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”

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”