How to learn Arabic words– tips from our language learner

Why did you choose to learn Arabic?

Actually, I was originally just learning French. But because I have many friends from North Africa, it bothered me that I was always missing out on half of their sentences when they code-switched between French and Arabic. So, I decided to start studying both!

What’s the most difficult part of Arabic for you?

With Arabic, everything is difficult! I’m kidding, but still Arabic can be quite tricky for English speakers because of the alphabet and right to left script. Nonetheless, it is the diglossia issue that was the hardest for me to navigate. There are essentially two different versions of the language, one for written use and and one for spoken use (not to mention a myriad of dialects). I was primarily interested in learning a spoken dialect of Arabic but I decided to simultaneously study Modern Standard (MS) Arabic, also known as Fusha, so I could learn to read and write. Forming plurals is no walk in the park either!

What advice would you give language learners?

You have to open a door to another world, immerse yourself completely and create a dynamic learning ecosystem to surround you. When I first started studying Arabic, I bought myself plenty of children’s book to practice reading (they give you the vowel diacritic marks so it’s a bit like cheating but helps with reading in the beginning!), learned how to use a dictionary, signed up for belly dancing lessons, downloaded some albums from Umm Kulthum and Fairuz and labeled everything in my apartment so I was exposed to the target language whenever possible. Particularly with a non Indo-Euoropean language like Arabic, you need to really love the language to stay motivated.

Do you have any tips on how to learn Arabic words?

Yes! I actually became so passionate about learning Arabic vocabulary that I made it the focus of my thesis at university. One of the most important things I can recommend to beginners is to choose your words wisely. Don’t just learn United Nations or translator because someone tells you to. Look up refrigerator, moviestar, mountain climbing, words that you are actually interested in and can use to describe your life. Next, be sure to learn how a word is spelled AND how it sounds. If you struggle to remember words, try drawing them. Also, the keyword method can be a great way to pair sounds with images and associated meaning if you are really struggling to master your first 500. Remember, it gets easier with the more words you learn, so don’t give up!  

What’s your favorite word in Arabic?

Do I have to pick just one? Waterfall شلال, peacock طاووس, and apricot مشمش. I like the way these words sound. The repetition of phonemes, short vowels and double consonants in Arabic makes the language sound so lovely to me.

Why is language learning important?

Learning a language is important because with each tongue you speak it opens up countries full of new people you can get to know and understand, without the intervention of a translator. It facilitates mutual understanding, tolerance and most importantly, empathy which I think the world could use a lot more of these days.

How does Duolingo help you with your Arabic?

When I decided to learn Arabic, I went online to order some materials and books and found there was almost nothing of quality available. The most popular book at the time, Al-Kitaab, actually used obituaries as authentic content to help practice reading Arabic names. I can’t think of anything less motivating!  

What’s next on your list of languages to learn?

My next language is going to be Danish. My great-grandfather was a Danish painter and I’d love to connect more with my Danish heritage. It’s also another challenging language given the pronunciation and spelling aren’t really in sync.

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