A diary of my Arabic challenge!!!

My most recent language foray has been into Arabic.  I wanted to see how much I could learn in 3 months time.  I kept a diary as I went along which I am sharing below for anyone interested.

September 24 2011 at 4:55pm |  Marhaba! / Salut!

Brian here, aka liddytime, from Oregon. As you can see from my profile I am a bit of a language geek. I began learning languages for work and travel requirements but the more I started learning them, the more fascinated I became with them. I really hate traveling to a foreign country and speaking English the whole time so even if I am going somewhere like the Netherlands for a week, I will try to pick up as much Dutch as possible before I go and try to learn as much as I can while I am there.

My main goal right now is Arabic. I, like kanewai, took a semester in college (1992) , but didn’t really learn very much. I have dabbled in it off and on since then with no real goal in mind, thus no real progress. Since college, I haven’t lived anywhere with access to Arabic speakers so my motivation hasn’t pushed my much past my general curiosity in the language.

This fall, U of O is offering a self-study Arabic class that is open to the general public. Twice a week I will meet with the tutor, an Omani so I’m told, and speak, speak, speak. I will also be able to meet other Arabic learners/speakers to actually speak the language, which has been my main hindrance in the past.

My goal is to get through the entire FSI Arabic Basic Course ( Saudi / Hijazi dialect) by next spring. I have also re-visited the FSI Modern Written Arabic course and will try to go through 1 or 2 lessons a week to improve my comprehension of Arabic Media.

September 27 2011 at 7:47pm |

 a colleague kanewai wrote:

I just finished FSI Arabic 5 tonight. It took me three sessions just to get through the
recorded parts, and I freaked a bit when I turned the page and saw 11 pages of
‘supplemental sentences.’   That was Saturday, and I couldn’t even face those 11 pages on
Sunday. But they turned out to be pretty easy. I need to keep my vocabulary list next
to me, but that’s ok for now.
I can now say such important phrases as “this communique is private” and “that is the
minister of the republic.” Phrases which I will probably never need!!

ل ه ل !!!

تلك بيان مشترك و حام!!

اليوم كما كان من الصعب العربية

الدرس الخمسة هو الدرس الصعب

بيان مشترك     هذا هو مضحك

Aw c’mon! You’ll never use “this communique is private” ?

Chapter 13 of the Saudi course is reminding me what a pain Arabic numbers are … ugh …Last night I began my Arabic class. There are only 2 of us in the Arabic group which surprises me. The other student is a fresh beginner so there will be a lot of review for me; for better or for worse .. The instructor is an
Omaniyya and speaks very softly. I’m discovering that years of loud music and playing in a band were probably not the best things for my long term hearing… Nevertheless, I’m still really looking forward to it!

October 06 2011 at 12:58pm |

  Bonjour les amis! J’ai terminé une semaine de ma classe en arabe. Je suis extatique que je comprends l’arabe mieux que je pensais que je pouvais!

أنا عائد إلى
DLI MSA Basic Course
لأن دروسي هي الفصحى. كذلك ، أدرس الدرس 20 و 21 هذا الاسبوع

It is funny… after studying the Saudi dialect for 2 or so months, my الفصحى got incredibly rusty so I’m reviewing DLI. I keep forgetting that the DLI MSA course really is a pretty good course!

October 13 2011 at 6:43am |

  !!مرحبه جاعميأ
كيف العربيةكم؟

Arabic: Week of 10/10/11

This week I switched my study materials to Teach Yourself Arabic and Teach Yourself Spoken Arabic of the Gulf; mainly for the reasons that I should be able to complete both books in the time period of my course (9 weeks). I have gotten through Unit 4 of each since it has been pretty much review for me. I think completing them will give me a good solid base in both styles to work from.

My informal class is a lot of fun. It is a strange mix of MSA and colloquial. Our teacher is Omaniyya and a student is Msriyya but she never learned written Arabic!   So we will learn some MSA with Gulf and Egyptian colloquialisms peppered in the mix. The 2 other students are Arabic newbies so we are taking a lot of class time to learn the script.   I’m beginning to agree with most folks that Egyptian is the most useful dialect to learn. All of our movie and music recommendations are Egyptian!!

I had a fun time searching you tube for Iftah ya Simsim clips ( the original Arabic Sesame Street in MSA) Grover and Cookie Monster (Keki) in Arabic are hilarious!! I should have been getting my work done instead, however!

October 18 2011 at 9:09pm

I have picked up a surprising amount of Arabic watching the clips on  iftah ya simsim (Arabic Sesame Street) ( with my kids no less … ” Dad, why does Ernie  keep saying “Ana A3tshaan?” (I am thirsty) )

Plus, it is at about a 3 year old level which is exactly where my Arabic is right now 😉    Another bonus is that iftah ya simsim is in MSA as opposed to a3lam simsim and shariyya simsim which are both in dialect.

October 21 2011 at 3:30pm

kanewai wrote:

…. Now that Libya might (might) find peace, we’re
thinking about shaving a bit off Paris here, a bit off Rome there, and trekking our way
over at least to Tripoli, and maybe to Benghazi / Cyrenaica….Anyone up for a class trip

Oh man! I WISH! (… There is no way in hell my wife would let me go to Libya …) 😦 …

kanewai wrote:

…Just tell her you’re going to Tunisia, then neglect to tell her where you’ll be

nice try … I will have to pass this time …

October 22 2011 at 9:09pm | Another week down, slow but steady progress.

I have gotten through Unit 6 in both Teach Yourself Arabic and Teach Yourself Spoken Gulf Arabic. They are both heavy on the “tourist lingo” so most of what I have learned so far involves acquiring directions, haggling in shops, ordering food, etc.. Each one has a vocabulary list of around 1000 words so, despite the tourist lingo, that should be a pretty good vocabulary base. I also have been checking out the Assimil Arabic course. The recordings are annoying but the book is actually quite good. Perhaps if I can get through the first 40 units or so I can move up to “Level 2″, the French one which I have heard is much,much,much better.

I have been listening to BBC Arabic to try and pick out the gists of the news stories but it is a bit frustrating because it still sounds like ” blah blah blah blah….Libya…blah blah blah blah….Qaddafi…blah blah blah blah….Libya…blah blah blah blah….the State …. blah blah blah blah….the leader …”   I have picked up on some of the Egyptian colloquialisms of many of the callers … dilwatee (now?) , dah (this) , ehh , (what) etc etc… I wonder if this is due to the Britain-Egypt connection or just that Egyptian is a widely used dialect? ( I also wonder, is “ajaba” “I wonder” in Arabic like it is in Turkish? Anyone know?)

November 02 2011 at 2:16pm |

Just pasted my vocabulary review deck on ANKI:
key = 34ff5b3366496a3e    Copy and paste the above key to others, then tell them to go to http://ankiweb.net/account/home   -> click the More button -> then click the ” Deck subscriptions (has problems) ” button on the left. Enter the key.

The deck is called “LT199 Arabic” I also have an FSI Saudi Arabic deck

key = c776c333664c14b4 called, what else, “Saudi Hijazi Arabic” but I kind of abandoned this effort once I started my class.   Maybe I’ll start it up again inshallah.

I have been playing on the http://thearabicstudent.blogspot.com/ website a bit this week. It is really fun and I love the fact that there are copious translations. Thanks, Andrew! What a great site!

In class this week we have been learning about my instructor’s homeland of Oman.   What an amazing place!! I have GOT to get there someday. She burned traditional Omani frankincense بخور(bukhoor) on halloween. The smell was heavenly! I can still smell it on my sweatshirt 3 days later!  So much better than what I have come to know as “incense”.

Unit 8 of Teach Yourself.  Got through 2 Paragraphs from 1001 Nights ألف ليلة وليلة ; which I can understand with some glossary help. There is no way I would have been able to read this a 2 months ago!!!  🙂

November 13 2011 at 8:31pm

Another week has gone by and I must admit I did not get as much Arabic done as I wanted to this week!   I did reach Unit 10 in both Teach Yourself Arabic and Teach Yourself Gulf Arabic but did not get to spend as much time on them as I usually do. Both books addressed the “what do you do” question. ماذه تعمل \ ماذه تاكل \ ماذه تلعب  etc… so I am definitely feeling at ease with this type of conversation.

I also played around with the DLI Arabic phone conversations at:


It is a lot of fun because you can play around with the different dialects: Egyptian Iraqi or Levantine . I was shocked to find that I could understand Iraqi the best followed far behind by Egyptian.  I couldn’t understand Levantine at all!!  Good thing I’m not planning on going to Syria anytime soon.

4 weeks left to go 4 units left in the TY books – I am determined to get through them!!

November 18 2011 at 12:16pm |

This week: Poetry in Arabic

In class we attempted to trudge through a poem from
من أروع كتبه نزار قباني
by Nizaar Qabbani

Understanding it was difficult enough ( words like destiny, promise and sympathy don’t tend to pop up much in daily conversation) . For whatever reason, just READING the darn thing is incredibly difficult; even with the vowel marks added!   Clearly I have found something that I need to work on.   I think it is mainly that the words are unfamiliar and as someone had tols me once :   ” you need to know how to speak Arabic before you can know how to read it!!”

I think I will also try to re-visit the DLI phone conversations again this week. They are a lot of fun even though I don’t understand very much!

a colleague Emiliana wrote:

There also seem to be some rules that explain some of the broken plurals. I already got crazy
by the tons of broken plurals but there seem to be also some kind of patterns that allow you to kind of
categorize the nouns in “plural groups” (like verb declension in French- e.g. verbs that end with -er, -ar, -ir etc).
Really I dont understand why nobody told me that before. And also I just got a very little insight today in this
topic. If somebody of you knows more about this stuff, please let everyone know!

Forming plurals is one of the more frustrating things about Arabic. The easy endings are “aat” for most feminine nouns and “uun” for most masculine human nouns.  From here it gets a bit complicated.  Plural nouns are “broken” , similar to man – men / woman – women / child – children  in English.   Sadly, there are 13 or so patterns which are used to form the plural nouns. There is no sure-fire / reliable way to predict which form the noun will take so it comes down to memorizing the correct plural forms to go along with the singular noun forms.  After a while your ear starts to get used to the sounds of some the plurals.  You can usually figure out something pretty close if you didn’t know the proper form. I asked my instructor how Arab kids learn the plurals and she said;  “the same way we do, by hearing them and memorizing them!”

November 28 2011 at 3:32pm |

 The challenge has been completed so I thought I’d look back and take a look at what I have accomplished in the last 9 or so weeks.

I estimate I have picked up an additional 400 – 500 words of vocabulary putting me up around 1000 words in total. My comprehension has gone from – pretty much nothing (!) to being able to get the main gist of conversations and news stories. I feel much more fluid in conversation although there are still frequent pauses and word-grasping in my speech. My writing has improved considerably as has my reading. There is no way I would have been able to read Arabic poetry 8 weeks ago! I have learned a ton about the Gulf and, in particular, Oman!! I really hope to go there someday!

I read through both Teach Yourself Arabic and Teach Yourself Arabic of the Gulf to the end but  I must admit I did not study the last 3 Chapters or so as intensely as I did the first 11!

This tends to be the crazy-busy time for work and as a result, I may need to take a small break from Arabic until things get a little more sane. But I am really looking forward to next semester’s language conversation circles and learning more Arabic!!   I highly recommend learning this difficult but fascinating language which is completely unrelated to the Indo-European tongues that are most commonly studied by Westerners today!


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