"Learning Arabic in the Middle East" Middle East by maykal
Middle East Travel Guide: 61,737 reviews and 173,362 photos
I'm going to use this page to give details about how and where to learn Arabic in the Middle East. I've just finished studying Arabic and Turkish at university in England, and I spent 1999-2000 studying in Syria and Yemen. It was an amazing year, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about Arabic culture than what the guidebooks say.
Arabic might sound a daunting language to learn, but really it isn't too difficult if you compare it to Chinese or Japanese. For English speakers, it is much harder than European languages because every word will be new and to begin with you can't recognise any words. The alphabet takes a while to get used to, but is fairly easy. It is actually an alphabet, even though at times it looks no more than a set of squiggles, and there are only 28 letters to learn (compared with Chinese, where every word has its own character, I think). All the Arabs I've met have been very encouraging and have helped me enormously with attempting to learn their language.
The grammar is complicated, but they have a very logical system, and there are few exceptions to the rules. For English speakers, once you know how to read, it is fairly easy to pronounce a word, as each letter has only one pronunciation (no problems similar to English, e.g. cough, rough, though etc....) However, Arabs don't tend to write vowels on words (these are small dashes above or below the words), so in the beginning it is hard to know whether the word is kitaab, kutaab or kataab for example. The Holy Qur'an, dictionaries and books for children mark all vowels, but other than that, only consonents are written.
Once you have decided to learn Arabic, you have to decide whether to learn Modern Standard Arabic (Fusha) which is the official formal language used in newspapers, literature and all official documents, or one of the many dialects. Arabic dialects differ from each other much more than English dialects - for example, an American would have no problems understanding me (a Brit) talking in English (I would hope, anyway...), but a Syrian would struggle to understand someone from Morocco if both were talking in their own dialects.
Fusha is useful to learn if you are seriously interested in learning Arabic. It is good to learn to get a thorough grounding in grammar. However, people don't talk like that in the street and it would sound very formal and awkward to them. But, if you only learn a dialect, you won't learn how to read or write because dialects are not generally written down.
Egyptian Arabic is widely understood all over the Middle East because of their popular films, soap operas and music. Syrian dialects are fairly similar to those spoken in Jordan, Lebanon and Palestine, but there are differences. In the north of Syria, people use a lot of Turkish words in their speech, in Yemen there are lots of African influences on the language, while Moroccan Arabic remains a mystery to me, as it has incorporated a lot of French and Berber words. Everyone seems to argue about which dialect is the most superior or the closest to "pure" Arabic. It seems to be whichever country you are in, someone will be arguing that their language is the purest, so I really have no idea!
Arabic seems to have become quite a trendy language recently...I don't know why! When I chose to study Arabic, everyone, without an exception, would question me...some thought it was a silly subject to choose, others thought it incredibly useful. Some gasped in admiration, some equated it with Latin and Ancient Greek (i.e. dead!!!), but the most common reaction was "Why on earth do you want to study that?" In England at least, it is still something of a conversation stopper to say that you study Arabic...but at the end of the day, it is a language like French, German or Spanish...once you get past the initial "exotic factor" (writing backwards, reading squiggles, pronouncing gh, kh, 'ayn), you realise it is like learning any other language.
On this page I have tried to give an overview of the increasing number of Arabic language schools for foreigners in the Middle East. Some are great, some are awful, some are great and awful at the same time. These are my opinions...other people may disagree and say "the XXX Institute was much better/worse/cheaper!", but this is what I have to say about the schools...
I've also tried to give some tips about finding long-term accommodation in the Middle East and sorting out basic immigration issues (unfortunately, this is limited to my experience, so the info is only provided for Syria and Yemen), and hopefully I'll get round to writing some sort of description of what to expect as a foreigner living in an Arab society.
Once you can write and read Arabic, you can send Arabic e-mails....you don't have to have an Arabic keyboard for this, as Maktoob can provide you with an on-screen keyboard for free: Maktoob Arabic English E-Mail
Finally found time (at the expense of an essay!!) to write some phrases in Arabic! See my travelogues for phrases in Standard Arabic (Fusha), Syrian Dialect, and Yemeni dialect which includes some vocabulary for chewing Qat.
For some useful phrases in Georgian, please visit my Georgian Language travelogue.
Latest news is that I will be taking a Turkish Language course in Turkey during 2005...I'm hoping to do this in Trabzon, starting in February, but certain things going ever so s l o w l y here in England may mean I am delayed...anyway, watch this space for reviews about the language school and a phrasebook of Turkish.
The Sana'a Institute for Arabic Language, surprisingly enough in Sana'a, Yemen, is much a much better place to learn... more travel advice
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