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.

Calibre, e-Books and Arabic

I have just dived into the world of e-publishing and e-books. I am most interested in the foreign language support of the various devices, especially for Arabic. My iPad seems to handle Arabic fairly well if the document is first parsed as an xml/html document and then converted to a .epub file. Microsoft Word 201o facilitates this pretty easily with their Save AsWeb Page, Filtered” command [I am still exploring this on the Mac as I have Word 2008 and it only offers the non-“Filtered” mode of saving]. You can take any .doc/.docx file and it will save as a stripped down version of an html file [.htm] [funny enough Microsoft says concerning the “filtered” option:

This feature is only recommended for experienced Web authors who are concerned about the tags that appear in their HTML files.

You mean there are Web authors who aren’t concerned about the tags that appear in their HTML files? Surely they jest. Normally, this makes the hand coder in me cringe at the thought of the kind of code Word will generate [normally, it’s horrible]. However, the tags here are fairly clean. And you can even tweak the code yourself a bit before dumping it into Calibre, my e-Book creator of choice. You can even view an .epub sample here [zipped file].

Microsoft Word 2010's "Web Page, Filtered" version of HTML

All this is fine and dandy for the iPad. The Kindle is a bit trickier. According to Answers.com, the Kindle DX does support Arabic through either a PDF file or through Amazon’s proprietary software, .AZW. The issue with PDF’s is that they are not scalable and are often a pain in the neck to read [the font renders very small and cannot be changed]. There are a number of converters out there that can go from .epub to .azw but I have not had the chance to try this out yet. One Omani woman has chosen to write about her experience with the Kindle and Arabic language support here. It’s a good read if you’re thinking of buying an e-reader for reading in Arabic. Hopefully in the future, the Kindle will develop a better and easier to implement support for non-Latin languages. In the meantime, I will continue to happily publish to the .epub platform and enjoy native Arabic on my iPad and iPhone.