About me…and all of this

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I’m Michael and I’m a teacher, translator, interpreter, and geocultural consultant (basically I tell organizations how not to make fools of themselves when dealing cross-culturally or cross-linguistically) in Washington state.  I speak 13 languages to varying degrees of fluency, Greek and Arabic being two of the more recent additions.

I started this site because back in 2012 I met the woman who was to become my wife, who is from Greece.  Her English is impeccable but I knew one day I’d want to be able to speak to her family and friends so I set out to learn Greek, only to find that there weren’t that many resources online.  I gathered everything I could find for about two years into a bookmarks folder on Google Chrome and, as my Greek improved to the point where I outgrew them, I forgot about them.

Later, I would decide to learn Arabic.  The issue here, I was soon to find out, was that “Arabic” isn’t really one language (as summarized quite handily in this article).  There’s the written standard Arabic (called Modern Standard Arabic, or al-fuSHa) and then there are the colloquial varieties.  MSA is found in the news, formal announcements, and liturgical readings, among other places, but it isn’t the spontaneously generated common language of any discreet group of people.  Put another way, it has no native speakers.  The politics of MSA versus the colloquials and which ones are “real” or “right” (I’ll plant my flag firmly right now: they are all real and right…anybody who seriously claims the colloquials “have no grammar” or “are just slang” has only proven they don’t truly understand what grammar or slang are) are deep and fraught for many social, cultural, religious, and historical reasons.  For my own reasons I decided to forgo MSA at the outset and concentrate on Levantine Arabic (specifically Lebanese and Syrian).  I did this because my interest in learning Arabic in the first place was sparked by my interest in Lebanon which, being a French speaker with an affinity for the Mediterranean, had always seemed the most fascinating blend of French and Middle Eastern culture. Looking for materials to study with online I ran into the same problem I had when learning Greek, multiplied by about 10. It’s a struggle getting people to accept colloquial Arabic as a functional, living language at all* let alone find robust learning materials for it.

I persisted, though, and eventually built up a respectable compilation of bookmarks that sat in a folder right next to the Greek ones on my browser.

At some point I realized, maybe other people out there want to learn Greek or Levantine Arabic (interest in this probably peaked in 2015 during the height of the Syrian refugee crisis).  I’m always happy when people want to learn other languages, and I realized I could be the site that I wished had existed when I was learning: a place where all the disparate material is collected in one place in some kind of at least semi-organized fashion.

And that’s the story of how From Alif to Omega was born. Take one guy, add one Greek woman, throw in some francophone linguistic curiosity and that’s how all this came about.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed making it.

*The Arab diglossia debate has been going among “Arab”ophones for centuries, long before it was picked up on by western academics, and I’m noticing a change in the last few years. Maybe it’s because of the internet, or the massive outflux of Syrians into other parts of the Arab world, or the Arab millennial generation, but I’m noticing more and more of the people I talk to being willing to consider colloquial Arabic as, if not quite a completely equal partner to MSA, something much closer to it than before.

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