Shopping Centers in Morocco

9.  Buildings Under Constructions – There are so many buildings being build in and around Casablanca.  It’s amazing to me to see the sticks that are used to hold up levels while they fill in the cement blocks.  After the building is built with cement, it is covered with cement or plaster.

Buildings Under Construction in Morocco

10. A Street Sign – This is the sign you see when you are getting on the highway.

Street Sign in Morocco - Marrakech and El Jadida

Heidi Raki of Raki's Rad Resources and Journey to Morocco


Posted by on July 12, 2012 in Pictures of Morocco



Another Move

This weekend, we made another move.  Luckily, this move wasn’t an international one, but still, it has been a “fun” week, trying to get packed, moved, unpacked, settled in, etc.  We moved from a half a villa in Oasis, Casablanca – pretty close to the downtown “centreville” area, out to Boskura – a small area on the outskirts of Casablanca.  It’s not very far – it only takes us 15 minutes tJourney to Morocco - Raki's Rad Resourceso get from one place to the other, but it feels like a word of difference.  It’s much more “rural” and so we see sheep and cows really close by.  Instead of just donkeys and horses in the street, it’s not strange to see some sheep or cows grazing on the side of the road.  There are beautiful farms to see on the drive between the two, and if you want to, you can grab a horse drawn taxi here as well.  (There are also grand taxis – large and white, but only go along one route, and we see blue petite taxis from Mohamadia and Rabat.  The petite taxis are red in Casablanca.) 

Most of the time, this is a really quiet area, although there are many people moving here to “escape the city” and so there is a lot of construction noises going on around us.  Down the road is a huge souk, which is only open on Tuesdays, but draws huge crowds.  We didn’t make it this week, but we hope to go next week.  I can’t wait to walk around!  On Friday, the two huge mosques fill up with people from all around.  People come to pray and to shop afterwards – as all of the fruit and vegetable vendors (and some other vendors too) will be sitting outside the mosque when prayer time is over.

Our new place has two bedrooms, a salon/dining area, a bathroom and a kitchen.  It’s not much smaller than the last place, although it doesn’t have a balcony.  We are on the ground floor, which is good and bad.  It’s good because the boys can take their bikes right outside to the garden area to ride and play with friends.  It’s bad because the laundry lines are 4 floors up, so when the washing machine is done, I have to walk up 4 floors to hang the clothes.  It’s okay, though, there is an elevator which should be working soon – in’challah!  (In’challah is Arabic for “If God Wills It”, but is often used in place of “hopefully”.)

Here are a few pictures of our new place – please excuse the boxes that are all over the place!  I’ll be back in a few days with pictures of the neighborhood.

Journey to Morocco - Raki's Rad Resources    Journey to Morocco - Raki's Rad Resources    Journey to Morocco - Raki's Rad Resources    Journey to Morocco - Raki's Rad Resources


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Posted by on July 3, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Living Among History


Not long ago, we took a trip to Fes, one of the oldest cities in Morocco.  We walked around the medina, the 100_6989city walls, and an Islamic school that were all built around the year 825 A.D.  It was amazing to see, but the most amazing part was that there were people living right there in the middle of this amazing, historical place.  There were kids kicking a soccer ball, ladies shopping, men drinking coffee, just like every other city I’ve been to in Morocco. 

100_5206We don’t live in quite as historic of a setting, but we still live in a city where donkeys pull carts down the street, meat hangs outside of butcher shops and vegetables are sold by farmers more often than by supermarkets.  This type of setting is amazing for my children.  I love the fact that they can recognize city walls, they know that meat comes from cows (and sheep and chickens) and that everything and anything can be bought at the souk – including a live chicken that will not be live when you leave!  They know that the man saying “eeep” outside is looking for something to buy and the sound of a man calling “Allah Akbar” over a loud speaker means it is time for prayers.  Since we moved here, we have seen ruins and plazas and other amazing things that they wouldn’t have gotten to see otherwise.  Having this kind of background knowledge will be an asset for my children. 


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Posted by on April 8, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Cultural Pictures in Morocco

A few weeks ago, I started taking Arabic lessons.  I go twice a week to learn Classical Arabic so I can help Kal with homework.  (Classical Arabic is not the language on the street here – Darija is.)  Since I know so very little Arabic, I am still very much at the point at a picture and repeat the word over and over stage.  Today I was looking at pictures of meal times, and I realized that the pictures showed traditional Moroccan meals, than if I showed to students in America, they may not recognize as breakfast, lunch and dinner.  It reminded me that what an image means to you is so very cultural!  I see it in my classroom all the time – my students look at a picture of something (say a bagel, or a bag of carrot sticks, or raccoon) and they have absolutely no idea what they are looking at. Or, they see a familiar event (breakfast or a party or a school bus) and it looks so completely different from what they know as that event (sausage and eggs for breakfast for example) that they don’t make the connection.

So,  here’s something fun for you – here are some pictures Kal and I use when we are learning Arabic. 

Can you tell which picture is a wedding? 

Can you tell which picture is an important holiday? 

Can you tell which picture is a Friday afternoon lunch? 

Can you tell which picture shows soldiers? 

Can you tell which picture shows a typical dinner meal?

Can you tell which picture is meant to show a farmer?

Can you tell which picture shows a mom making bread?


Picture A


Picture B


Picture C


Picture D


Picture E


Picture F


Picture G



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Can you tell which picture is a wedding? Picture B

Can you tell which picture is an important holiday? Picture D (Eid al Adha)

Can you tell which picture is a Friday afternoon lunch?  Picture G

Can you tell which picture shows soldiers?   Picture F

Can you tell which picture shows a typical dinner meal?  Picture A

Can you tell which picture is meant to show a farmer?  Picture E

Can you tell which picture shows a mom making bread?  Picture C


Posted by on April 1, 2012 in Uncategorized


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Morocco and Language

Going to live in a country where English isn’t the first language is complicated.  Going to live in a country where there is no set first language is even more complicated!  And language in Morocco is extremely complicated!  Obviously English is not the first language of Morocco.  The first language for most residents of Morocco is Darija, a form of Arabic mixed with Spanish, French and Berber.  Many people speak French at home as well, especially in the upper classes.  In the rural areas, there are lots of people who speak Berber.  Language is a mixed handbag here – and it’s not uncommon to hear more than one language come from the same person in the course of of one conversation (or even one sentence!)

Even though Darija is the first language of Morocco, no one attends school in Darija.
Morocco Airport sign in different languages photoMost students (including Kal & Zaiyd) attend school in Classical Arabic and/or French.  Public schools teach a lot of Arabic and a little French.  Private schools teach about a 50/50 split.  Mission or French schools teach a lot of French and a little Arabic.  Then there are schools like mine, where students are taught in English all day, and receive a little French and a little Arabic.

Living in a society with this many languages going on is amazing to me.  I love how the people around me – including my students – can switch from one language to another almost seamlessly.  I learn so much from my students, including the importance of using their home language to help them understand certain concepts.  One way I use this in my classroom is to identify numbers in 4 languages during Calendar time.  We look at the “number of the day” in English, French, Arabic and Spanish (I have a student from Spain too!).  It has been a great way to talk about the “tens part” and the “ones part” of a number word.

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Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Uncategorized


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It’s been too long!

Wow, I bet you guys thought I fell off the face of the earth!  I promise you I haven’t.  I’m still here in Morocco, COLLABORATIVE BLOGSteaching and working hard at being a mommy!  I’ve also been working hard at my “business” – Raki’s Rad Resources.  I am running a blog called Raki’s Rad Resources, as well as blogging on 3 collaborative blogs – Simply Learning Centers, Classroom Freebies Too and Connect-a-Blog (where I write a Monday from Morocco post each week).  So, I have been blogging, just not here – lol!  Here is an update on what we’ve been up to, as well as a promise to blog on here at least once a week!!

  – Kal & Zaiyd are attending a Moroccan private school called Groupe Escolaire de Tournesol (Sunflower School).  100_7086They go to school in French for half of the day and Classical Arabic for the other half of the day.  In addition to learning French & Arabic, they are learning Darija – the Moroccan dialect of Arabic, as this is what they speak with their friends on the playground!  Both are doing well within their programs!  Kal is able to read and write in Arabic and French, and his speaking and understanding is coming along.  Zaiyd can recognize his letters, numbers and colors in Arabic and French and is just starting to speak and understand them.  Zaiyd is also learning to read in English at home – so he’s been a busy boy!

– Sam just turned one!  He is also starting to walk and loves to tear all the toys out of the box and throw them on 100_7132the floor!  He drives Halima, our nanny, crazy, but she loves him none the less and speaks to him in Darija all day long.  He understands words in both Darija and English, but he isn’t speaking at all himself, except to point at the food he wants and go ehhhh!


– We have recently been to Fez, Meknes and Ifrane, which was all amazing and beautiful.  We took way too many pictures, slept in a hotel right next to the old Medina, and walked until our legs hurt – it was great!

– In January, we took a weekend trip to Seville, Spain.  We loved Spain so much!  After the 100_6485comedy of errors getting there (missing our rental car, paying for a taxi to the airport, getting charged for two cars, getting charged for an extra hotel room for Sam) we had 3 amazing days walking around and seeing all the sights.  We hope to go back to Spain, and possibly Portugal over the summer.

– Raki has decided not to do his residency, but has kept himself very busy teaching English, freelancing as a medical writer and helping me to run my Raki’s Rad Resources business.

– My school year is almost over.  It has been challenging, but I have grown so much as a teacher!  I am really enjoying teaching first grade and teaching students to read for the first time!  I will be teaching first grade again next year, and I’m looking forward to it.


That’s all for now, but I promise to try and check in weekly!


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Posted by on March 18, 2012 in Uncategorized


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