Sunday, March 11, 2007

Plea to the Polyglots

I am learning Arabic. It is a very slow process, as you can imagine. Alahmdulilah, Mr Outlines is an experienced and very patient teacher, Masha Allah.

Unfortunately, I have a really big weakness: memorising vocabulary. Remembering grammar rules is not a problem, but vocab is not so easy.

So I turn to you, readers, especially since (according to stats and blogroll)a lot of are you are bilingual, if not multi-lingual, Masha Allah.

All advice/learning tips gratefully received and I will let you know how I get on.


luckyfatima said...


well, i think u know this already but i am multilingual and have a graduate degree in applied linguistics and 2nd/other language education. plus i am a language teacher by profession. so here is the magical secret:

there is none! just gotta work on it slowly but surely. high motivation leads to dedication, which will get u a long way. i have a post which i revived from luckyf to malai called how to learn a foreign language, u could get it from my archives if u are interested. it has practical tips and is basically the in a nut shell version of my MA degree.

if possible, once u have basics down, go and spend a summer in DH's country with his family and forbid them from speaking inglisi with u. that will give u a big boost.

good luck, habibti

luckyfatima said...

okay i pasted the link to my post here so u don't hafta look for it.

one more thing: you are never gonna learn 'arabi fusHa (Modern Standard) without a proper course. don't bother. stick to your husband's 'ammiya (dialect). Arabs will tell you fusHa is proper and better and all. But in reality no one speaks fusHa on a daily basis, they speak 'ammiya, so u will be able to learn it WAY more easily. if u ever plan to study fusHa or Classical, u can build on that from the 'ammiya u learn. though many people say it is easier going from fusHa to ammiya and not the other way, if u don't have the time to learn fusHa, just stick to 'ammiya, period.

kaleidomuslima said...'s a "secret" -- instead of thinking of vocab as "translating" one word into another...just think of the "thing" you are trying to memorize while you repeat the word to yourself.

for instance...i think the word for "tree" in arabic is shajara if i remember right. whenever you see a "tree" don't think of it as a "tree" but think of it as "shajara."

plus, i'm not sure if you're a visual learner like me, but if i write the word several times (in arabic) while i think of the word, that helps to remember it.

of course, this can only work for really concrete vocab. good luck w/ the other words! ;)

Abu Sinan said...

There is no secret, as others have said. If there was everyone would speak 5 or 6 languages.

Like with anything else I think "practice makes perfect."

You have got to use the language all of the time. So get your hubby to start speaking to you in nothing but Arabic, that helps. Get Arabic TV and watch it, listen to Arabic music. It all helps.

Dont get too hard on yourself either. Learning a new language is hard, and Arabic is harder than most. You are never going to speak like a native speaker, so take it easy.

You have got to learn to think in a language, you cannot translate in your head from one language to the next. One thing I have done is to make games out of things. When I am driving I will look at things and see if I can remember the name of it in whatever language I am thinking in at the moment, German, Arabic, whatever.

You have help at home because of your hubby. With Arabic you are going to have to take classes. Arabic grammer is hard enough it isnt something you can really learn in books or on your own.

Manal used to do imla(dictation) with me and make and grade little tests and homework for me.

There are flash cards out there that are good for vocab.

If you do take Arabic classes, which I highly recommend, I would suggest University or community college class, unless you know that the Arabic teacher/teachers at the local mosque are really good.

I have met people who learned their "Arabic" at mosques and it is just awful. Turns out the teacher was someone who didnt even speak the language fluently themselves and was teaching them incorrectly.

You also need to ask yourself why you want to learn. Many people want to learn just to be able to recite The Qur'an. That is fine, but Qur'anic Arabic is MUCH different than the Arabic that is spoken on the street.

Uni classes will help you get a good grasp on the grammer, but once again the stuff they teach you in class is MSA, or "fus7a" Arabic and is not really the way people speak on the street.

Arabic is very different from region to region. For example, my wife who is a native Arabic speaker has a very hard time understanding Morrocan Arabic speakers. This is because Morrocan Arabic has a lot of influences in it, ie French and Berber, so at times it almost isnt Arabic at all.

Being that your hubby is from the Levant his Arabic will be pretty well understood by everyone. much to talk about on this subject.

I have been learning for years and I still am thrown for loops, usually it has to do with different dialects and different words used in some places for the same exact thing.

Abu Sinan said...


I learned dialect first and fus7a second. For me it was a distinct disadvantage because I had to relearn almost everything in the class whereas the newcomers started with a fresh deck.

I even had to learn to recount, my teacher would get on my case if he heard "itnin" instead of "ithnin" and so forth.

The grammer, however, really must be learned in a class. Even native speaking Arabs take Arabic grammer in school because it is so hard. That really does help.

It sucked starting the class being able to talk with the teacher in Arabic only to find out that I had to start from scratch anyways.

Sue said...

Hi I jumped to you from Sume's blog. I am a Jewish convert lady and took Hebrew for a couple of years, then dropped out of the Hebrew lessons, so I can't tell you a thing from my own experience. I have tried and failed to learn many languages. I did my best learning at language summer camp when I was a teen and think that is the ideal setting, but unrealistic now. I'll be doing well to get my kids to summer camp!

My very demanding Hebrew teacher adored one of her students who kept a pile of flash cards on his desk at work and when anyone would enter, they had to drill him on the top word on the pile. He was a boss, so he could do this. Not all of us have desks with employees who will do our bidding. But the point is that he found a way to integrate his learning into his daily routine.

What defeats me every time is getting overwhelmed by the magnitude of a language. But we really do use limited vocabularies in daily conversation. And the vocab for prayers is even more limited.

If you learn one word a day that is 7 per week and around 30 per month. You could pretend you are on Sesame Street and let create a word of the day. Identify it to yourself and your baby whenever you come across the object or verb. Learning the words for common objects will be immensely satisfying when conversing with Arabic speaking friends.

At least in theory! Just don't be like me and give up! I always try to tell myself that even if I am not conversant in any of the languages I have tackled, I know more than I did before I tried to learn.

WOW, the word verification is engljj!

Sue said...

Woops, sorry! when I said

You could pretend you are on Sesame Street and let create a word of the day. Identify it to yourself and your baby whenever you come across the object or verb.

But you can do the same with your hubby!

Actually Sesame Street is a great model for language learning. Can you get Sesame Street videos in Arabic?

Safiya said...

Thank you very much for all your advice.

Luckyfatima - I did indeed know that you were multi-lingual, msah Allah.
What languages will you bring Choo up speaking?
I would very much like to spend a summer in Homelnad of Husband, but sadly work is an impediment to that at the moment.

Kaleidomuslima - Thank for the tips, all advice is very gratefully appreciated.

Abu Sinan - The book the we are using are Fus ha, so I'm learning that.
Any recommendation on good Arabic music? I don't like the slow stuff with too much "Keyfa -ing".

Sue - Welcome Jewish convert lady! Thank you for your advice. I don't minion to boos around either, but I think flash cards might be a good idea!

roora said...


my sister in law didnt know how to speak arabic until she was like 20 when she came egypt.
she is now fluent mashaaAllah. she said that what made her fluent that she was beside learning she used to enter into arabic discussions with people without getting paniced or opting the easy way to use english words ...and by practice she got very well..and she knew the try to practice.
one more thing ..she told me watching arabic channels also helped her.

Ali la Loca said...

When I was learning Portuguese, I'd write out the irregular verbs that gave me trouble using bright colored markers and a piece of computer paper. I'd tape each sheet of conjugations on the wall next to my bed, so that each day - without conscious effort - I ended up reading and re-reading all of the verbs. After a while, they just sank in.

I am so excited to hear you are learning Arabic. Rico and I always say that if we were to take up another language, it would definitely be Arabic. Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

Assalaamu aleikum

Congrats on starting to learn Arabic. I would suggest learning fus-ha first, it is harder but then the dialects will come more easily when you have the basis of all of them. Think of it like driving - learn standard first, then you can drive anything!

Another hint. If I tell you there are 36 patterns of the broken plural in Arabic, you'll get a big headache! But if you learn the plural of the word when you learn the word itself, it will be far easier in the long run and eventually you will see the patterns for yourself without having to memorize 36 scary grammar rules.

Good luck with your language learning!