Tarek Alshikh Kheder is a Syrian academic, poet and philosopher based in Belarus. Passionate about languages, he is interested in the process of translation. He believes it is necessary for the translator to give the text something from the spirit, without destroying the main significance of the text.
We talk to Tarek about cultural heritage, languages and literature.
What was your journey to becoming interested in languages and literature?
Since I was fifteen, I started my journey reading philosophy and novels in Arabic. This kind of reading led me to me to my passion to go deeper and deeper into literature and philosophy. As for languages, I have a main purpose in my life, which is to be a global citizen, and I will achieve this purpose when I become a polyglot, which means to speak at least 4 languages.
You are currently undertaking a PhD, can you tell us more about your areas of research?
My PhD research is specifically about “The poetry of place in the poems of W.B. Yeats and Seamus Heaney” and I’m going to deal with space from different aspects such as physical, architectural, geographical and cultural. I addition, I’m going to dig deeper in the Irish identity and Gaelic language. Furthermore, I will go further in studying the modern Irish history.
How does your cultural heritage inspire your creativity and work?
As you know, Syrian heritage and culture is very old and rich, and very diverse. We have a great civilization, all of which inspired me to ask more questions, and try to find modern answers to these questions. In addition, I chose to teach languages online in order to reach as many people as possible around the world from different cultures.
You are a native Arabic speaker and speak English and Russian fluently. What has the process of learning languages been like for you?
Learning new languages is something very interesting for me, but also, it's a challenge. When I started learning Russian it was very hard at the beginning, and I didn't imagine that one day I'll be able to ask and reply quickly as now. So, it was a challenge and still, because for me I can't say ok this the summit of learning language and there is no need to learn more. As for me, learning languages is like sailing in the depths of the ocean, the more you sail, the more you discover the depth, accuracy and beauty of the language.
Why is the preservation of language important for cultural heritage?
Firstly, because language is the main tool of communication between cultures and people around the world. Secondly, by using languages we can show to other people our culture, folklore, fairy tales and traditions. So, I think that without languages there will be no developing for humanity, and there will be no communication among people.
As a poet, can you tell us more about your approach to creating a poetic language?
For me, I like both the rhyme poetic style and free verse style, but in fact most of the texts in my book are in the free verse. I focus on thoughts and poetic images more than the poetic style, because for me every poem has a message, and as a poet I have to show this message in the suitable and specific words regardless the poetic style.
Can you share one of your poetry works with us?
Here is one of my favorite poems from my book “The Storm of Existence” under the title of “Mystery”:
It is an unknown thing and lives in everywhere and made his home out of everlasting time, space and the immortality
It doesn’t know except himself
And weaves his soul from the depths of dream lovers.
It is a ghost is anonymous and as a spectrum without colors its reflections
It is the well of everything extraordinary because out of the depths of the unknown emerged and without any clear reason found,
And the only aim for him to rise the presence of his lovers up where the feeling of existence, will be such a storm to see what is behind the clouds
It is an abstract act from everything, but we as humans call acts as beautiful or infamous
The secret of matching between everything is.
In jumping from a personal thing to non-personal you see it in front of you
It is the liberation, telepathy, dialogue and flirtation
continuity and illimitable
Between things and their shadow and reflection
On every atom of dust written his name without a language and metaphor a
In some day it was called by a mysterious person as a love
You published your first book The Storm of Existence in 2016. What is the book about?
It was about collection of poems about different topics, I used free verse for most of them and a few of them were in the rhyme verse. Also, I added two small philosophical and physical essays at the beginning of the book and six at the end of the book in order to give a preface about my intellectual and scientific background
Do you translate your works in different languages? If so, what are the challenges to translating texts?
Yes, I translate some of my texts to English. There are some challenges in translating any literary work such as nuances between languages, and the way of expressing in every language is different for the other. So, it's not easy work to translate poetic words into another language especially if the target language has a very different context and structure. However, this kind of still very interesting for me to transfer and share ideas from one language to another one.
How does philosophy influence your academic and creative work?
Philosophy has the most essential role on my research and my poems as well. For me, everything you want to express or discuss comes out of thoughts. That's why you can't avoid the role of philosophy, because I think philosophy doesn't mean only to discuss or argue thoughts, but rather it's a methodology. Besides, in my opinion everyone who wants to work in the research fields, he or she should have the critical thinking.
You teach Arabic and English. What are your methods for teaching?
I have different methods and I use them based on the level of each student. I focus on all skills of the language, but I tailor my lessons based on every student’s needs. However, the main method that I use it with all of my students is interaction. I show and explain to my student how native speakers talk and interact with their languages, and I ask my students to try to do the same, because for me language isn't only words or phrases, but also feelings and emotions. Also, I show my students facial language and how to do these movements like native speakers.
The Arabic language has a rich tradition, which is also linked to Islamic heritage. How can we better understand the culture behind the language?
First of all, you need to learn Arabic language at least to intermediate level, because learning and understanding the language it will be the gateway to understanding Arabic culture more. I think that learning any language in the world it gives you a chance to go deeper into culture of this country, otherwise you will have only a general image and general information on any culture. So, I think that learning Arabic language is the best to go deeper into this rich culture.
For those looking to develop language skills, what advice do you have?
They need to practice all their skills together.
They need to be brave when they try to speak or write or read no matter the number of mistakes they do.
They need to live with the language they learn which means they have to listen a lot, to read loudly, to speak with someone native speaker.
They have to try to imitate the natives in their reactions, facial movements and body language.
All these steps I did them when I was learning Russian, and they were effective for me.
Can you share some of your favourite words?
Are you currently working on any projects currently?
Yes, I'm working now with something very special on Arabic language and Syrian culture in the following months I will keep it surprise for now. Also, I'm trying to translate some poems of my book and translate the last essay that I published 8 months ago in Danish a newspaper in Arabic language about the British philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti.
What does the future of Islamic art, heritage and culture look like to you and how can language contribute to its development?
I think Islamic art has a great future because every Arabic learner is interested about culture, and in my opinion, art is the best way to attract anybody to the culture that related to. So, I believe that Arabic language and dialects as well can play an essential role in contribution in the development of Islamic culture.
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