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Lessons learned when learning Arabic

Posted on Marec 1st, 2009 in dovhcajt |

I took a really short course on Arabic language in the past months. While in class, struggling to grasp some knowledge, I made some observations.

Arabic Calligraphy 2
Image by Cool Hossam !! via Flickr

Having a textbook is bad. Textbook limits you and forces you to keep shuffling

back and

forth through your notes wasting your precious time and even more precious focus. I used a block of tear off paper that we received as a propaganda material from the language school.

Arabic is hard for an European. Did you know Arabic has three different types of what is in

Europe commonly known as ‘H’ and a half of dozen of phonemes, that don’t even exist in most European languages. All this makes your ears nearly useless when trying to decode what the teacher is saying. And learning a fundamentally different language is always hard. One positive thing is you don’t need to learn capital letters, because there are no.

Assuming rules from other languages is bad. As Arabic doesn’t have characters for vowels, they’re either learned by heart or written down with marks. The text written in then vocalized. That can really confuse people,  because you’re hearing sounds that are not written down.

Throughout the learning I was facing common difficulties for a beginner. At first, you don’t know a lot of words or graphemes and phonemes and you need to put down as much of the lesson as possible,

Beat FM - Arabic Logo
Image by Moey™ via Flickr

so you write do

wn the approximate pronunciation of phoneme behind the grapheme.

But that only works to some extent, and only until you get to know the letters that sound a lot like the ones you’ve already heard. The most natural reaction then was a resolution to sit down and create a substitute letter for every arabic letter. But that didn’t go as well as expected. Actually, a number of people has tried that before and there’s no common agreement as to how the arabic letters should be transliterated with latin characters. The most used solution was using the numerals as a substitute for some missing characters and a ‘ (single quote) for differentiating variants of sounds. Complicated? Yes, absolutely. And just not worth the energy.

As you get to know more letters, things get hairy. The sooner you learn the letters, the better. And it pays off really soon, because you can hear more as you know what you need to listen for. But if you listen carefully enough, you can even hear a difference between some vowel marks.

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