Article By Sarah Bromley. Sarah has been learning Arabic for several years and is the owner of Arabic Reading Course.
Many people have the impression that Arabic is a difficult language to learn. When I tell people I learn Arabic, this is usually their first reaction. While I do find some aspects of learning Arabic difficult, it’s not the language itself that makes it tricky. In terms of its vocabulary and grammatical structure, I don’t think Arabic is any more complex than English or Spanish or other familiar languages. In fact, there are some things about it that are even simpler than these languages.
But, if you decide to learn Arabic, here are some other types of challenges you may face.
One of the main reasons that people feel ‘scared’ by Arabic is the script. I agree, it’s intimidating to look at and, if you’re not someone who remembers visual forms easily, it can be a challenge to memorize. But here’s the good news – you don’t need to know the script to be able to start speaking some Arabic.
I learnt colloquial dialect Arabic for around 4 years before even attempting to look at the alphabet. In that time I reached a
relatively decent conversational level. I think I excelled at learning that way because I learn best by hearing rather than reading.
If you’re like me and the script intimidates you, forget about it! Start by learning with an audio course. I began with the Pimsleur Eastern Arabic CD course, which I borrowed from my local library.
My other tip is this, and I think many Arabic teachers would shout at me for saying this, but if you hear new phrases and want to remember them, it’s perfectly fine to make a rough note of them using the English alphabet. I picked up and remembered lots of great Lebanese Arabic this way. Don’t necessarily pay attention to people who say you MUST learn the script before you start learning some conversation.
Opportunity to practise
This is something else which makes learning Arabic a challenge. As you know, speaking a language in real situations is so important for learning. It’s equally as important as listening to audio courses or reading grammar explanations.
Over the years, I’ve gone to a lot of effort to find the opportunities to practise the Levantine Arabic that I learn. Of course the perfect way is to take a trip to the country. Over the years I’ve visited Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine but, as you can imagine, it’s not easy to find travel buddies to come with me to these places. The truth is, when I visited these places they were nowhere near as dangerous as many people think they are, but that’s a whole other blog post. If you want to learn Standard Arabic or Gulf Arabic you can easily make trips to ‘safe’ places like Dubai in order to practise.
The other approach to practice is to meet up with native speakers in your local area for a language exchange. I’ve also tried this, but not found it as easy as with other languages. Outside of London it’s tough to find native Arabic speakers who need to practise their English. And as a female, I’ve found I always have to be wary about language exchanges with males (I’ll say no more!). A good way to access real native speakers, wherever you are, is to use a service like Live Lingua that connects you with native teachers on Skype.
Something else I’ve noticed is that there are not that many really excellent Arabic learning resources out there. This is especially true when compared to the available resources for languages like French and Spanish.
Some Arabic resources are very out of date, using methods designed in the 1960s or 70s, others are online resources created by people who have very little knowledge about how to teach a language. I’ve seen online resources created by ‘learned Scholars’ of Islam who obviously know loads about the Koran, but unfortunately have no idea how to teach a language in a clear and engaging way!
For example, when I was learning the alphabet I couldn’t find a single online resource that let you test yourself reading and pronouncing words in Arabic. I was so surprised by this that I decided I had to design one myself (and that’s when arabicreadingcourse.com was born). Arabic resources are improving but you have to search hard to find them.
So don’t let anyone make you believe Arabic is a difficult language to learn. It’s not. If you’re interested in learning, get started and with a little perseverance you’re sure to make progress.