We get a lot of emails from people around the world telling us that they have spent a semester in an Arabic class and the only thing they learnt was the Arabic script. They are frustrated and don’t know what to do.
In our Arabic course we don’t begin by teaching the Arabic script for a very good reason.
Why you shouldn’t start with the Arabic script
In language learning, like many other pursuits, motivation is a crucial element of success and perseverance. It goes without saying that learning a language requires considerable time and effort – so you will need to be motivated.
A key element of motivation is feeling a sense of success in your pursuit. This, in turn, drives motivation to attain further successes and helps your perseverance.
When students enrol on a language course, they generally want to learn to speak a language. The key word here is ‘speak’. Their core needs are communicative needs and their motivation will be driven when those needs and desires are met. Those needs are met when they are actively using and speaking the language.
If, however, you begin your language learning solely through the analysis of the Arabic alphabet, the only outcome is that you can pronounce a written word. This does not mean you can even understand the word or do anything with it. The key message is that you do not need to learn to read a word in order to be able to pronounce it or use it.
Furthermore, learning the Arabic script can frighten learners or put them off, especially when a mediocre Arabic teacher tries to encourage students to learn, by rote, all four variations of an Arabic letter. Quite a daunting task – no wonder it takes a full semester.
The inevitable outcome is that many people are frustrated because their needs were not met, they experienced little success and the language learning progress was arduous.
In fact, within a full semester, a student should be able say quite a lot, i.e., basic greetings, introductions and form basic questions.
The point here is that when you begin with the Arabic script, it actually hampers your motivation.
What do we do differently and why?
In both our courses (First Steps and Beginners) you begin with some information about our two characters, Frank and Sarah. You then listen to them speaking and then you begin to work with the audio and texts. Within five minutes you will be making your own attempts at speaking Arabic. At first, you will only be repeating what the audio says but that’s already an achievement. It is also worthwhile: all the texts are based on useful and communicative language so you will certainly be using this language in a typical situation.
As the unit continues, you will then be introduced to related vocabulary, more activities and then ultimately, explanations about what you have learnt. After that, you will be able to be creative with the language and make your own sentences. And that is when language learning becomes fun. You will get a real feeling of success!
So, what about the Arabic script? Surely it’s important!
Yes, it is. Throughout the beginners course you are introduced to all the texts in both Arabic script and Transliteration (Romanized Arabic). Even though you might not be able to read and understand the texts in Arabic, you are simply getting used to seeing it and learning to recognise words as ‘shapes’.
Each unit has a module dedicated to recognising words in Arabic. Our approach is that when you see the word and the individual letters side-by-side, you will be able to begin to understand how the Arabic script actually works. It’s self-explanatory, really. Once you have understood that, learning the different variations of of the letters is obvious.
So the best approach is to learn the Arabic script gradually?
Yes, we believe this is the best approach for foreign learners of the Arabic language – whichever way you look at it – from a pedagogical perspective, a motivational perspective or an attainment perspective.
Ultimately, to progress in your study of the Arabic language you will need to be able to read Arabic confidently. Having a solid grasp of the script will help you with learning important elements of the grammar, such as the root-and-pattern system, the verb conjugations and the different ‘weights’ of Arabic, to name just a few.
Furthermore, once you have a good grasp of the Arabic language, you will want to read authentic texts and write emails or messages. Such goals will then become further motivation to continue!