Arabic Immersion In Cairo - The Simplest Strategy To Improve Quickly

  • Donovan Nagel
    Written byDonovan Nagel
    Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot
    🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW
    🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW

    Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
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Arabic Immersion In Cairo - The Simplest Strategy To Improve Quickly

عاملين ايه يا جماعة؟ 🙂

G’day from sunny Cairo!

After a much needed, relaxing 3 months up near the Italian alps I’ve finally made it back to Egypt (after too long!) at the end of the Eid.

The last few weeks have been hectic for me as I’ve been dividing my time between improving my Russian (I had Russian friends visiting me for a month in Italy) and working on this new Arabic project that I’ve talked about so much lately.

The truth is I’m behind on it and had hoped to have it ready by now but it’s going to take a little bit longer than planned unfortunately!

In the few days I’ve been here in Cairo I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with more native speakers offering to help with it from here in Egypt as well as Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Morocco, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and even Sudan.

If you’re learning Arabic and want to stay updated on this then liking The Mezzofanti Guild’s Facebook page is the best way to do it since I post more frequently there (and on Twitter).

In the meantime, check out a few of my recommendations for learning Arabic here, here, here and here.

The importance of following your passions

I’ve spent quite a few years now vagabonding around the world learning different languages and blogging about them here.

It’s what I love to do.

But you know as much as I love the excitement of moving to new places to learn new languages all the time, I’m noticing more and more that it’s having a seriously detrimental impact on the language that I’m most passionate about – Arabic.

It’s great to be able to communicate in many languages but unfortunately the more languages you try to learn and maintain, the less you’re able to focus and specialize on the one or two that are really important.

For me, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Arabic and the Arab world.

I had a pretty tough childhood and adolescence, and it was largely because of the welcoming arms of the Arabic-speaking community that I got a renewed sense of purpose and drive.

Deciding to learn Arabic had a profound impact on my life that words could never adequately describe.

I’m often reminded of this when I travel and cross paths with Arabic speakers. For example, being in Dubai while learning Russian and hearing Arabic spoken around me or running into Egyptians in Seoul when I was in Korea.

I hear it and I almost feel a sense of guilt for taking my attention away from it for so long.

The thing about passions is that they constantly tug on your heart – no matter where you are or what you’re doing, you always feel something inside you pulling you in another direction.

So here I am finally back in Cairo with two goals:

  1. To drastically improve my Arabic.

As of Monday, I’ll be taking private lessons 5 days a week. 6 hours of those lessons will be in person with friends of mine who teach Arabic and the rest will be online via italki.

  1. Get to work on finishing this new project for Arabic learners. I’m employing two part-time assistants at present to help speed it up and improve the quality of its content. As much as it’s going to take up most of my time, I’ll try my best to produce more frequent content for The Mezzofanti Guild as well (been a bit slack on that lately because of my holiday in Italy).

If you’re a learner of a spoken dialect of Arabic with a blog then I’d love to connect with you as well to see how we can help each other.

Contact me here and let me know about your blog. 🙂

Functional, topic-based learning is the best and most measurable way to progress in a foreign language

Here’s my strategy for improving my Egyptian Arabic while I’m here (it’s always been my approach with all languages in fact).

It’s very simple.

Every couple of days or each week I focus on getting something done.

Something real and practical.

Something necessary for living here.

These could be things like getting my visa extended downtown, discussing short-term rental contracts with a landlord, organizing a trip to Sudan by boat (more on that later) or even something as simple as a haircut.

These are ordinary, practical things that I can use as measuring posts for improving my command of the language.

If you’ve ever been thinking to yourself, “I just don’t know if I’m improving” then the best way to determine this is by whether or not you’re able to talk about things you previously weren’t able to.

Or perhaps you can already speak about most of these topics (as in my case) but you need to improve the vocabulary and expressions you use to do so.

So if I set myself a day later in the week when I’m going to get something done, I then have the time leading up to that day to learn or improve enough for it.

It’s a clearly defined, short-term goal and there’s no confusion over whether or not it’s been reached.

I’ve always believed that people focus too much on abstract goal posts such as learning certain grammar points or a set amount of vocabulary but these things don’t necessarily mean you’ve achieved anything. What’s the point in memorizing 500 words if you can’t order a cup of coffee properly?

All of my lessons here in Cairo focus entirely on helping me get things done properly. Even if I can already do something, there’s always going to be room for improvement! 🙂

If you’re learning Arabic or would like to then make sure to follow this blog here and on Facebook.

For those of you learning Arabic I’d like to hear your suggestions for the kind of the content you would find most useful. If there’s anything in particular that you would find especially useful then please let us know here in the comments or on Facebook.

Thanks! 🙂

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek


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COOL! btw are you going to show us how you use the Glossika Sentence method? Whenever you are not busy of course.



الحمد لله يا “ دونوفان”
أنت عامل ايه في مصر؟
وايه اخبار المشروع؟

Natalie K.

Natalie K.

”I hear it and I almost feel a sense of guilt for taking my attention away from it for so long.”

OMG, this is how I feel about Russian! I think it’s part of the reason why I’ve been unsuccessful in learning other foreign languages—I just feel so guilty when I’m not working on Russian, so I always end up going back to it. :)

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
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