Three Secrets of Learning Arabic

May 9, 2011 by Garner Gollatz
Category: "Spot" on Language

Arabic, the Middle East's most widespread language has a unfamiliar alphabet, a fiendishly complex grammar, and a vocabulary enriched by 1400 years of literary culture. According to the U.S. State Department, only Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, and Cantonese are as hard for native English speakers to learn.

Still, maybe you're undaunted. Maybe you need to learn Arabic for your career. Or maybe you're one of those travelers who long to step off the tourist trails and immerse themselves in a fascinating new culture.

arabic

If you've had some experience with foreign languages, you already have an idea of what it takes — above all, an appetite for hard work. But Arabic has special features that make it a different challenge from, say, Spanish or French. Here are few tips to make your journey easier.

Practice your ‘ayns. Unfortunately, Arabic has several consonants that don’t exist in English or any other Western language. The king of these is the ‘ayn (Arabic ع)—a perfectly ordinary sound for native speakers, but a major challenge for most novice learners, since it’s pronounced with muscles English speakers rarely use in speech. With diligent practice, though, even the ‘ayn can become second nature. If you put in the time and effort to master it and other difficult sounds at the outset, you’ll spare yourself a lot of trouble in the future (and perhaps impress new friends abroad with your accent).

Get to the root of the problem. One reason why consonants are so key is that the majority of Arabic words are based on a so-called triliteral root — that is, a cluster of three specific consonants. A single root can be manipulated to produce many different words, all related in meaning. For instance, the root k-t-b is related to writing. The verb kataba means "to write", the noun kitāb means "book", a kātib is a writer, and so on. As long as you know a word's root, it's often possible to guess its meaning, even if you've never seen it before. Learn as many roots and their meanings as you can, and you will be on your way to cracking Arabic's immense vocabulary.

Learn a dialect — or two, or three. In a way, it's misleading to say that "Arabic" is just one language. There's classical Arabic, the language of the Qur'an. There’s its cousin, Modern Standard Arabic: the language of books, magazines and TV news. And then there are the numerous dialects that people actually speak at home, at work, and almost everywhere else outside of school. With Modern Standard, you can read poetry, surf the internet or debate politics — but in order to socialize or otherwise function in everyday life, you must learn the dialect of the area where you are living or traveling.

Unfortunately, few Arabic language programs teach dialects in any depth, so you may need a tutor to teach you the basics. Of course, the single best way to learn a dialect, and Arabic in general, is to live in an Arab country for a while. Your grasp of the language is bound to improve, and you just might come away with a new perspective on the world.

Subscribe to this blog

RSS feed

About this blog

Smart, fun and useful. Acclaro shares news and tips on translation, localization, language, global business and culture.

Categories

software cost tips technology & localization industry language entertainment southeast asia arabic website marketing mobile acclaro languages of the world acclaro localization and translation services acclaro world language map world language map arts sports & culture europe eastern europe africa french international business north america latin america middle east swedish asia german chinese documents case study localization retail quality transcreation spanish south america italian english ecard networking portuguese romance languages japanese staffing technology machine translation cost savings acclaro games language apps elearning localization multimedia translation multimedia localization elearning translation training translation ecommerce localization bitcoin cryptocurrency global ecommerce bitcoin regulation bitcoin exchanges china chinese translation chinese localization beijing localization cantonese and mandarin translations translation for business in china business translation in chinese top retail markets in the world new retail openings retail markets acclaro black friday cyber monday cyber week cyber monday woche single’s day bachelor’s day holiday shopping online borderfree doorbuster sales global holiday ecommerce healthcare initiative spanish healthcare cuidadodesalud.gov mt case study mobile apps mobile app translation app store optimization aso mobile app thai translation ecommerce in asia valentine’s day valentines in japan valentines in south korea chinese valentine’s day singles day translation project fitbit visualiq gibson mardi gras food localization globalization consulting localization staffing localization recruiting startups global scalability international ecommerce international payment international order fulfillment global online shopping acclaro april fool’s stories usaapril fool’s stories germany april fool’s stories ecommerce ecommerce design wine translation marketing translation english remains the dominant language in the united states but almost one in five americans speaks a language other than english at home. are you missing out on customers who are more comfortable doing business in languages other than english? read on to learn how your company can profit from translation within the united states. translation myths translation mistakes international translation misconceptions translation errors translation process translating startups marketing translations translation marketing international social media qa quality assurance quality translations global apps app localization app translation app store translation global startups international app launch press release translation international press release global pr global press release press release localization kontax translate news international marketing video localization video translation video translation agency brazil brazilian portuguese english-to-portuguese translation boston translation services boston web translation boston translation agency global branding international branding global brand evaluation lithuanian translation lithuanian language translation adapt to lithuanian translators translation ecommerce in india business travel business travel apps international banking financial services translation marketing transcreation international copywriting website translation website localization japanese translation english-to-japanese translation japanese translation services translation solutions web localization mobile app localization iphone 6 glocal global brands translation services translation agency translation partner global content marketing localization world business case for translation