How to Learn Arabic – A Guide and Commentary
This is a how to learn Arabic guide for beginners but may also be of interest to Arabic teachers and learners of other languages. Unless you know, from the get-go, why you are learning Arabic you could end up either having to start all over again or give up learning Arabic altogether. If you are not going to be visiting an Arabic country and are studying Arabic, there are still a number of options open to you.
A nephew of mine wants to learn Arabic. Here is some of the advice I gave him with a little more advice for those reading this. So if you want to go learn Arabic that’s great, all sorts of people learn it for a variety of reasons. What is yours? Getting married into an Arabic speaking family/culture? Going on holiday for a couple weeks or repeatedly to the same destination? Staying in an Arabic speaking country for a few months or years? Like the religion or are fascinated by the people and customs? Want to know what tattoo to write on your body? Or is it for something a bit more academic like: reading, translating or some other field?
Here is what you should do:
For all varieties of Arabic learn the alphabet, pronouns, prepositions, what the simple differences between nouns and verbs are. Once you have got thus far you need to be sure of your direction because the next steps will be drastic as the differences between the varieties of Arabic you could learn are stark. The choice of vocabulary, phrases and grammar will affect your conversation and writing.
So here are the routes: Quranic/Classical Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic or one of the many varieties of colloquial Arabic.
Although the Quranic Arabic is categorised as classical it actually has an understanding that is quite separate from classical Arabic.
Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) borrows from the classical Arabic in its grammar but often has a different vocabulary and grammar usage.
MSA is the type of Arabic for which the news media, TV and some movies are used. It is understood by Arabs as they watch the news every day and read the newspapers, the same way you would understand the news at home in your own language. It is true that when speaking it in the street it may sound a bit too refined but, for the most part, it is still understood.
A further type of Arabic is colloquial or slang. A major advantage of learning this type is that you will easily understand and be understood in the streets and markets. Its drawbacks are that words are often misspelt, mispronounced or chopped; letters may be left out or added, and grammar rules often ignored. It is promoted as ‘spoken’ Arabic almost as though the other types of Arabic, mentioned above, are not spoken!
It is true that many Arabs speak and understand colloquial Arabic in shops, at home and other places, however, it has limited spoken and written use and is not acceptable in every place or circumstance.
The other problem with colloquial is that colloquial of one Arabic speaking country is not always understood by colloquial of another. Not only that, sometimes the colloquial in one country can differ depending on whether you are are in the east or west of that country, the north or the south.
Often you will come across Arabs that are able to combine Quranic, Classical, MSA and more than one colloquial at a time. This would be the ideal and would take years of learning for most people.
Arabic, as with other languages has spoken, written, reading and listening elements, as well as grammar and rhetoric. Depending on your direction you may need to study all or only some of these. Some people learn Arabic up to a point, to get them through a GCSE exam (in UK), or just to get by in a particular country when on holiday. Others are Arabic learners for life, and try to learn multiple aspects of Arabic.
Some people often refer to classical Arabic or MSA as archaic, as if it has little or no bearing on the Arabic that you will encounter. To think like this is to limit your understanding of Arabic, it also assumes that Arabs make little or no use of these other forms of Arabic and that you will never come across them.
While it may be better as a beginner to focus on one type of Arabic at a time, it would not be practical to limit yourself to one style forever – each style has its place and function. If not for classical and Quranic Arabic, would the interest and popularity of Arabic be what it is today? I doubt it very much.
So, your ‘how to Arabic’ journey begins now. What style will you choose?
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