Tips for Arabic learners
Studying Arabic is an amazing journey. I started just over 6 years ago and I have had both failures and successes. Here are my best tips to make your journey into the Arabic as comfortable as possible.
My first and most important tip is to be bold and have confidence.
Be bold when you pronounce the Arabic letters
There is a difference between kalb and qalb. The first (kalb) means dog while the other (qalb) means heart. The q in qalb (heart) is pronounced farther back in the throat and with a clicking sound. Be bold and make that clicking sound properly, so that the listeners know that you're talking about the heart and not the dog.When you pronounce the Arabic letter Ayn, it should sound almost as if you choke. Don't be shy when you make the sonud. The word for work in Arabic should be pronounced 3amal and not amal. If you are careless with the letter ayn it is difficult for the listeners to know if you say work (3amal), or if you say hope ('amal).
The letter H has two variants in Arabic. Therefore, you need to pronounce the emphatic version, the letter Ha, properly. Air should come of of your mouth, and if you had a mirror in front of the mouth it should be fog on it.
You probably get my point by now. Be bold and pronounce the Arabic letters properly. It is better to exaggerate than to be careful.
- Listeners can easier understand you if you pronounce the letters clearly.
- A clear pronunciation helps you to know which letters to choose when you write the word.
- By pronouncing the characteristic Arabic letters, you sound like a real Arabic speaker and not a beginner.
Be bold and speak Arabic
Find people that speak Arabic and talk to them often. Don't be ashamed of bad pronunciation or poor vocabulary, we all have that in the beginning.
I am fortunate because I live in a place where many people are Arabic speaking. In the morning I say SabaaH al-khayr to the neighbors I meet in the elevator. I say marHaban to my acquaintances when I meet them in the city. In the evening I say masaa' al-khayr to the employees and customers in the local grocery store.
If you are not lucky enough to have Arabic speaking people around you, you may be able to find an association or meeting place where there are some. Internet and social media are also options. If you have time and money you can make a trip.
It took a long time for me before I had the courage to speak Arabic. Once I started, a new world opened up to me. I got a lot of appreciation and attention, even though I just said simple greetings. It was such a great feeling that I started shopping several times a day, in various supermarkets with Arabic speaking owners, just to be able to speak Arabic.
Make Arabic Friends
Once I had the courge to talk Arabic, I found Arabic speaking friends. Thanks to them, I speak Arabic regularly. I get better at speaking and listening, I learn new words and how to use the words that I already know. I get better at distinguishing between different dialects and between dialect and Standard Arabic.
Thanks to my arabic friends, my Arabic develop much faster. And my life had been boring without them.
Practice Arabic every day
Sometimes it feels joyful and inspiring to study Arabic, and you can keep on for hours without getting tired. Inbetween, it feels boring and impossible. The trick is to continue anyway, if only a few minutes each day.
Study Arabic every day, but it does not have to be regular studies. Anything that involves talking, listening, reading, or writing Arabic counts. The most important thing is that you keep the language going, so you don't forget what you've learned. Here are some tips to get Arabic into your everyday life in a natural way.
Surround yourself with the Arabic language
Write بَاب on a post-it note and stick it on the door. Every time you open the door, you remember that baab means door. Do the same with all the items in your home.
Listen to Arabic music on the bus, when you go for a walk and when you repair your bike. For example listen to Fairuz in the morning and Amr Diab the evening. In between, I suggest that you listen to Kadim Al-Saher singing hal 3indak shakk which means "Do you have doubts?". And certainly there is no doubt that Arabic music gives you both pleasure and an improved vocabulary.
Watch movies with Arabic speach. Be a child again and watch cartoons for children. In cartoons, everybody speaks Modern Standard Arabic. I have make a list of my best Arabic movies and cartoons.
What you read in Arabic and how you read doesn't matter. The important thing is that you read.
Read texts that you like
Personally, I think the usual schoolbook texts are really boring because they lack literary value. I prefer to read Arabic poems and song lyrics. They give me pleasure and are easier to remember. But you might prefer novels, short stories, children's books, newspaper articles or social media posts. The most important thing is that you find something that you like to read, so that it feels like a joy and not as a boring task.
Read with translations as a support
Some people prefer to read Arabic texts and focus on the overall meaning. Only if a word is essential to understand the text as a whole, they choose to look it up in i dictionary. They can guess the meaning of many words by the context, and other words they just ignore if they are not essentaial to understanding the text.
If you have that reading style, translated texts can be useful, because translations convey the feeling, message and storyline of a text. Many Arabic poems, novels, short stories and children's books are translated into English. First read the English translation, then read the original with the translation as support.
Read and enjoy the details
Other people, like me for example, prefer to read Arabic texts on a detailed level. I want to understand every word and its grammar, and think about how the choice of words and sentence structure contribute to the feeling of the text. I see the text as a puzzle that I want to disassemble and put together, and enjoy the details as much as the whole.
For those of us who like to understand the text on a detailed level, translations are not very helpful. That is why I have designed this website so that there is a grammatical explanation for all sentences, and for each sentence, every word is linked to a page with more information about that word.
Write Arabic poetry
You can write traditional schoolbook sentences in Arabic, like the cat drinks milk. But if you are like me, and find that boring, write poems instead.
Almost all my Arabic speaking friends write poems, and many of them publish their poems on Facebook. I started to do the same, and both my Arabic skills and my life have improved.
My Facebook feed has become my diary of moments of anger, sadness and joy. My poems give me comfort and let me experience the beauty of everyday life. Writing poems helps me express my feelings to myself and to others.
I publish my poems in both Arabic and Swedish. My friends on Facebook help me to correct grammatical mistakes, suggest other words that better describe what I am trying to say and informs me when my word combinations don't make sense.
I have stopped feeling embarassed about of my poems. I write and publish regularly, even when it feels hard and boring and I am only able to write trivial sentences. It's probably that daily writing that leads to those moments where I suddenly feel inspiration and desire to write, and I am glued to the keyboard and learn lots of Arabic.