An Introduction To My Arabic – How To Begin

To continue on the topic of learning Arabic, I will share a few more thoughts that I think will prove useful, God willing, for the aspiring student. I will lay down some tips for the beginner and give some additional information on some of the steps I took in my journey to learn the Arabic language.

My first tip here is something of a precursor to the journey into Arabic (or any foreign language for that matter): tidy up your own ship before booking passage on another. What I mean here is simple: if you wish to learn the complexities of Arabic grammar, morphology, sentence structure, and rhetoric (to name a few) then it will require you to brush up (for the adept) or (even more likely) learn these subjects in the English language first. I will list my reasons in succession.

First, we’ll start with grammar. Being that most books, programs, and classes (over) emphasize grammar, it will require even the fairly educated to go back and refresh their memory on this topic. Being that most students in the U.S. who were born after the 1960’s or so (rough guess) did not learn grammar, this topic may appear to be entirely new or unfamiliar. The result for these students is that they must now learn two languages at the same time: a new technical language in English to express the intricacies of grammar as well as a new foreign language (here meaning Arabic). Let me provide an example:

“The Arabs call declension i’rab اعراب, and words fully declined are said to be munsarif منصرف. However, certain classes of noun are not fully declined, and are termed ghair munsarif غير منصرف [other than munsarif]. European grammarians sometimes called these diptotes as opposed to the regular triptotes.” Source: A New Arabic Grammar of the Written Language by J.A. Haywood and H. M. Nahmad.

As you can see, the language in this book (considered to be a standard manual on the university level) is very technical on the English side, let alone the grammar-specific terms it’s addressing in Arabic. Most students will find this language to be somewhat inaccessible due to their lack of familiarity with technical grammatical language. In my interactions with students who have studied Arabic language, most if not all related that this process expanded their knowledge of English grammar (in some cases, it was their first introduction to grammar period). All admitted that they would have benefitted from learning English grammar first before starting off on this path.

I will address in the next post my thoughts on books, teachers, and didactic poems.

5 Replies to “An Introduction To My Arabic – How To Begin”

  1. Salaams Brother: Jazaka Allahu Khayrn for these posts. I can relate to this and the last one. First of all, when I studied Spanish in college, like you said, I slept, ate, and breathed Spanish. For me, it took about eight years before I could comfortably hold a conversation without feelig intimated. I remember the frustration of my Spanish teachers with university students who did not know their own English grammar. I am currently learning Arabic, and am also teaching what I learn in the prison. I am finding that I have to teach the basic, and I mean very basic, elements of English grammar and language. For example, when teaching the Arabic alphabet, we had to stop and do a little class on the difference between vowels and consonents! Alhamdulillah, the students, although limited in English proficiency (other variables at work there), are eager to learn and are open to “reviews” of English where necessary 🙂 Also, I agree that the focus should be on learning the Arabic for Qur’an reading as opposed to learning how to speak MSA. If one picks up useful Arabic words like pencil, blanket, etc., Alhamdulillah, but this is not the focus. Our goal in learning Arabic at this point is for proper pronunciation of Qur’an. So, I apprreciate these posts of yours, and look forward to more.

  2. Wa ‘alaykum salaam Sister Safiyyah. It’s my hope that perhaps by sharing some of my thoughts on my journey into learning Arabic that brothers and sisters may benefit from it as well as realize just how daunting of a feat it is and one, not get discouraged if it seems like it takes a while, and two, approach it with a greater sense of organization.

  3. I agree. However, instead of going through books, I think its better to watch videos. Unfortunatley, the only good ones I have found are These are based on the Madinah books (I personally don’t prefer them). Doing the first two books, with the videos, will give someone a good foundation of basic nahu [grammar]. Once they start reading books, the diptotes, triptotes, accusitive, nominal, etc. terminology will make more sense. Also, can you please provide look to part 1? JKhair.

  4. Salaam alaikum,
    My approach to learning Arabic was very different from most Muslims, as I learned in the university setting as opposed to in a masjid. So I learned Modern Standard Arabic with little emphasis on Qur’anic Arabic. I tool classes at the UC Berkeley, Stanford, Middlebury, and American University of Cairo. But I will say that many beginning Arabic students, most of them non-Muslims and a few Muslims, have unreasonable expectations on how much they will learn. Many think they will outpace other students who have been pounding away at Arabic for years. But that enthusiasm wanes and often intermediate and advanced classes have one fourth of the students that were in beginning. They find that even after an equivalent to one year of Arabic instruction that they can’t hold a basic conversation, it is impossible to read the newspaper and understand what’s going on. Only through immersion programs or study abroad intensive programs are students able to be conversant. It takes about two years to get the basic grammar skills to read and decipher materials. Many students repeat intermediate twice after hitting a wall. Advanced levels are nowhere near fluency, especially in reading.

    Arabic is a challenging language, taking twice as long to reach fluency as Spanish or French. That means it takes commitment to gain mastery and perseverance to overcome the roadblocks. Someone who has that level of commitment wont be swayed by another person speaking honestly about the difficult journey ahead. And if one is not committed to that extent, it is possible to benefit from learning to letters, connecting the letters, learning words, and working on tajweed. Allah will reward us, not for speaking Arabic, but for trying to read His book. We will get rewards for each letter, and the reward increases for those who find reading a challenge. That’s the important part, gaining Allah’s pleasure rather than the prestige of speaking Arabic.

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