7 Helpful Questions To Overcome Arabic Immersion Burnout this Month

I have two confessions.

Firstly, I haven’t been writing on this blog as frequently as I’ve wanted to. I just needed to say that aloud. To myself, mostly. I love this blog, so why have I been AWOL?

That leads to the second confession.

I’ve been fumbling on my immersion. I’m a little burnt out.

It’s sad to admit, but it’s very true.

Two hours a day of reading in the morning? Can a girl get some sleep? Watching shows day and night? Who has the time for that? Passively immersing with the radio while at work? I can’t listen to the radio and type these emails at the same time!!

In short, reality has set in. A post-pandemic reality, that is. Although I know many of you are reading this post from all around the world, here in America, the pandemic is officially over. Not because science or Dr. Fauci said so, of course. But because WE THE PEOPLE SAID SO.

Vaccines are in. Masks are out. Offices and schools and restaurants are packed. I mean jam-packed. So jam-packed it’s as if COVID-19 never existed.

I have to admit that quarantine, as nerve-wracking as it was, was also the best time for me to start immersing deeply into Arabic. I can’t imagine going as hard as I did without quarantine. For the few weeks before Zoom calls filled the void of our quarantined lives, time practically stopped. There was literally nothing to do. Roads were empty and grocery store shelves were too. We were all waiting. Waiting to live.

And in that time, I decided, What the heck. I guess I’ll pass the time by learning Arabic. What better time than the end of the world? And as time passed I immersed more. All I did was immerse. Hours and hours per day. And all the scientists did was search science for a vaccine. And all the politicians did was stir misinformation. And we the people, most of us at least, waited inside for the coast to clear.

And now, with our arms pumped full with the gift of a magical vaccine, it feels as if time has suddenly begun again. Everything seems to be moving fast again. My calendar has events again. My schedule is full again. I’m wrapping up with my job and moving across the country for grad school. I’m cooking dinners for friends and planning get-togethers. I’m hanging out later than I have all year. And I have to admit, I feel… good about it.

And so where does that leave Arabic immersion? Where does that leave my dear friend who helped me ride out an apocalypse in a way that no one else could?

I’m trying to figure that out. By stuffing immersion into the cracks of my ever-filling schedule, I’m feeling more rushed, less fulfilled, and although I’m not burnout yet, I can see how I’ll get there if I keep this up. And that is NOT AN OPTION. Getting off the wagon of Arabic entirely is a sure way to cripple my progress. I’d rather drag a tired horse along, before giving up the wagon completely.

I felt two ways about writing this post.

I want this blog to encourage everyone to keep on going. I don’t want to enable wayward behavior. By wayward, I mean comments or personal emails I’m sure to receive that say, Uchechi, yes exactly! Thank you for saying it. Immersing as much as you talk about isn’t possible for someone like me. I’m too busy! Thank you for affirming why I’ll never learn Arabic!

I don’t believe that immersion is impossible in this post-pandemic world. But on the other hand, I have to admit, I’m struggling to get my act together by setting a new schedule and some good-ole boundaries. Hopefully, me being honest with you about this and you being honest with yourself about your progress, is some kind of deeply enlightened form of encouragement.

So where does that leave you, reader? I’m sure you want to take a break and have a hot girl summer like the rest of us. I’m also sure that you want to become fluent in Arabic (or else you wouldn’t be reading this blog?!!). How do you do both?

Well, I think — as in all things — that answering this takes a bit of self-reflection. And that there are 7 questions we can ask ourselves in order to figure out how to get our Arabic immersion back on track. I’ll list them below here, and then you can read my answers for each.

The 7 Questions

  1. What am I actually doing, right now?
  2. How much time am I spending on Arabic, in total?
  3. What’s getting in the way of more immersion?
  4. What has been the effect of my current levels of immersion on fluency vs. previous ones?
  5. What’s my new daily immersion goal?
  6. What would I like to do to get more energy and enjoyment out of my active immersion?
  7. What will I do to meet my daily immersion goal?

My Answers to the 7 Questions

1. What am I actually doing, right now?

  • Anki cards every day. But usually right before bed. I don’t really like this habit because my retention of new words is very very low at night. After more than a year of Anki, I am tired of her. I know her power, so I must. continue. on. But she’s a needy partner. They say distance makes the heart grow fonder, but if I take even a weekend off from Anki, she’ll come back with a vengeance, leaving with hundreds of reviews. I’d rather keep up with her than grow a backlog, but ugh. uGh. UGGGHHHH.
  • Watching Ramadan dramas on Shahid. At least one hour a day. I’m a little burnt out from the melodrama of Arabic TV shows, to be honest. I watched so much TV in the past year to know that very few Arabic TV shows aren’t at least 10% soap opera. *Sigh* It’s just something I know that I have to accept. On the bright side, because I have immersed in so much media, I can now have conversations in Arabic about why the melodrama bothers me. I couldn’t do that a year ago! So, with this in mind, watching TV is still deepening my linguistic and cultural competency. That’s a plus. In general, something that does take a long time is finding a new TV that I truly enjoy watching.
  • Listen to Lebanese radio as I’m going to work, especially when I’m doing something that doesn’t require too much brainpower. But I turn it off after about 15 – 30 minutes and dive into work. I don’t like to be distracted at work. I don’t even usually text, search social media, or read the news when I’m working.
  • Watch other video clips, comedic shorts, and interviews. Usually, stuff that’s recommended to me on YouTube or that I’ve seen before and want to watch without straining myself to understand something new.
  • Listen to podcasts when I’m walking.
  • Play new music that I love like Hamza Namira’s new album: Mawloud Sanat 80. He’s Egyptian, but I can actually understand a lot of what he’s saying. So that’s also a win! And his album HITS. Generally, I actually play a lot of music.

How much time am I spending on Arabic, in total?

In total: I’m probably consistently getting between 75 – 90 mins daily of active and passive immersion. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. This is better than nothing, but I know from experience that at least 2 hours daily of active immersion is needed to make more substantial progress. Passive immersion, while helpful for creating a more immersive environment overall, really has much lower benefit than active immersion, imo.

What’s getting in the way of more immersion?

What’s getting in the way is just scheduling. I haven’t accepted that the post-pandemic schedule is different from the one I’ve been able to have this past year. There are no longer long hours of NOTHING every day. I also don’t think I’ve accepted that if Arabic is to remain a priority, then I have to think twice and 3 times more, before saying yes to things. This is actually something I’ve struggled with for a long time, long before the Pandemic, so I think an old habit is simply re-emerging. I think I’m being asked to make some value-based decisions.

What has been the effect of my current levels of immersion on fluency vs. previous ones?

I’m maintaining my current level, in general. But I am not gaining many new words. And it’s becoming harder to recall some old words that I don’t use frequently and/or words that I’ve always found confusing. Additionally, some immersion that should be easy to understand, is getting complicated because my brain slow to recognize what the speaker is saying. But, when I go back and listen, I realize that I know EXACTLY what they’re talking about. It’s annoying overall. Because I know, from much much experience, that my success or failure is entirely up to me and my efforts.

What’s my new daily immersion goal?

Two hours of active immersion daily.

What would I like to do to get more energy and enjoyment out of my active immersion?

  • Read more: Reading is a secret weapon. I realized this toward the end of last year and the beginning of this year. I do technically “read” when I review Anki cards, but reading full novellas, stories, and articles is the best way to get good in Arabic QUICK. Right now I have 3 options: Returning to Haifa by Ghassan Kanafani, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Harry Potter. I’ve started Returning to Haifa and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but I think I’d like to just choose one and finish it. Reading also gives me a really deep sense of accomplishment vs. watching TV. I think this could help with my motivation.
  • Do Anki cards in the afternoon instead of later in the evening.
  • Start speaking! I can hold pretty lengthy conversations with myself, but I have no idea how I am in action. Speaking won’t count as active immersion, but it could be some fun recreation right now to add a spark to my study schedule. And to gain a lot more confidence.

What will I do to meet my daily immersion goal?

  • Read for one hour in the morning/daytime + Watch TV uninterrupted for one hour = 2 hours of active immersion
  • Other things I’d need to do to make this work:
    • Make sure to go to bed at 10:30 or before, so that I can wake up by 6:30 am instead of 7. This gives me about 30 – 45 minutes in the morning to read. I need to be bathed, dressed, fed, and out the door by 8:15 for work.
    • Pack my lunch the night before to save time in the morning. And have my clothes laid out. These things actually eat up the biggest chunk of my morning.
    • Look at my calendar in the next week and see what I no longer want to say “Yes” to in order to say “Yes” to two hours of immersion.

Kay, this seems doable. Not too crazy and unachievable considering my schedule. I’m going to try it. Yall, can hold me accountable. And if you need me to hold you accountable then, اهلا و سهلا. I’m very happy to help. Write your Arabic immersion schedule down in the comments!

The one thing I have realized is that if I don’t name it and claim it, it won’t happen. So here goes!

What’s your immersion schedule these days? Does anything need to change? Adapt? Do you have one at all? Let me know in the comments below?

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  1. Dominique

    OMG yes. This is what my current level time spent immersing myself looks like:
    -One to two days a week, I read/listen to news articles for about an hour in the morning and answer reading comprehension questions. At the same times I’m adding words to my Anki cards.
    -Three to four days a week, I review my my Anki cards.
    -And then maybe one to two days a week, I’m watching El Hayba on Netflix. (Although not terribly fond of the show’s story line)

    My issue is this, I am still working at home but I don’t know how to balance getting up in the morning at 5am, working out between 5:30 and 6:30am, and then trying to fit breakfast, morning meditation, and showering all in before I start work at 9am. It’s hard to get up any earlier considering I go to bed around 10pm. Also, during nighttime hours I’m doing BJJ and/or I have my grad classes. So it eats a lot of time out of my week. Not sure what to do. Help!

    • Uchechi

      Firstly, I’d say that you’re doing a wonderful job! You’re moving forward despite all the other constraints and obligations. Give yourself mad credit! This is the work.

      Based on what you’ve written here, if I were in your shoes I’d think:
      1) If my schedule never changes, how can spend at least one hour immersing a day?

      It still seems like you’re missing the daily consistency. But you’re almost there! No matter how long your journey, the daily immersion is crucial.

      2) If my schedule never changes, what is a reasonable fluency goal for the next 3 months? 6 months? 1 year?

      This way you won’t be hard on yourself. And you can see that the progress you’re making is the progress you’re supposed to make, according to the amount of time you’ve spent immersing.

      Also ditch Al Hayba if you don’t like it. You might enjoy The Writer الكاتب —- it’s a murder mystery and very whimsical. It’s also on Netflix. I still haven’t seen another Arabic show like it! It’s very unique.


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