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How long will it take me to learn Arabic?

This question is often asked by those wanting to learn Arabic or those learning Arabic who think that they might be able to learn Arabic from scratch in 3 months. Yes, you will be able to learn some Arabic in three months but what does learning Arabic mean to you?

Learning Arabic can mean knowing the Alphabets and voweling.

Learning Arabic can mean having the ability to speak colloquial Arabic even if you cant read or write.

Learning Arabic can mean you know how to read modern Arabic but cannot understand classical Arabic.

After much experience and scouring of the internet it seems that the answer to this question is covered in the following points:

1. Decide what you want to use Arabic to do and focus on that type of Arabic, as much as you can, it’s not always easy to do. If you just want to be able to communicate basic sentences and questions for a holiday this will not take long as it does not require reading, writing or grammar. Having said that the better prepared you are at this level the fewer problems There are people who rely solely on English transliteration of Arabic from language guidebooks made for tourists. Many would say this is not Arabic but for most people this is their point of entry into the Arabic language ocean.

2. Realise that English speakers, learning a similar European language, will learn European languages quicker than trying to learn languages like Mandarin, Japanese or Arabic. If you already speak or write a language like Urdu then you’re already on your way, due to similar letters and shared words. So most will be starting the language from scratch or near scratch. Arabic also has its own logic you cannot superimpose every grammatical concept that exists in English and think it will work for Arabic, it won’t. The grammar will help you to know how to read without the help of vowels. Of course, if you are trying to read the Quran it is much easier due to word frequency and voweling, reading the Quran helps a lot of people read Arabic in general.

3. You will need to aim for an active core vocabulary of some 1000-2000 words, this is roughly equal to GCSE or AS Level Arabic. But vocabulary without knowing word placing is weak, so you need to know some grammar too. There are many approaches to learning words and grammar at the same time, like conjugating verbs or making singular nouns dual and plural. A lot of advice tends to suggest that learning sentences are better than learning word lists, but at different times both will have there uses.

4. As for contact hours with the language, this is the tricky part. You will need to have approximately 2000 contact hours with the language for a decent working usage, according to some sources (See for example Steve Kaufmann-Lingosteve on How to Learn a language). How you divide up those hours is down to you but the fewer hours that you do per day then the longer you will take to achieve those 2000 hours. So simply put, more hours on a daily basis = quicker results.

There is much more that could be said about language learning strategies but the only real way to learn is to get started, keep going, and be consistent. Anyone can learn any language, it comes down to how badly you want it and how much you are prepared to sacrifice to get it.

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