Among the number of foreign languages that you can study, why should you learn Arabic? It is not an easy language to learn and has nothing in common with English. Therefore, a speaker of English will have a difficult time to learn it. But looking at the positive side, learning Arabic can offer several benefits.
If you think of the advantages of learning Arabic, the effort and time that you would dedicate to learn the language would all be worth it.
Important thing to do:
1. Choose a dialect from the beginning and stick with it
If you’re reading this and you’ve decided to learn Arabic but don’t know anything about it, it’s important that you know there are lots of different ‘Arabics’.
People from the West coast of Africa right across to Asia speak Arabic and everywhere you go it sounds totally different, has different words, different grammar and in some cases sounds like an entirely different language (yet still called “Arabic”).
So before anyone learns Arabic they need to decide what part of the Arab world they’re interested in and make a decision to stick with that particular variety of Arabic at least for the time being. You’re not going to get far if you divide your attention (I say the same about learning any two languages at the same time). In the early days I started out with Levantine (Palestinian) and Iraqi Arabic, and also Modern Standard Arabic for reading (the formal dialect of the media). I eventually switched to Egyptian and ended up spending the next 10 years of my life focused mainly on Egypt and getting my Egyptian Arabic to a high level but if I had of just chosen Egyptian from the beginning I could have made much more effective use of my time. That’s not to say that Levantine, Iraqi and MSA didn’t benefit my Egyptian.It definitely did.But it would have been better to focus on one dialect from the beginning.Our resource TalkInArabic.com currently offers 8 spoken varieties of Arabic.We also recommend this resource for Egyptian Arabic.
2. I would not attempt to learn Modern Standard Arabic firstOr even at the same time as learning a spoken dialect.
I say choose a variety of Arabic and stick with it but if your goal is to learn to speak Arabic, then forget about Modern Standard Arabic and focus on something people actually speak. Modern Standard Arabic isn’t spoken by anyone on Earth as a native language. It’s archaic, it’s grammatically more complicated to learn than spoken dialects and you will understand virtually nobody when you travel to the Arab world (apart from the TV). Save yourself the regret and read this article I wrote which explains why I’m so against learning it first. I made the mistake of devoting quite a bit of time to it in the early stages and getting continually frustrated when it conflicted with everything I was learning about Egyptian. As I said above, it’s not that it didn’t help me in the end (especially having worked in translation in recent years), but at the time it would have been better not to.
3. Learn the alphabet immediately and not just resort to Arabizi / Franco Arabic
If you want to learn Arabic, don’t be put off by the alphabet! Arabic script is actually what’s called an abjad which means it’s an alphabet primarily made up of consonants without vowels. This means that a word like computer written in Arabic looks like this: km**b*ywtr.* The problem is when you see a word written like this and you’ve never encountered it before, it’s very hard or impossible to know how it’s pronounced unless you can hear it. You can guess but you just can’t know (you do improve at this at higher levels and can make more accurate guesses). I think this is one of the main reasons why people avoid the alphabet altogether and use materials with transliterations.This is a mistake.
The thing is – yes it will be confusing and difficult to read at first but as long as you have quality material with audio and/or a native speaker to listen to (all very easily accessible these days either in person or online), you’ll get used to it.Have you ever seen this before? There have been studies which have proven that when we read text, we don’t read every letter of every word. We see the outer letters, but the ones on the inside can be scrambled up.Chances are we won’t even notice mistakes while we’re reading. What this means is that when you get used to Arabic words – just like English – you’re not actually spelling the word out anyway.
You’re just recognizing the image of the word in a sense. So for example if I take a simple word like كتاب, I know instantly by looking at this word without spelling out it’s individual letters what it is and what it means.I’ve associated the image of that word with sound and meaning. The problem is if you always resort to Arabizi / Franco Arabic, you’ll never improve at this. It’s a lazy way out and will affect you majorly later on.Also, pretty much all good quality resources for Arabic use the Arabic alphabet.You’re missing out on quality material if you avoid it. I made the mistake early on trying to just write Arabic using English letters. This caused delays for me later on down the track The alphabet’s a piece of cake as I explained here so why not take some time to learn it?
4. I would recognize and practice the importance of Arab acculturation and assimilation from day 1
This is one of the most important things I’ll tell you.IiTo the Jews I became a Jew.To the Greeks I became a Greek. Every time I step off a plane somewhere new in the world this ancient bit of wisdom that I live my life by comes back to me (admittedly way out of context but still!). Assimilators learn languages better than anyone else.They appreciate and understand other cultures better than anyone else. And vitally, they earn the respect and trust of local people better than anyone else.This is one thing I was always mindful of even when I started with Arabic and I’d do it all again.To the Arabs I became an Arab.There’s a big difference between learning Arabic and becoming Arab. Of course you’ll never become an Arab in the literal sense but it’s a mindset that will drive you to succeed with the language. I’ve applied this same principle in every country I’ve lived in around the world while learning the local languages and I always earn respect from local people for it. The one thing that really separates what I do on this blog from most other language learning blogs out there is that I take a very holistic approach to language learning which encompasses complete assimilation into the target language culture. For me language immersion and cultural immersion cannot be separated. As far as I’m concerned language fluency only comes about when you’re fluent in the culture as well (so to speak!).I often encounter people too who say things like “I want to learn Arabic but I don’t really like Arab culture.”
My response is “Forget it. You’ve already failed.”If you don’t respect and appreciate the culture and its people then don’t waste your time.And if you want to truly excel in any language, strive to assimilate.
5. I would devote time in the beginning to surrounding myself with and listening to the target dialect Be a fly on the wall in every Arabic speaking community you can find.
I can’t emphasize this enough if you want to learn Arabic as quickly as possible.Assuming you’re living in a Western country in or close by a major city – you’ve probably got Arab community groups and events going on somewhere. I attended every event I could when I started Arabic (Arabic-speaking churches, Islamic events, cultural festivals, refugee centers). If I even suspected that there were going to be Arabic speakers there, I was there. If I started again I’d be even more active in finding every single opportunity to be around people and if this wasn’t possible, I’d at least have Arabic media playing in my house every day just so my ears adjust to it and Skyping with Arabic speakers daily.