Learn Arabic language on the job

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Learn Arabic language on the job

People often say that when you dream in a language that you have been learning, you are really becoming fluent. For me, there is something that is much more practical and a better measure of reality if you want to learn Arabic language. That’s when you can work in Arabic. Not just study it, or have casual discussions in academic settings.

Four non-native speakers who used Arabic effectively at work

Over my past 25 years in the Arab world, I have come across four non-native Arabic speakers whom I have seen learn Arabic language effectively and use it in their day to day work. I have definitely met more than these four, but they are the ones that stick out in my mind.

Lisa White - able to learn Arabic language and use it at workThe first was an Arabic teacher of mine whose name is Lisa White. Lisa is a teacher at the American University in Cairo, in the Intensive Arabic Program. When I first met Lisa in 1991, I was shocked to see her speaking Arabic fluently despite the fact that she is American, and even more shocked to find her teaching it. I had previously had non-native speakers of Arabic as Arabic language teachers at the University of Toronto, but in my mind I knew that was different. Lisa’s Arabic was not limited to the academic texts she prepared in advance. She was comfortable in the language, could (seemingly, to me at least) talk about anything in it with her Egyptian colleagues, and could naturally teach and transfer the language to us, her students.

Egyptian Ministry of Education - not my recommended place to learn Arabic languageThe second person was someone I met while working as a consultant in the Egyptian Ministry of Education. I confess that I do not remember her name, but she was delivering a talk to a group of about 1000 Egyptian English teachers that we were training, and was very effective. She was also very outgoing and funny… in Arabic. Despite the fact that she was British. Although her content was about teaching English, she delivered it mostly in Arabic, and had the trainees captivated and engaged the whole time. She would launch into jokes, side stories, or political rants. This was just before the Iraq war in 2003, and I remember a button she had pinned on her jacket which said لا لضرب العراق (No to striking Iraq). Continue reading “Learn Arabic language on the job”

Arabic use in real life – five levels

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Five levels of Arabic

This week’s blog post is an infographic I made the other day, after speaking with Laila Al-Sawi of the Intensive Arabic Program at the American University in Cairo.  She made reference to the five levels of Arabic use described by the late El-Said Bedawi, and it got me thinking about how Classical Arabic (فصحى) and colloquial Arabic (عامية) are not as distinctly separated as many books and teaching approaches make it out to be. Rather, there is a spectrum of use. I hope this infographic is helpful in describing one model of what that looks like. Continue reading “Arabic use in real life – five levels”

Modern Standard Arabic, anyone?

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NCLRC

A free website  focused on Modern Standard Arabic

Over the years, I have gradually ended up using my Egyptian colloquial Arabic (عامية) much more than Modern Standard Arabic, but it remains a very important and helpful part of my Arabic. I use it for reading news articles, instructions, legal stuff, religious texts, general history, and more. Since 2011, being able to read Arabic on Twitter and Facebook has been an essential part of living in the midst of the Revolution and the upheavals that took place. This week I am reviewing a website that is great for learners of Modern Standard Arabic.

The site is a project of the National Capital Language Resource Center, and uses news broadcasts in simplified Modern Standard Arabic to provide a “stepping stone” between the classroom and authentic Arabic news media. I have spent some time going over it this past week, so I thought I’d share a bit about it with you. While I am not going to do reviews of every resource for learning/teaching Arabic that I find, this one caught my attention, and so for what it’s worth I am sharing it with you. While the content does have somewhat of an American focus in certain sections, it is nonetheless useful for learners of any nationality.

Simplified Modern Standard Arabic Webcasts آخر الأخبار باللغة العربية المبسطة 

On the site, there are 16 webcasts. Each webcast includes approximately 5 different lessons, and each lesson includes:

Continue reading “Modern Standard Arabic, anyone?”

Arabic vocabulary – how to increase it

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Arabic-vocabulary-560x292

Arabic Vocabulary learning hacks from the pro’s

This past week I interviewed two well-known people in the Arabic learning world. They are:

Abbas Al-TonsiAbbas Al-Tonsi, Senior Instructor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, faculty member at the Arabic Language Institute of the American University in Cairo, and co-author of the famous (and most widely used) Arabic textbook “Al-Kitaab fii Tacallum al-cArabiyya” (Georgetown University Press), as well as many other books.

 

David WilmsenDavid Wilmsen, Chair of the Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages at the American University of Beirut, and author of Arabic Indefinites, Interrogatives, and Negators: A Linguistic History of Western Dialects (Oxford University Press) , and a huge list of articles published in academic journals.

These interviews are part of a book that I am currently working on that focuses on the process of Arabic learning and teaching. Stay tuned for more on that… and if you would like to kept informed of the progress on this, sign up by clicking the button below.

Keep me informed

One of the questions I asked each of them was about increasing your vocabulary. What is the best way to increase your Arabic vocabulary? They had some interesting and insightful answers for me, based on decades of their own experience with Arabic learning students. I’ll give you just a brief summary (re-written in my words) of some of their thoughts they shared with me over the course of the interviews. Continue reading “Arabic vocabulary – how to increase it”

Study Arabic? Who and Why?

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Arabic class

Interacting with those who study Arabic

Over the course of the past several months I have been interacting with people who want to study Arabic, as well as a number of Arabic teachers.  I began my own journey to study Arabic 25 years ago, and so it is really interesting for me to find out who wants to study Arabic now, and why.

Who wants to study Arabic? What are their motivations?

As an Arabic educator, knowing who wants to study Arabic is a crucial question.  Knowing your audience is a key part of teaching effectively.  And knowing their reasons for wanting to study can make your instruction much more successful.  Motivation not only affects the speed at which a student will learn, but also the subject material that they want to cover, and their ability to take in and hold significant amounts of new language.

This week I was reading a 2006 study by Ghassan HusseinAli, a faculty member at George Mason University, entitled “Who is Studying Arabic and Why? A survey of Arabic Students’ Orientations at a Major University”. The study was from the United States, and from almost 9 years ago, but the results are still widely applicable.

Ghassan Husseinali

 

Photo Credit

Husseinali, Ghassan. “Who is Studying Arabic and Why? A Survey of Arabic Students’ Orientations at a Major University.” Foreign Language Annals 39.3 (2006): 395–412.

The two most interesting parts of Husseinali’s study, for me, were his findings on the different ethnic groups that were studying Arabic, as well as the reasons for studying Arabic.

Continue reading “Study Arabic? Who and Why?”

My Big Fat Arabic Wedding – Milestone 3

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Arabic wedding

The Arabic Wedding Vows – Matrimonial success, Arabic language fail!

(If you haven’t read Milestones 1 and 2 – “A cup of Tea” and “Signing the Contract”, this post will make more sense once you have read those). And the title of this post comes from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).

Learn Arabic through Arabic Weddings

There I was, standing at the front of an Egyptian church in Cairo, about to say my Arabic wedding vows in front of hundreds of people. My about-to-be wife was standing beside me looking gorgeous, rows of smiling faces stretched as far back in the seats as I could see, and I had my Arabic vows memorized. At least, I thought I did…. (you can probably see where this is going…)

——REWIND——

My first milestone was ordering a cup of tea in Arabic. The second big milestone was signing a rental contract. This is the third milestone – my wedding vows. In Arabic. I’m going to get vulnerable in this post and tell you all kinds of details about my personal life! Introduce you to my wife Heidi. And just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s NOT me in the wedding picture above.  Keep reading.

Continue reading “My Big Fat Arabic Wedding – Milestone 3″

Shem El-Nessim شم النسيم

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Shem El-Nessim

Shem el-Nissim (شم النسيم) is an Egyptian holiday that celebrates the coming of spring each year.  We just got back from our annual Shem el-Nissim trip up to my wife’s family’s beach house on the Suez Canal.  Sunshine, water, an old rowboat, my awesome teenage kids, tons of food, and a generally fun spring atmosphere.  Here’s some Arabic words that came up a lot this weekend (Egyptian Arabic ones marked with a *): Continue reading “Shem El-Nessim شم النسيم”

Learning Arabic – Milestone 2

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Milestone 2 - the rental contract

Signing the Contract

(If you haven’t read Milestone 1 – A Cup of Tea, this post will make more sense once you have read it).

My first year in Egypt was spent immersing myself in Arabic. I was determined to make the most of what I thought would be a single year here. My plan was to take in as much Arabic language learning as I could in as many ways as possible.

Five days per week, I was in class at the American University in Cairo.The program was intense – five hours a day of instruction.About 3/4 of the class time was spent studying Modern Standard Arabic (فصحى) and 1/4 of the time spent studying Egyptian Colloquial (عامية).The teachers were for the most part good, and some of them were excellent.One of my favorite teachers was Abbas Al-Tonsi, co-author of the famous Al-Kitaab books for Arabic language learning.He revolutionized my thinking about learning vocabulary, even though that was not the main focus of the course I took with him. More on vocabulary in a later post.

In addition to class time, we had 2-3 hours of Arabic homework per night, on average.On top of this, I decided I was going to spend as much time speaking Egyptian Arabic as possible.Learning Arabic was my priority. I was unconventional.I made friends with a fruit-seller on our street named Ibrahim, and sat on a chair next to him for 1-2 hours per day, at least 5 days a week.I would talk with him in Arabic (he spoke no English), as well as with all kinds of customers that came by.It was only after I had been doing this for several months that I learned from other people that in Egyptian society, this was seen as strange.I was not concerned with that!

Fruit Seller
Fruit Seller (credit: Fox News)

So all in all, I was spending something in the range of 8-10 hours/day learning Arabic.Eating, breathing, sleeping… lots of Arabic. Continue reading “Learning Arabic – Milestone 2″

Islamic Cairo – glimpses

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Andrew at Bab Zuwaila

Islamic Cairo is one of my favorite places in Egypt.  Thousands of students come here each year from around the world, and learning Arabic is one of the things they do.

This is a set of random street shots I took on Wednesday morning in Islamic Cairo.  Of course, I finished my morning off with a Turkish coffee at El-Fishawy coffee shop (not shown in this video). :)

Learning Arabic – Milestone 1

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Learning Arabic with Egyptian Tea

Learning Arabic in the everyday things

Learning Arabic has been a long journey for me.  As I share resources, tips, and insights on this blog to help people in their own journey to speak, understand, read, and write Arabic, I thought I would share some of my milestones that I passed.

If you are getting to know me, I arrived in Egypt in 1991, on a year abroad from the University of Toronto in Canada.  I was studying in a linguistics program (which later shifted into the Department of Near and Eastern Civilizations, since I overloaded my credits with Arabic courses!) and wanted to learn a “different” language.  My friends were taking years in places like France, Spain, or Germany.  I though through the places in the world that interested me, and decided to study in Egypt.  I’ve been here since.

Thinking back over how I started learning Arabic, I can think of a few milestones in my progress.

New in Egypt

On my first day in Egypt, I went from my apartment to the place I would study:  the American University in Cairo.  I was signed up for a year of learning Arabic in their Arabic Language Institute (now the Department of Arabic Language Instruction).  I walked through some crazy traffic, found my way to Tahrir Square, and eventually discovered the old campus of AUC.

Tahrir Square Continue reading “Learning Arabic – Milestone 1″