How a Film Director Learns Arabic on italki

July 4th, 2013 | Posted by ross in tips

We love to hear how our italki users are overcoming the challenges of learning languages, and Nicole Ballivian has quite a story to share with us.

Read on to learn about Nicole and her language learning experiences.

Nicole in Hebron

Nicole and an actor in Hebron


Tell us a little about yourself
I’m an American Film Director who usually makes international movies. A Sundance Screenwriters Lab Fellow and recipient of a few international awards for films. [Check out her site –]

What language are you learning?

What would you say your level is now?
My level started at intermediate, and since I’ve been taking it intensively for three months, I’d say I’m uber-intermediate now.

Why are you learning that language?
I have the aim of becoming fluent in the Palestinian dialect of Arabic in order to communicate clearly with my cast for my upcoming film to be shot in the West Bank city of Hebron. It’s called Sleeping on Stones.

The Sleeping on Stones film was selected for the 2012 Cairo Film Connection at the Cairo International Film Festival.

The Sleeping on Stones film was selected for the 2012 Cairo Film Connection at the Cairo International Film Festival.

What are you using/doing to improve your fluency?
I am taking classes three times a week with a Palestinian teacher and I’m going on Youtube to scope out any Palestinian videos that have English subtitles. Also practicing with Palestinian friends and local liquor store owners.

What difficulties have you had learning this language?
Arabic grammar even in the “‘ammiya version” (spoken, colloquial) is very difficult. Verb conjugation can be intimidating but as long as I keep trying and don’t mind sounding like a five-year-old for now, I know I’ll get it eventually.

What tips would you have for people learning this or any other language?
I would say in order to learn a language fluently (as I speak Spanish and French as well, took Russian in high school and college), you have to consistently immerse yourself in it. You have to speak it a lot. Force your brain to think in the language as if you were living in a foreign country. Ways to do this is by taking classes with a native speaker multiple times a week. Watch the news in the language so you can pair images with words. Write down vocabulary and verb conjugations, go through them daily. Practice with friends or make friends on italki. Don’t be shy and get corrected a lot; it will only help you learn more quickly in the end.


If you would like to learn more about Nicole and her movies, check out:

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If you are interested in learning Arabic, remember to check out our Arabic teachers on italki.

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