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”

Commit to Interact in Arabic

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Commit to Interact

Activate your Arabic by Interaction

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner

Communication is your primary means of learning Arabic. It is not a mystical goal that is only achieved at the end of the journey. You will learn Arabic as you use it to interact in real life situations, and so at every step along the way, be sure to use each new thing you learn in a conversation with someone. Using your imperfect Arabic for partial interaction will activate and solidify what you have learned, and position you to learn even more.

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

Learning without interaction – my early days

I clearly remember when I began to interact in Arabic, instead of just academically studying the language. The contrast could not have been more pronounced.

I had put in many hours in Arabic language lectures, and in the underground library at Trinity College in the University of Toronto, using my Hans Wehr Arabic-English dictionary to help me decipher medieval texts. I am thankful for those days because they gave me some foundations in reading and writing. But I didn’t actually interact in any meaningful way in Arabic, and that made it hard, dry work, with little appreciable outcome. Continue reading “Commit to Interact in Arabic”

Set fluency as your aim

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Set Fluency as Your Aim

Set a clear goal of becoming fluent in Arabic

What are your goals?

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner

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

What is your goal in wanting to learn Arabic? As you begin your journey, where do you picture yourself when you finish? If you are already on that journey – at any level – where do you see yourself finishing? Have you ever thought about what finishing would look like?

Setting a clear goal in your mind that you CAN and WILL become fluent in Arabic. This is one of the most important foundational beliefs that you need as you approach learning the language.

By setting the goal of being fluent, all of your activities that follow will have purpose and focus. And yet it is amazing to me how many people approach learning Arabic without having a clear vision of themselves becoming fluent. Continue reading “Set fluency as your aim”

Egyptian Arabic Absolute Beginners Workshop – your sneak preview

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Egyptian Arabic Absolute Beginner's Course

Why should you care about Egyptian Arabic?

Welcome to the Egyptian Arabic Absolute Beginner’s Course. It’s great to have you here! You have made a smart choice by wanting to learn Egyptian Arabic. These past few years, Arabic has been designated as one of the top priority languages for learning not only in the United States, the UK, and other western countries, but literally worldwide. Whether it’s for business, education, government, or humanitarian work, there are opportunities for people who can speak Arabic in literally every part of the world. And the Egyptian dialect is the most-spoken dialect in the entire Arab world.  This course is going to get you up and running fast. My focus is on interaction – giving you the most important words and phrases that will allow you to begin establishing relational connections in Egyptian Arabic.

Hold on a second…

You might be wondering what you’re reading here…. Let me explain.

Over the past month I’ve been working hard at putting together a new course that helps teach Egyptian Arabic to absolute beginners. This course is not designed to be a complete treatment of the language, but it’s meant to bridge the gap for people who want to get up and running in the language, but are not sure where to start or don’t have access to teachers or courses. Continue reading “Egyptian Arabic Absolute Beginners Workshop – your sneak preview”

Eid Adha Mubarak

Eid Adha Mubarak

4 keys to effective interaction in Egyptian Arabic

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Egyptian Arabic Absolute Beginner's Course

Over the summer, I’ve been working on developing an introductory course for Egyptian Arabic called, “Egyptian Arabic: the Absolute Beginners Course”. This has taken a lot of my time and that’s why I haven’t been blogging very much. It’s been really fun talking to absolute beginners in Egyptian Arabic to find out what is important to them, and laying out a simple course that approaches Egyptian Arabic from the point of view of asking “how can I begin to interact quickly and effectively in spoken Arabic, in a matter of hours”.

If, by the way, you are interested in being notified when the course goes live, you can sign up here.

Developing the course materials got me thinking about things I’ve learned so far in my own Arabic journey. Here are four things I’ve learned that can help you fast-track your Egyptian Arabic language learning, or any type of Arabic language learning.

1. Use the Arabic that you have so far

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes! One of the most difficult things as a new learner of the language can be the fear of making mistakes. This fear is very counterproductive, because it prevents you from doing the one thing that will actually improve your language, and that is using it. Use it to the full extent that it exists!

Now it’s true that mistakes can mean getting into some potentially awkward situations, but that’s where you can laugh at yourself and what’s happened, and learn. It reminds me of a time in my first year in Egypt in the 1990s when I was visiting a farming village in southern Egypt. I was staying with a friend whose entire extended family lived in the village. One morning we visited his aunt at her house, only to find out that she had invited about 30 women and girls to the house at the same time. A bit awkward, but my friend assured me it was fine. At one point in the conversation, the aunt said to me, “We love having you here with us! I have a great idea… if you pay us 1000 Egyptian Pounds, you can marry my niece, and live with us forever.” Continue reading “4 keys to effective interaction in Egyptian Arabic”

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”