Arabic classes – how to choose what works for you

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Take Arabic classes

Arabic classes – how to choose what works for you

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic LearnerTake organized Arabic classes given by a skilled instructor, in order to be able to follow a learning curriculum that has been set by someone who has experience in facilitating Arabic language learning. Classes provide a framework that can dramatically accelerate your progress in all areas of Arabic. They also provide feedback and evaluation, which are essential to prevent the recurring mistakes we make from becoming a permanent part of our language (a process known as “fossilization”). These classes can be in person or online.

“In class they are going to show you why it works this way, or why it shouldn’t work this way but perhaps does…” (David Wilmsen)

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

Experiencing Arabic classes

Over the past months I have been writing about mindsets and daily habits that can help you become a more effective Arabic learner. This week I will shift gears into the next section of the 15 Skills of an effective Arabic Learner, and begin to look at organized Systems that can help you learn more effectively.

Perhaps the most common system that we think of, when it comes to learning any language, is the classroom.

In a best-case scenario, a classroom provides:

  • a set of objectives and a framework for your learning that lets you make systematic progress toward your Arabic goals
  • a skilled teacher who knows the obstacles and hurdles that you will face at given points along the way
  • immediate feedback on your Arabic that is friendly and gentle, making you feel empowered to improve
  • ongoing evaluation of your overall progress that is clear and encouraging
  • an experience that is centered on you and your fellow students
  • all of this in an environment that is enjoyable, not stressful, and worth the financial investment you have made

If your Arabic class provides you with all of these things, please stop reading this blog post right now and take a minute to write a thank you note to your teacher. Then continue reading.

If your current experience does not match this, then you are in the same situation as many learners who take Arabic classes. Unfortunately, although we all hope to have good class experiences, it doesn’t always work out that way. Continue reading “Arabic classes – how to choose what works for you”

Listen to Arabic – resource list and strategies

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Listen to Arabic daily

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic LearnerListen to Arabic being used – spoken, sung, or recited – every day. This is foundational to building understanding, pronunciation, and a sense of the rhythm of how the language is spoken. By listening every day, you will develop an ear that can comprehend verbal Arabic effectively. This listening can be include some periods of active listening, but also longer periods of having Arabic playing in the background as you do other tasks. Daily listening builds your confidence and level of comfort when it comes to engaging in conversations in Arabic.

“It is very difficult to reach a high level of proficiency in speaking without being almost native in listening…the listening builds up vocabulary, and when you are listening the grammar and pronunciation become correct.” (Abbas Al-Tonsi)

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

Listen to Arabic – Resource List and Strategies

Magnetic reel to listen to Arabic
When I first began to listen to Arabic as a structured part of my learning, it involved signing out the old 7” magnetic reel audio tapes from the language lab at the American University in Cairo. Before you start thinking that I am a true dinosaur, in my defense I plead that the technology being used there was not entirely up to date for its time. It was 1991.

Cassette to listen to ArabicBack in my student apartment, I was using more conventional cassette tapes to record Arabic news broadcasts from the radio.

56k Modem to listen to ArabicAround 2000 and 2001, I remember the excitement of realizing that I could download an increasing number of useful audio clips and movies from the internet. This was at times an excruciating exercise because we would go online with a 56K modem connection (in 2001 I did manage to upgrade to a dreamy 128K).

YouTube and Podcasts to listen to ArabicFast forward to 2007 or 2008, and I was able to happily listen to Arabic and view it on YouTube, and other media sites. In the past few years, I have started listening to podcasts that automatically download onto my phone and iPad.

Whether you are an old-timer or relatively new as an Arabic learner, listening plays an important role in your becoming fluent in the language. Research has shown that listening typically takes up to 40-50% of our total communication[1]. Continue reading “Listen to Arabic – resource list and strategies”

Arabic Interrogatives – Quiz Yourself!

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Arabic Interrogatives Quiz

Modern Standard Arabic grammar

This week I am taking a break from writing about the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner, because I have been wanting to create some resources that can actually be used by learners.

A few people have asked me about resources for intermediate level learners, and this quiz is aimed toward that skill level. I hope it’s helpful for some (or even most) of you.

 

Read Arabic daily – 7 helpful sources

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Read Arabic daily

Read Arabic to develop proficiency in the language

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic LearnerRead Arabic daily, and push yourself to complete reading something in Arabic every day. Reading is foundational to enriching your vocabulary and engraining Arabic structures and styles of discourse into your thinking. It is not difficult to find materials to read in Arabic, whether news, commentary, religious, social media, or many other forms. Try to read things through to their end even when you don’t understand every word. The discipline of reading to the end (whether a chapter, blog entry, tweet, or article) overcomes our tendency to drop focus when we don’t understand everything.

“… we help them to get really good at reading…the proficiency that they develop and the confidence that they develop doing that spills over…” (Kirk Belnap)

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

Reading Arabic as a life skill

I remember standing in Tahrir Square in Cairo in 1991 with a friend who was telling me where he lived, and he pointed in a certain direction and said “Do you see that billboard for Mustapha Ali?”. Mustapha Ali was a company that sold, if I recall correctly, lighting fixtures. My eyes scanned the multitude of billboards in the busy square, and suddenly found the Mustapha Ali one… written مصطفى علي. Suddenly, I felt this incredible feeling of accomplishment, that I had actually negotiated one very small aspect of life using my newly developed skill of reading in Arabic.

7 great sources for those who want to read Arabic

Let me start this post by getting straight to “the goods”. Many people who want to read Arabic just need someone to point them to useful places they can read things. Here’s my current list of 7 very useful places on which you can read Arabic in a way that contributes to your learning the language.

Al-Jazeera resources to read arabicAl-Jazeera Learning Arabic site – An absolutely great site with huge amounts of useful reading materials, fully vowelized, on a wide variety of topics from news and current events. Includes questions, vocabulary, and exercises. Highly useful for intermediate to advanced readers. My current top pick for Arabic learners who want to read.

Read Arabic siteRead Arabic! اقرأ العربية site. Funded by the US Department of Education, the materials of Read Arabic! were developed to provide online e-learning reading lessons aimed at beginning and intermediate students of the language. Good stuff here. Continue reading “Read Arabic daily – 7 helpful sources”

Arabic Vocabulary – build it daily

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Arabic Vocabulary

Arabic Vocabulary – build it daily

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner

Build your vocabulary daily by adding at least one new word or expression to your repertoire each day. There will be days where you will learn much more than one item, but by setting a minimum of one term per day, you will ensure that your mind stays freshly focused on expanding your active vocabulary at all times. Over time, this will lead to a significant increase in your ability to understand and express yourself in Arabic.

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

Cairo hotels on the Nile
Photo: Vyacheslav Argenberg.

My wife and I walked into the five star hotel, surrounded by people dressed in all kinds of chic, formal, and dazzling attire. My wife looked incredible. I was feeling pretty good. The wedding reception we were attending was fun. The music was loud. The moon was reflecting off of the pyramids nearby. Cairo nightlife at its best. Arabic vocabulary was not on my mind.

Needing to make those final last minute adjustments in front of a mirror before stepping into the ballroom, we made our way to the front desk to ask about the whereabouts of the washrooms.

Andrew: mesaa’ il-kheer / مساء الخير  (Good evening)

Receptionist: mesaa’ in-nour / مساء النور (Good evening)

Andrew: feen il-________ / فين ـــــــــ  (Where is the ___________?)

Substitute in the blank space above a crass, inappropriate word for “restroom facilities”. Use your imagination. Or don’t!

Wife: <facepalm>

Receptionist: (awkwardly) hinaak / هناك  (Over there…)

You may be wondering why this was so awkward for my wife and the receptionist. It was my choice of vocabulary for the washroom. I had learned the word on the street, and didn’t realize that it was not considered “polite language” for the setting that we were in (for those with any background in linguistics, you will recognize this as a sociolinguistic plot twist).

This is what I call a ‘Vocabulary Incident’. That is not a scientific term, or a term based on research. It is just my term that I use for situations involving Arabic vocabulary when something doesn’t work. I use it to refer to times when:

  • I don’t know a word in Arabic that I need to know
  • I know a form of a word that is not appropriate to the context I am in (such as the situation above)
  • I think I know a word or expression in Arabic, but the word/expression that I know is not the correct one

Continue reading “Arabic Vocabulary – build it daily”

My Happily Ever After

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My happily ever after خلاص

[Editor’s note: I am really excited to have Monica beginning to write some posts about her experience of learning Egyptian Arabic. I am going to be having her share some of the process that she lives out in real time over these months ahead. For you, the reader, it will break the monotony of me writing each week… and hopefully will inspire some of you who are launching your Arabic learning, or thinking of launching. – Andrew]

“Khalas خلاص,” I simply replied. And I lived happily ever after.

No one taught me to say khalas خلاص. To this day no one has explained the definition to me. But that hasn’t stopped me from using the word. Especially early on in my time in Cairo, this word came in handy. It was like a gold nugget in my pocket.

When I moved to Cairo in 2015, I knew only a few words of Egyptian Arabic from a trip to the pyramids in 2004. I knew how to say things like table, chair, sunglasses, flip-flops, and thank you. And when I say that I knew how to say these things, what I mean is that I knew how to string together sounds which in my mind sounded similar to actual Arabic. In reality, it’s quite likely I was just doing my fair share of butchering the language.

I don’t remember the first time I heard someone say khalas خلاص. But I was able, by listening, to learn what it means and how to use it. Let’s see if you can figure it out. Continue reading “My Happily Ever After”

24 ideas to activate your Arabic today

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Activate what you learn

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic LearnerUse what you have already learned in Arabic immediately. One of the dangers that some people fall into is growing in their knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation, but never taking initiative to actually use it in real life. If you make a daily habit of using your Arabic in some small way, you will have broken the inertia of passive learning and will be actively increasing your Arabic level.

“To keep [Arabic] in your head, you have to use it.” (David Wilmsen)

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

Habits for learning Arabic

What habits do you have that are helping you learn Arabic? What habits do you wish you had?

AristotleAristotle said, about habits, We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. 

This week, I’ll begin to discuss some of the daily habits that make up a solid Arabic learning strategy. With the right mindsets in place, choosing what you will repeatedly do will form habits of excellence in you as an Arabic learner.

Over the past weeks I have discussed the five key mindsets that are essential skills of an Arabic learner. These include setting fluency as your aim, committing to interact, being enthusiastic, accepting ambiguity, and making mistakes. I call them skills because they are mindsets that are intentionally developed through conscious effort, not gifts that are endowed on random people. Each of these mindsets came up repeatedly as I discussed learning Arabic with 6 thought-leaders in the field of teaching Arabic. If you develop these mindsets, you will be positioned to learn Arabic effectively.

What I am trying to do with this applied research and discussion is to help you form a learning strategy for acquiring Arabic. If you have not yet read the overall strategy given in The 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner, I recommend that you download that now and skim through it. Then come back to this post.

The first habit is to activate the Arabic you learn by using it daily. This post is going to give you 21 ideas that you can put into action today to begin to use your Arabic. Continue reading “24 ideas to activate your Arabic today”

Make Mistakes when learning Arabic

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Make mistakes

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner

In order to grow as an Arabic learner, you need to make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. The more that you experiment and get things wrong as you use Arabic, the more feedback and growth you will experience. The fear of failure can prevent you from attempting to speak or listen in Arabic (or write and read), and can set up anxiety filters that make it difficult to process and learn. Usually, our fear of failure is based on a false feel that we are incapable of learning, or on a false perception of what others will think of us as we begin to use our imperfect Arabic. Overcoming your fear of failure in Arabic means believing in yourself, laughing at your own mistakes (knowing they are helping you in your journey, not hindering you), and choosing to show off your growing skills to the world rather than hiding “imperfect” skills.

“… students notice errors, their own and other students’, and learn from them.” (Laila Al-Sawi)

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

My report card

1.  Instead of calling my friend Hala by her proper name in Arabic, “haala” / هالة (meaning: halo, aura… a common Arabic name for women), I called her “Haala” / حالة with the ح or aspirated H, which means a “case”, as in a hospital case or a person who is a complicated case of something. The way I pronounced it can be used as slang to tell someone that she is complicated. Oops. A pronunciation mistake.

2. At the hospital a few days ago, following my mother-in-law’s hip replacement surgery, I told the (male) assistant doctor to come see my mother-in-law the next day. But I used the female form of “come” ( ta3aalii / تعالي) instead of the male form. An awkward morphology mistake.

3. While providing feedback to (shouting at) the watchman of our apartment building for having acted obnoxiously/inappropriately, I declared he was “rudeness” (‘illit adab / قلة أدب) instead of “rude” (‘aliil al-adab / قليل الأدب). This caused my wife to snicker from behind the door, which did not strengthen my sense of righteous indignation. A vocabulary mistake at the wrong time.

4. Last month, my car broke down – the alternator belt broke. While talking with the mechanic, I didn’t know the word for alternator, couldn’t remember the word for belt, and found myself stumbling over all the Arabic I was trying to produce. The mechanic looked at me blankly. Complete communication breakdown. Continue reading “Make Mistakes when learning Arabic”

Ambiguity: Four ways you can learn from not fully understanding Arabic

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Accept ambiguity

Accept Ambiguity.

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner

Accept ambiguity in your conversations and interactions in Arabic. Being able to accept and be comfortable with situations in which you do not understand everything that is being said to you (or written) is essential to learning Arabic. Having the flexibility to be able to adapt to input that is slightly beyond your ability to fully grasp will stretch you and cause you to apply internal learning strategies that advance your language skills.

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

An unfortunate scenario of not understanding everything

 

“Thank you very much for your offer, but for this daughter of yours, a thousand pounds would never be enough!” Setting aside the thorny issues of arranged marriages, finances, and power relationships in families in a conservative society, this sentence probably signifies the high water mark of my Arabic language blunders. It shows how awkward it can be to not understand everything being communicated around you in Arabic.

I was visiting a village in southern Egypt. I was young and thought I knew a lot of Arabic. While being introduced to the extended family of my friend I was staying with, they told me with a smile that they wanted me to marry into the family so I could stay with them forever. Arranged marriages are common in village life. I knew enough to realize that they weren’t serious, but rather were just paying a compliment to me. That compliment being, if I would pay 1000 Egyptian Pounds, I could marry their daughter Fatma. She was sitting in the room with us at the time, looking as awkward as I felt.

 ممكن تدفع ألف جنيه

Mumkin tidfa3 alf guineeh…

(you can pay 1000 pounds…)

Unfortunately, rather than do the safe thing and just laugh and not really respond, I decided to be clever with my Arabic. Continue reading “Ambiguity: Four ways you can learn from not fully understanding Arabic”

Be enthusiastic when learning Arabic

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Be enthusiastic

Enthusiasm and the emotion of learning Arabic

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner

Be enthusiastic. Choose a positive, energetic approach to learning Arabic. This will bring about a genuine change in how you experience the process of acquiring the language. It will heighten your ability to receive and process Arabic input, it will accelerate your ability to grasp and learn new things, and it will give you resilience and persistence when the journey seems long. It will also make the process much more enjoyable and fascinating.

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

Enthusiasm is more than commitment

Several years into my Arabic learning experience I found myself committed to learning Arabic, but not very enthusiastic about it.

I lived in one of Cairo’s poor areas. I enjoyed the excitement, the constant activity, the closeness of people, and the endless variety of experiences. I was (and perhaps still am) an experience junkie. I love being exposed to life in all of its different modes.

To experience my life in the slums to its fullest, I needed Arabic. I knew that. But having already spent several years studying the language, I was running out of enthusiasm. I was still going up to the American University in Cairo on the metro (subway) every day for Arabic classes (at that time it was located in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo), but learning the language had become a necessity, not a pleasure.

At that point, I began to notice that my progress became noticeably slower. Having lost my enthusiasm, I became less effective in learning Arabic. Continue reading “Be enthusiastic when learning Arabic”