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Learning to Speak Arabic: What to Study?

By Yann, published on 26/04/2019 Blog > Languages > Arabic > Looking to Study Arabic? Any Idea of the Best Way?

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardour and attended to with diligence.” – Abigail Adams

Learning Arabic, like any other language, often happens in the same way if you learn in a school. You’ll learn some words, practise reading and writing, and it can be painfully dull at times.

There are 22 different Arabic-speaking countries who are also members of the Arabic league.

In 2014, the Arab League covered 13.5 million km² and is home to 378 million Arabic speakers.

What better place to learn how to speak in Arabic?

In this article, we’re going to look at what linguistic immersion is, how you can use it to learn a language, how immersion aids memory and the benefits of learning a language abroad through immersion.

But we’re also going to look at some of the other ways to learn the language – those same ones that can be painfully dull, those that might help you get to where you need to be before you go abroad, and those that you can fit around your schedule seamlessly.

What Is Linguistic Immersion?

Linguistic and cultural immersion is when you live in an environment where you have to you operate in the foreign language.

Where can you learn Arabic? If you live with a host family, you can experience your surroundings like the locals. (Source: Pexels)

Language learning is much easier when you’re surrounded by the language. By hearing the Arabic grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation, it’ll become second nature to you. This can help a lot since the Arabic alphabet isn’t the same as our own. Additionally, you’ll learn the colloquial version of the language as it’s spoken where you are. Additionally, you’ll need to learn modern standard Arabic if you want to be able to speak with Arabic speakers all over the world.

Whether you’re with a host family, studying in a language school, or part of an exchange programme, you can improve your language skills.

When it comes to learning Arabic, as well as any other language, you need to learn more about the culture, local customs, religious practices, family life, tradition, etc.

Immersion allows you to progress quickly since you’ll regularly hear and internalise the foreign language. While the guttural sounds of this Semitic language might sound odd at first, you’ll soon get the hang of the pronunciation.

In fact, by speaking Arabic every day with private tutors, a host family, or in intensive classes, you can learn the language in a fun and interesting way.

You can get the hang of the dialect of Arabic spoken where you are, be it Moroccan Arabic (Darija), Tunisian Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, with each having distinct qualities.

What better way to get to grips with the language?

You won’t become bilingual in just a month, but it is a great way to learn and develop language skills.

Obviously, you’ll need to avoid English speakers.

The Arab World.

As we mentioned, the Arab world is vast, and Arabic is now the fifth most commonly spoken language in the world. The language spreads throughout the Middle East and deep into Africa – covering countries as different as Lebanon and Libya, Mauritania and the United Arab Emirates.

The majority of these countries are easily visited by tourists, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE being in the top thirty countries most commonly visited by tourists in the world. The former is in this list because of the holy sites that it has, with many Muslims traveling to the country for pilgrimage – whilst the UAE has a population of expats that far exceeds the numbers of locals.

Otherwise, the most visited countries are Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Qatar, and Oman – and you could do an Arabic immersion programme in any of these countries (with the exception of Iran, where they speak Persian).

With some of the most amazing sights in the world – think of the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai, the Pyramids of Egypt, or the souks of Morroco – it’s an incredible place to visit. And whilst many people have concerns about safety and terrorism, most of the region is quite safe – and it is so massive and diverse that the warnings are mostly based on generalisations or ignorance.

So, go for it – there is certainly no better place to learn Arabic, and you’ll have an amazing time – with some of the world’s friendliest people – whilst you are there.

Learning Arabic through Immersion

Psychological studies have shown that immersion is a more effective way to learn a language than traditional teaching. This means it’s better to absorb the language than trying to learn it off by heart.

Why should you learn Arabic? Immersion can also help you to make friends. (Source: StockSnap)

You just need to see how a baby learns its mother tongue. Before the age of 1, it’s unlikely that they’ll speak, but they’ll understand a whole lot. This is the first stage of language acquisition.

This is when a child will develop their social identity. This means that the child will learn its first words, start understanding how their language is pronounced, and develop their comprehension of words.

Once they’re ready, the child will start producing the language. By primary school, a child is supposed to learn around 6,000 words and by the time they’re an adult, between 25,000 and 40,000.

Immersing yourself in the Arabic-speaking world is a way to replicate this way of learning a language. Thus, immersion is a natural way to learn Arabic vocabulary, even if you have no knowledge of how to read or write the language.

Learning Arabic at school takes a lot longer because learning vocabulary, how to read, and getting started with grammar can be dry and dull.

In Arabic classes, you can learn how to pronounce each letter and phonetic transcription. Then, you can improve your understanding of written Arabic.

By staying with a host family, you’ll see the language less as something you study in class and something fun that you use to communicate with people.

Life in Arabic-speaking countries can be very different from our own. Immersion can also help you learn about this and improve your language acquisition.

It’s much easier to learn everyday expressions, read Arabic, and master a certain dialect of Arabic through immersion than it is in class.

It’s much harder to learn how to speak Arabic fluently at university in the UK. You should consider studying at a university in an Arabic-speaking country.

Aiding Memory Through Arabic Immersion

Whether you spend time in North Africa, Lebanon, or the Persian Gulf, you’ll notice that Arabic isn’t just a language that you learn but rather a tool for communication.

How can you learn to speak Arabic? You’ll need to save your vocabulary like storing data on a hard disk. (Source: 422737)

You can gain fluency and speak Arabic like a native. Going to an Arabic-speaking country will help you memorise words more easily.

This won’t be like learning how to speak Arabic in a class where you’ll be repeating back grammatical rules, new vocabulary, or expressions like a parrot. That said, a private tutor can help you learn the nuances of the Arabic language.

Can you really learn how to speak a language by just practising just a few hours a week?

By speaking with locals in any language, repeating what you hear, and reacting to the world around you, anyone can learn any language.

It’s true that this can take some time, though. After a few months, you might even end up dreaming in Arabic.

This is when you get to the point where you’re no longer translating words in your head, but really expressing yourself in the language.

When you get Arabic lessons in the UK, your brain won’t be as stimulated for the rest of the day. By travelling to where the language is spoken, you’ll be engaged in the language and culture almost every minute of the day.

The Other Benefits of Learning Arabic Abroad

We’ve mentioned several benefits to learning Arabic through immersion rather than in a class in the UK.

Where is Arabic spoken? You can learn Arabic while enjoying local specialities. (Source: Neverlan)

From a personal point of view, living in the target country will help you to get a better understanding of different cultures and the language. Travelling broadens the mind, doesn’t it?

This is an opportunity to learn idiomatic Arabic expressions, understand music, film, and videos.

Would you like to watch Al-Jazeera without subtitles?

Learning through immersion also gives you a regular opportunity to practise your Arabic. Furthermore, a language acquired through immersion stays with you longer than a language learnt in class because you have a series of memories and experiences associated with it.

Depending on what you do while you’re there, you could also learn a specialised vocabulary in a particular field. You might learn business, tourism, or scientific vocabulary.

The final advantage is that Arabic will look great on your CV. A lot of employers are looking for employees with language skills and will pay highly for them. Arabic to English translators are also in high demand. Learning Arabic can lay the foundation for your future career!

Some countries in the Arab League, especially the United Arab Emirates, recruit a lot of Arabic speakers to play a huge role in international business. This means there are a lot of jobs going for those who speak Arabic in engineering, communication, web technologies, etc. Those who travel to Dubai, for example, will find getting a job much easier thanks to their language skills. In terms of salaries, the wages in the UAE are very high!

The ‘Year Abroad’: Going to the Arabic-Speaking World with University.

Many of the countries in the Middle East have an exceptional higher education sector, where you can, if you are able, study on a year abroad.

Saudi Arabia, in particular, has one of the strongest reputations for higher education in the region, with three of the five best Arab universities being based there: King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, King Abdulaziz University, and the King Saud University. However, given the country’s rampant human rights abuses, it’s maybe not the place that you want to be studying in.

Otherwise, there is the American University of Beirut and the United Arab Emirates University – both of which have stellar reputations across many different disciplines. The thing to watch out for – particularly at the American Universities (because they are American – is that these institutions can be fairly pricey places to study.

However, many UK universities actually have campuses in Dubai, including the following:

  • University of Middlesex
  • Heriot-Watt University
  • University of Strathclyde
  • University of Birmingham
  • London Business School

You could well do a postgraduate degree in the Middle East, being based on one of these campuses, or your university might offer an exchange programme or something of the like.

If you are already studying Arabic at a British university, you will be eligible to study a year abroad in an Arabic-speaking country. This is most commonly your third year, and you will be partnered with a university in the Middle East and have the opportunity to live there throughout the year.

Just as some examples, the following British universities have partnerships with these institutions in the Arabic-speaking world:

  • University of Exeter: – with Exeter, you are able to study for a year at the Jordan Language Academy in Amman, Jordan; the International Language Institute in Cairo; or the Arabic Language Institute in Fez, Morroco.
  • University of Cambridge: – at Cambridge, you can do as you please for your year abroad – obviously within reason. Their students have travelled to Palestine, Oman, Lebanon, and Egypt, and usually return pretty satisfied with their experience.
  • University of Edinburgh: – in a similar way, Edinburgh has no fixed destination to which you will travel, but, over the thirty weeks you will be required to spend abroad, the university will make sure that you keep working and improving with your language.
  • School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London: – on an Arabic course at SOAS, you can take a year abroad at one of three institutions: the Qasid Institute in Amman; the Alif Institute in Fez; or the Alexandria School of Languages, in Egypt.

Years abroad are a fabulous way to hone your language skills – and it is the reason language degrees are usually an extra year long. And these years make these extra years well worth it.

The ‘Home-Stay’: Learning Arabic Locally.

One of the most rewarding options available to those seeking an Arabic language immersion programme is the home stay. If you haven’t heard about these before, they sort of do as they say on the tin: you stay in an individual or family’s home, and learn the language whilst you are experiencing local habits, ways of life, food, and routines.

People who do something like this usually say it is one of the best experiences of their life – and it is the peak of that contemporary buzzword that drives travelers these days: authentic.

There are many organisations offering these experiences these days, with options available in Oman, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and more. The prices vary dramatically by region and by organisation, but you could be paying as little as $60 a week and as much as $1000 a week too!

If you want to bypass the organisation and get a cheaper rate, you can go direct to your host. However, this can be something of a risk, as the organisations both accredit the host and insure against any risk.

The ‘Private Tutorial’: Get Your Own Arabic Tutor.

If you’re interested in learning how to speak Arabic, then private tutorials are a great option. On Superprof, you can get one on one private tutorials, online tutorials, or group tutorials.

Private tutorials are the most effective and also the most costly. This is because your tutor will tailor the lessons to you, your strengths and weaknesses, and your preferred learning style. This means you’ll get a bespoke service from them.

Superprof is a great place to find yourself an Arabic tutor, with over 800 available across the world. They charge an average of £17 an hour, and you can find native speakers, graduates, university students, and even academics available to give you tuition.

They are qualified, experienced, and friendly, and they will have you speaking, reading, and listening effectively in no time.

This is the best option for those of you who don’t fancy traveling abroad just yet, or who don’t have a sufficient grasp of Arabic for immersion to be productive. As, sometimes, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of the language before you dive in.

Online Arabic Tutors.

Online tutorials are similar but are cheaper because the tutor doesn’t have to factor the cost of travelling to you into their rates. They’ll deliver their private tutorials via webcam using a programme such as Skype.

And honestly, these days, such technologies can facilitate as productive and helpful conversations as those had face-to-face. Talk to your heart’s content – whilst you will be set up with homework, writing tasks, and solo research to do in your own time.

If you are not in an area well-served by Arabic tutors, you can find – through Superprof again – and connect with more tutors than you could possibly imagine. Technology is awesome these days.

So, if you are travelling to Morocco and want to polish your Moroccan Arabic, or if you are going to the Levant and want to brush the cobwebs off your Levantine, then connect with a tutor there who speaks the dialect, and you’ll be talking away immediately.

The ‘Conversation Class’: Join an Arabic Class – or Set One Up Yourself.

Finally, it’s worth mentioning that group tutorials have the advantage of being the cheapest per hour. This is because the hourly rate is shared by all the students in attendance.

This also means that you won’t get the same amount of attention from the tutor and the class won’t be designed with just you in mind. But, that needn’t be such an issue. The thing here is that people often learn better in group environments – building on different people’s mistakes, hearing questions that they hadn’t necessarily considered themselves, and enjoying the social element added to it.

If there aren’t any group classes or conversational classes in Arabic available in your home town, why not set one up? Get in touch with a Superprof tutor and see whether they are available and willing. It won’t be good just for your language skills – but for your social life and your wallet too.

The ‘Self-Taught’ Learner: Can You Learn Arabic by Yourself?

This is a question that people often ask about learning languages: can I learn it by myself?

It’s also a method that people think would be best, as they can study in their own time, at their own pace.

It might even be possible with a language that is a little more similar to English – a language that shares the alphabet, that shares a few words, that has similar phonological patterns. Even then, with no-one to talk to or to ask questions, it’s still pretty tough.

With Arabic, you aren’t going to enjoy any of the similarities that a language like Italian or German has with English. With Arabic, the alphabet, the sounds are incredibly dissimilar to English, and it is one that you may not have come into much contact with before.

Sure, with all the resources available online and in books it might be possible. But it is far from preferable, and the challenge might prove too much.

What, then, Are You Waiting For?

If you are committed to learning Arabic, the last thing to say is, what exactly are you waiting for? The language is not going to learn itself!

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Veronica
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Veronica

Hi Yann,
I am learning Arabic and I just love it.
I really enjoyed reading this piece of writing about studying Arabic. It was written so smoothly that I couldn’t stop reading. Really engrossed me.
Anyway, keep going, the sky’s the limit. ?

Many thanks,
Veronica, UK