Janna Kim was just your regular girl growing up in South Korea. When she decided to study Arabic on a whim, she never imagined how it would change her life. Now, she is working as an interpreter the Sharjah International Book Fair (SIBF) where South Korea is the guest of honor. Her perfect Arabic skills along with her mastery of the Emirati dialect of the language has earned her star status at the fair.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, she admitted that she stumbled on the Arabic language by chance. A student at the foreign language institute, Janna was embarrassed when she was the only one at university who didn’t know any other languages than Korean and English. “I was looking to learn a new language,” she said. “A lot of my friends were learning other European languages like German and French, but I wanted to do something different.”
The girl who loved Arabic
It was her desire to be different that led her to Arabic, however that changed when she began lessons. “When I started studying the language, I fell in love with Arabic and the Arab culture,” she said. “So, I began learning fus’ha, the classical Arabic in my university. Then, I started learning some dialects. First, I learnt the Egyptian dialect. Then I started focusing on the Rams al Arabiya, or the Emirati dialect.”
She said her family was surprised when she started Arabic lessons. “They didn’t know anything about the language,” she said. “They asked me why not choose a European language, but I was adamant on Arabic. The beauty of the language won me over.”
At the time, she said that Arabic was not very popular in Korea and not many people learnt it. However, she says that has changed a lot since. “Now there are a lot of people who want to learn Arabic and are enrolling for classes,” she said.
She admitted that the journey of learning the language was extremely hard. “It was very difficult,” she said. “I poured all my energy into it. It took me more than a year to just get a hang of the language. Then it took another three years for me to start working as an interpreter.”
To aid her study of the language, Janna has changed the interface on her phone to Arabic. “I just wanted to steep myself in the culture,” she said. “And changing my phone to Arabic helped me learn more. It is an ongoing process. Even now, I don’t consider myself as someone who has mastery in Arabic.”
Now here as part of the South Korean team, Janna also hosts an Arabic podcast about SIBF. She said she is in love with the UAE, and it is her dream to live here. “This is the third time I am coming here, and I just love everything about this country,” she said. “The language, the culture, the people. I am just really hoping that I can find a job and move here. I love this place.”