Today we have a guest post from Hudson Lee, a 17 year old student from a private school that offers Arabic.
Hudson recently travelled to Jordan and has some tips to share based on what he’s learned. I think it’s great to see young people enthusiastic about Arabic and the Middle East!
Over to you, Hudson. 🙂
When I started my journey into the Arabic language three years ago, the uniqueness of the language and the novelty of a high school Arabic class intrigued me.
My freshman self entered class on the first day, eager and ready to learn.
For two weeks, it was great! The “new” alphabet didn’t seem so new to me anymore, and I learned all the common greetings and questions. Even my parents and friends were impressed.
Well, not really.
After only two weeks, I stopped being so eager to learn, and my Arabic class began to fall into a repetitive pattern of vocabulary and grammar.
Worst of all, I didn’t really feel like I was improving much.
Skip to sophomore year, where it was much of the same.
I didn’t bother to study any Arabic over that summer, because at that point Arabic just didn’t seem that important to me. I improved some during sophomore year, but I felt like I had hit a wall.
Sure, I was appreciative that my school is one of a handful in the state to offer Arabic but the original novelty and uniqueness of the language began to wear off.
I found myself beginning to view Arabic class as just another class to check off a list and get a good grade in.
In other words, I failed to take advantage of this great language learning opportunity.
Entering junior year, however, I had renewed interest.
My increased attentiveness to world events and a possible class trip to Jordan sparked new motivation to do well in Arabic. By the end of the year, I had achieved my best grade in all my three years of Arabic and I had been inducted into the World Language Honor Society at my school.
Then, there was my trip to Jordan, which took place in June of this year during Ramadan.
While the trip to Jordan was truly incredible and life changing in so many ways, I remained frustrated by this simple reality: I still couldn’t communicate with the locals!
After coming to face with this reality, I had a new mindset:
I would improve as much as possible during this summer. Arabic, to me, is no longer just another class, it is the class.
So, over this past month since my trip, I have self-studied everyday, something I have never done before in any subject. During this experience, I have picked up a few tips and tricks for what works, and what doesn’t.
Now, while I’m certainly no language expert and while I am still far from fluent, I believe my three years of experience learning Arabic can help any new beginner in the language.
Here are my 5 tips.
Don’t over focus on grammar
Arabic grammar can certainly seem daunting for any monolingual English speaker.
For one, you have to deal with masculine and feminine words, broken plurals, verb forms, and the highly tedious and difficult case endings.
This is why I say when you start learning Arabic, get a basic grasp of Arabic grammar, but quickly move on. This will help not only in practical use of the language, but will also keep you from falling into the trap of getting bored of repetitive grammar drills and exercises.
A wide range of vocabulary, comfortably speaking, and listening comprehension will help you much more than grammar.
Once you reach a more advanced level and are fully committed to the language, then I’d advise going back to grammar.
Listen to as much Arabic media as possible
Once you have crossed the beginner threshold into intermediate territory, it would probably be a good idea to start consuming Arabic media – and there’s lots of it.
For more of the beginner level, you can use services like Podcast Republic which have many Arabic podcasts designed for beginner learners.
Once you get more advanced you can listen to podcasts such as BBC Xtra which is the flagship 2 hour Arabic podcast of BBC which covers a wide range of current events and topics.
If you prefer a visual component, then al-Jazeera documentaries on Youtube may be a good choice for you.
Lastly, if you’re looking for specific dialects, download the Arabic radio FM app which plays the local radio stations of various Arab countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Algeria, and Kuwait.
The best part about all of these is that most can be listened to at almost any time, from a school commute, to driving, to walking. I even do so while working out on occasion.
It is important, however, to not stress over not knowing every single word.
Don’t take summers off (if you’re in school)
This tip applies only to students because it can be so tempting to take the summer off if you’re not studying for a grade.
However, you can’t take this approach if you’re serious about improving your Arabic.
Ask any elite athlete: do they take 2-3 months off when preparing for an upcoming season?
They are constantly working on new skills and techniques, just as a language student should.
Unfortunately, however, my experience in American school systems has shown me that it is the norm to ignore language classes during the summer, and to regress in language skills over the course of a summer.
If you’re serious about improving your Arabic, impressing your teacher, improving your grades, or all of the above, then you must be practicing on a regular basis during school breaks.
Don’t make the same mistake I did!
Don’t be afraid to use the language when you can
Trust me, I know the feeling.
You’re at Middle Eastern restaurant where you know Arabic is spoken.
You’re surrounded by family and friends deciding whether or not to try to order in Arabic. And when the time finally comes around, you speak English. It can be especially daunting for beginners to to speak publicly in Arabic for fear of mispronunciation, forgetting a word, or even judgement.
However, as referenced by another Mezzoguild article, it’s actually the social risk takers who learn best.
Most Arabic speakers are very accommodating and are more than willing to help you improve, just make sure to not waste too much of their time!
So, the next time you have an opportunity to speak Arabic, do it.
It’s the only way you will know if you can actually be understood.
Be confident when you speak, even if you think it may be wrong
When speaking a new language, and specifically Arabic, it is important to not compromise fluency in speech for exact sentence structure and vocabulary.
The most important thing, especially at beginning to intermediate levels, is to convey meaning. Practice by yourself stringing long sentences together or fluidly reading full paragraphs.
Coupled with an adequate vocabulary, this will help significantly in the flow of your speech and your understandability.
What I’ve noticed in my own class is that the students with the best vocabulary knowledge are far from the best at speaking.
Often, they end up stuttering and taking long pauses, unable to fully convey what they mean even if they have enough vocabulary to do so.
Overall, there is no magic tip or trick which will instantly improve your Arabic skills.
In fact, if I could suggest just one tip, it would be hard work and repetition.
However, applying these tips to your daily study regimen if you haven’t already will definitely improve your Arabic skills and improve your grades!