From Iraq to Poland, From Arabic to Polish
Generally, being born to Polish parents does not guarantee that your kids will speak the language like a native speaker. That is the experience of Lubna Raad Al-Hamdani, who was born to a Polish mother and an Iraqi father and lived in Iraq until her twenties…
Due to the tumultuous history of Poland, many Poles have been born outside Poland. Some of them decide to return to Poland as adults and often wonder whether they will be able to adapt to Polish society and if they will be able to speak the language like a native. Lubna seems to have found her way in Poland just fine!
She is a mother, a Muslim, a doctor and a wife. When she is not working at the hospital, she is taking her three-year-old to loads of extracurricular lessons and posting pictures of the life of a Muslim in Poland on Instagram – which involves a large number of coffees and some awesome stories. Lubna also finds the time to volunteer with different organisations to improve dialogue and understanding among cultures. She is engaged in numerous multicultural initiatives, which aim to improve mutual understanding among people of different cultural backgrounds.
She reads everything she can get her hands on about medicine and her family is always informed about world politics. She reads the Polish daily newspapers and weeklies. Lubna likes to be in the swim of things. She has Polish Radio on all day long, she listens to different broadcasts about society and politics.
One of her best friends in her professional life is... Google Translate. She always tries to mind her grammar and looks things up online when she is not absolutely sure if she is correct.
All of her closest relatives moved to Poland towards the end of the war in Iraq. It was 2006, the war was technically over, but Iraq was still not a safe place to be, so she and her family decided to flee:
They were often shooting at airplanes, so we had to go from Baghdad to Jordan by car, from Jordan to Turkey by airplane and then fly from Turkey to Poland.
Lubna’s Polish Lessons
While in Iraq, both of her parents spoke to her and her siblings in Polish. At the same time, they were attending school and spoke Arabic in class and with their classmates.
We understood Polish fluently. However, our spoken and written Polish, as well as our reading, was very bad. I really only started to learn the language when I was 20, at the beginning of my medical studies, so I was pretty much studying Polish and medicine simultaneously. I could not study in English because that course required paying a high fee. Since I had a Polish passport, I could study as a Pole... in Polish.
Ever since then, she has been learning Polish on her own. Lubna did not enrol in any language course. She sat down with her father – who had also learnt Polish as an adult, and he explained all the grammar, adjectives and declinations and later she continued learning on her own.
Like Lubna, her father speaks Polish very well. He finished his doctorate in Poland. Although he had the opportunity to do it in English, he decided to do it in Polish. He studied nutrition at the Warsaw University of Life Sciences.
Lubna, on the other hand, knew from a very young age that she wanted to become a doctor. Her younger sister studied dentistry and her other siblings studied Information Technology.
When I had problems my mother would help me. She speaks to me in Arabic now and when we first arrived in Poland she always tried to explain things to me. I knew Polish at a certain level, I could understand almost everything. But I couldn’t really communicate.
During her studies, she had a great group of teaching assistants and professors who understood her situation – being Polish, while not speaking Polish. They knew she had not really used her Polish back in Iraq and they helped her out a lot – whether prepping for exams or, for instance, giving her the opportunity to retake a test.
Other people also helped me. My group at university would lend me their notes so that I could go over them and try to understand everything.
Funny experiences with the language
At the beginning, my vocabulary was quite limited. I did not differentiate between words that are more official and ones which should probably be used only among friends. I remember one day there was a professor that asked me if everything was alright and I said: Spoko, wszystko do przodu (Cool, everything‘s going smoothly).
Lubna is still learning the language, it is an ongoing process, and sometimes she makes mistakes. However, it took her around six months to feel comfortable and confident with her Polish.
Colleagues at work make fun of me sometimes. The older you are the more obligations you have. So I have to brush up on my Polish when I am not at work. My son, at the age of three, already speaks Polish, Arabic and English. It’s better if he learns while he is young. You never know what the future will bring.
Most of her friends are Polish, among them also Poles with Arab roots. Lubna’s studies aren’t over – she is currently studying to be a surgeon.
Her parents were well off in Iraq, they were leading happy lives and did not expect that they would ever leave. They could have never imagined that Polish would come to be useful. Today Lubna wants to make sure her son speaks all three languages fluently – you never know which one will come in handy!
Written by Alexis Angulo, Apr 2017