Last updated on November 28, 2020
Lisān al-‘Arab (لسان العرب), the famous dictionary of Classical Arabic, contains 9273 roots (and 4,493.934 words). A huge playground for people who are passionate about Arabic such as…
Dr. Daniel Falk
The man who masters simultaneous Arabic – German interpreting.
- Date of birth: 1984
- Place of birth: Heidelberg, Germany
- Place of residence: Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany
- Personal website: www.falk-translations.com
How would you introduce yourself to someone who doesn’t know you?
Hi, my name is Daniel Falk and I am a professional translator and interpreter for Arabic-German and vice versa. I love this job, because there are always new challenges ahead and it never gets boring.
I started teaching myself Arabic about 20 years ago. From 2005 onwards I enjoyed an intensive Arabic training at the Institute of Oriental Studies at Leipzig University – where I finally graduated with an M.A. in Political Science/Arabic Studies/Conference Interpreting and wrote my PhD thesis.
Today I live in Freiburg, Baden-Württemberg, together with my wife and two children.
What was your first Arabic grammar book?
“Lehrbuch des modernen Arabisch“ by Krahl/Reuschel/Schulz which nowadays has been transformed into an interactive new Arabic textbook including an electronic edition in many languages: www.modern-standard-arabic.net
What is your favorite Arabic book (novel, etc.)?
I can’t decide which of the following three is my favorite:
- Saud al-Sanousi’s Saaq al-Bambuu (The Bamboo Stalk). I spent a lot of time in the Gulf region (mainly UAE and Oman) when writing my PhD on a subject related to migration and identity in the Gulf countries with a focus on the discourse within the native Arab populations. This novel covers many aspects of the subject.
- Nadi al-Sayyarat (The Automobile Club of Egypt) by Alaa Al Aswany (and all other novels by Ala al-Aswani).
- al-Bir al-Awwal (The First Well: A Bethlehem Boyhood) by Jabra Ibrahim Jabra
–> What’s the story?
Saaq al-Bambuu: It is a coming-of-age story of a half-Filippino, half-Kuwaiti teen who returns to his father’s Kuwait. The novel addresses many current social issues, including who is accepted, what acceptance means, the hierarchies of Kuwaiti society, and the results of poverty.
RECOMMENDATION There is a learner’s edition using simplified Arabic with some hints and translations – you can get it here!
Nadi al-Sayyarat: In British-occupied Egypt, on the eve of the 1952 revolution, respected landowner Abd el-Aziz Gaafar has fallen on hard times. Bankrupt, he moves his family to Cairo and takes a menial job at the Automobile Club, a luxurious lodge for its European members, where Egyptians appear only as fearful servants. When Abd el-Aziz’s pride gets the better of him and he stands up for himself, he is subjected to a corporal punishment that ultimately kills him—leaving two of his sons obliged to work in the Club.
al-Bir al-Awaal: The First Well is an engaging autobiographical account of Jabra’s boyhood in Bethlehem, where he was born in 1920, and later in Jerusalem, where he moved as a teenager with his parents.
How much time does a native speaker of English need to master Arabic?
I would say that any non-Arabic native speaker needs around 4-5 years of regular training.
What is your favorite Arabic word?
I really like combinations with صاحب which can transform into so many different meanings:
صاحب العمل, صاحب الفضل, صاحب الجلالة, صاحب الفكرة, أصحاب الأقلام, أصحاب الشبهات
Which Arabic word do you like least?
From my early days of Arabic training, I remember words like ضرر or اضطرّ because it took me quite some time to pronounce them correctly, especially at normal speed or later, when practicing simultaneous interpreting.
Which Arabic dialect do you like best?
Levantine Arabic and Gulf Arabic.
What is your favorite Arabic colloquial word or expression?
Literal translation: The vessel is lost.
I first heard this phrase in the Syrian dialect and it was used to describe a state of complete chaos.
There are different stories about the origin of this idiom.
One of them says that it is all about the vessel that the servants in Arab public baths (hammams) used to bring water to wash the soap off their customers‘ bodies. If you then imagine what happens when this vessel is suddenly lost and you have all the people in the bath wanting to wash the soap off themselves, you get an idea of the chaos that led to the coinage of this phrase.
What is your favorite Arabic quote or proverb?
من جدّ وجد
Who toils succeeds.
What is the best thing that was ever said about the Arabic language?
“Somehow there is an implicit pact that governs which Arabic is to be used, on which occasions, for how long, and so forth.”Edward Said
Excursus: Who was Edward Said?
Edward Said (1935 – 2003) was a professor of literature at Columbia University and a founder of the academic field of postcolonial studies. A Palestinian American born in Mandatory Palestine, he was a citizen of the United States by way of his father, a U.S. Army veteran.
Educated in the Western canon, at British and American schools, Said applied his education and bi-cultural perspective to illuminating the gaps of cultural and political understanding between the Western world and the Eastern world, especially about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict in the Middle East.
Said is known for the book Orientalism (1978), a critique of the cultural representations that are the bases of Orientalism — how the Western world perceives the Orient.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Concerning language learning: My Russian teacher at school used to insist that we read Russian texts aloud for 10 minutes every day.
I came back to this advice when learning Arabic and it really helps to get a better understanding of and a feeling for a foreign language at the same time.
Which three people would you like to invite for dinner?
What was the last great meal you had?
Koshary at an Egyptian Koshary store in Abu Dhabi.
What is your favorite city?
Probably a place that does not exist but combines features of cities I lived in or visited:
The surroundings (black forest) of Freiburg, my current place of residence, the cosmopolitan diversity of London (where I spent a semester abroad at SOAS), the Gründerzeit architecture and spacious public parks of Leipzig, where I lived during my time at University and the atmosphere of Arab cities like Cairo or Beirut in the evening when after a long and hot day the city comes to life.
Which book would you give to a dear friend?
Probably one of the novels mentioned above.
What is your all-time favorite movie?
Bab’ Aziz (2005) by Nacer Khemir.
Remark: This is the story of a blind dervish named Bab’Aziz and his spirited granddaughter, Ishtar. Together they wander the desert in search of a great reunion of dervishes that takes place just once every thirty years. With faith as their only guide, the two journey for days through the expansive, barren landscape.
To keep Ishtar entertained, Bab’Aziz relays the ancient tale of a prince who relinquished his realm in order to remain next to a small pool in the desert, staring into its depths while contemplating his soul.
What music do you listen to?
Fayrouz, Suad Massi, Habib Koité among others.
When were you happiest?
Travelling is one of the things that make me happy:
First when preparing and planning the trip, then when being there and then finally when coming back home again.
I used to travel extensively during my time at University: to the Caucasus, Central Asia, Turkey and many Arab countries.
Nowadays I enjoy the happiness of working in a profession that I can pursue with passion and in which I am also my own master and make decisions on my own responsibility.
What is your greatest fear?
What is your life motto?
Where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Dr. Daniel Falk, thank you for your time.
People who were also interviewed:
- 20 questions for: Yehia Moldan (#24)
- 20 questions for: Sami Morcos (#23)
- 20 questions for: Nesrin Amin (#22)
- 20 questions for: Nikolaos Van Dam (#21)
- 20 questions for: Ghada Wali (#20)
Picture credit: Daniel Falk, pixabay (couleur).