How I would go about Learning Arabic

I was just reading through a letter that I had sent someone a few months back in response to the question ‘How would you go about learning Arabic’. After looking through the response I gave, I thought that it might be useful to post it on my blog as well.

Here goes:

*……Excerpt from letter ……

… I would love to be able to immerse myself in Arabic… one language I’ve always had slated to get on top of.

I guess this is how I’d go about trying to become fluent in it:

  1. Within the first week re-map my fingers to be able to touch-type in Arabic.
    Buy as many learn Arabic books – and linguistic books on Arabic to set a good foundation of words, grammar – and also differences between the different dialects of Arabic. I would focus on one main one, but at the same time, learn what the parallel ways of rendering the same meanings in other regional forms – i.e. Egyptian, Iraq, Saudi, UAE etc. If it were me, I think i’d probably start getting into other languages at the same time like Lebanese, Farsi etc, just to see how common words ‘morph’ or translate across these languages.
  2. Would get online and build up a good network of Arabic speaking friends – preferably ranging from people who speak both Arabic and English, as well as people who don’t speak any English. – Play what they teach you off on each of them – so each time you communicate with one of them, they notice a big improvement from the last time you spoke with them – this is great motivation and great for self confidence 🙂
  3. Download as many podcasts, news shows, radio programmes and clips on Youtube that I could that would lead me to getting linguistic and cultural insights on the language – culture – and differences between how people from one place use it to another.
  4. I would either with the aid of speech analyzer or not, sit with samples of native arabic speakers’ speech, and try to mimic them.
  5. Have a native speaker (preferably someone who has some idea of annunciation and / or linguistics), to try and bring my pronunciation to a point that sounds ver similar in rhythm, vowels, consonants and other voice qualities to a native speaker. I would probably start them off saying sentences that I don’t even understand, so that I can just mimic (in my perception) meaningless sound blocks. That way, my mind doesn’t get in the way trying to break it all down as I hear it. I just pronounce a whole sentence as I would one word.
  6. I would build up as much vocab as I can in the shortest amount of time. From what I understand, Arabic being a Semitic language works on 3 particle roots. Learning these roots, and how to manipulate them is key to fluency.
  7. Use mnemonics, stacking and any other crazy associations / memory techniques that you can to shove them into your long term memory.
  8. Pick up a Pimsleur Arabic series to get you speaking the basics fast, and getting used to the rhythms of the language. I know that there are a lot of opponents to the Pimsleur method out there. It does take a long time to get just a handful of sentences under your belt, but I don’t listen Pimsleur for just the sentences. I don’t care too much for many of the standard ‘Man on a bus tries to pick up local woman’ themes. There are many other things that you can pick up from them though.
  9. Hang out with Arabic speaking people that don’t like using English.

Hope these points have helped. I guess the main thing is to make your entire life – everything you do – from eating, to going to the toilet, something that can teach you. My bathroom is a library. I counted books in over 50 languages between two bathrooms in my house this morning. It’s a great place to study!



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Written by

Stuart Jay Raj