Why are you learning Arabic wrong ?

I speak arabic ! Really ?The first few lessons are always frustrating for students of mine who have studied or graduated with degrees in Arabic Language, Politics, or Middle Eastern Studies.

Indeed,this is often even the case for students who have previously studied Arabic at one of the many institutes throughout the Arab world.

I would like to discuss the following topic: why do foreign students struggle to learn the Arabic Language (al-Arabiyya al-Fus’ha)? From my experience, this is a challenge faced by students from all around the world.

Most students tend to have the same issue: They want to study politics, read newspapers or watch TV-channels like Aljazeera or BBC Arabic. They want to speak in Arabic throughout their lessons. The problem is that the majority of the students speak ‘ungrammatical’ Arabic. If they visited some Arab Countries before, they would often speak Fus’ha mixed with local dialects. Most worryingly, they don’t notice this mix up.

During the first lessons, I attempt to correct the students’ mistakes and at times refuse to converse with them in Arabic in order not to give the false impression that their “version” of Arabic is acceptable.

To this many students respond by telling me how they graduated from a certain institution, completed all the levels there, and that their friends and teachers have never told them that they were making so many mistakes.

It is unfortunate that native Arab speakers do not correct the mistakes of foreign students of the Arabic language. Why is this the case? I don’t really know, but beyond simply not wanting to let their foreign friends down, the following reasons are possible:

  • They don’t want to frustrate the student by making them think Arabic is complicated.

  • An attempt to correct one mistake may end up taking the better part of a lesson — or even the whole lesson.

  • They might be afraid to put off students from studying, which might mean losing students (and their money).

Reading texts without the final vowel may seem like a way of simplifying the language, but in fact, it is a form of cheating the students as it gives them the false impression that they are learning the language in a correct way.Grammar cases are not restricted to the end vowels. For instance, sometimes other letters must be changed. These differences can be heard in Arabic mass media, including cartoons as the cartoon characters speak Fus’ha .

How can a student be expected to read and understand the poems of Nizar Qabbani and Mahmud Darwish without applying vowels or grammar cases? Even when the poems of these great poets were turned into songs end vowels were included.

How it is possible to read them without end vowels or grammar cases is the question I’m asking.

How can students recognize for example when we drop the letter “Noon” in genitive constructions? One regularly encounters these types of grammar cases when reading newspapers or watching the news. If you want to understand Fusha and media, you have to know about the grammatical details of the Arabic language.

Many Arabic students read Arabic newspapers and novels by famous Arab writers and they claim to understand the material in its entirety. However, the majority only has a general idea.When you engage them in a discussion with regards to an article they have already read, they are unable to use all of the vocabulary presented within it.Nevertheless, what is worse is that when they are asked to write their opinion or a small summary about the article they fail to string together coherent sentences.

I would like to give some advices to rectify this situation:

  1. For ‘famous’/normal schools- if you are placed in advanced levels without any written exams, and if your writing is not corrected word for word, it means that the institute sees you foremost as a customer, and not as a student

  2. If, after many classes, you do not know how to write, hold a conversation for ten minutes and express yourself, and if you still feel it is necessary to carry a dictionary with you to the market place to buy fruits and vegetables, then there is a serious issue in one of these elements:

    1. The method used by your teacher or your school

    2. The books and materials you are studying with

    3. The lack of a good and useful application of the grammar you already (as a student) spent years studying. By this I mean using the grammar to talk about your day and the activities you do every day … NOT ONLY TO TALK ABOUT POLITICS AND RELIGION AND POEMS.

    4. A lack of effort on the side of the student (in my opinion, this is an excuse teachers are using against the students)

From my experience it is impossible to blame the students, as this issue (learning Arabic correctly) affects 90% of Arabic language students around the world. I do not believe that 90% of the students are lazy or lack the will to learn.

Important Note :

Being good at reading and understanding Arabic texts is not sufficient. Most people can do just that. In order to achieve a high standard in Arabic, you must be able to create a text, translating it from your own language into Arabic.

It is very important to focus on the written Arabic. If you write correctly, you will be able to speak correctly. Otherwise, you will only speak “broken Arabic”.

You should write about your daily life. This should be easy, and more importantly, it is a great indicator to measure your true level in Arabic.

Below are some sentences for you to translate (Please consider that the meaning of the sentences sometimes lacks logic. They are structured in this way in order for you to apply the grammar in a correct way.) :

P : Plural S : Singular M: Masculine F: Feminine

  1. The two balconies of the two students of our teachers are not beautiful.

  2. I hate the big cars

  3. She will hit you (PF) because the price of the house has become more expensive these days.

  4. Our dictionaries are useful, but our pens are not useful because they are not writing in our exams.

  5. I hate your (PF) difficult exams

  6. My two male friends sit behind the two fat female students of your male teacher.

  7. I prepared lots of food for them, but their (PF) two male friends don’t eat at home.

  8. Our rooms will be sunny, but our sleeping room will never be a children’s room.

  9. Our female students are fat, but they will be thin after two years because their two meals are disgusting.

  10. I hate that your (SM) two male friends are fat

  11. The Muslims of Cairo will speak with the two Italians of the Embassy in order to be able to host new people this year.

  12. Why will you (PM) not call us, when we are under the two trees of our park ?

  13. They (PM) will finish their two books before finishing the work of two lazy people (noun) of our university.

You should now write a small paragraph, approximately 10 lines, about your daily life.

You may wish to include the following in your paragraph:

  • Waking up

  • Preparing coffee

  • Drinking it in the yard of your house

  • Putting on your clothes and leaving the house

  • Meeting with friends

  • Calling a friend of the school in order to ask him about his day, his new work, etc.

Once you have written the paragraph, you should rewrite the paragraph using three different subjects: you (SM), two female students and you (PM)

Finally, you should check your writing and your grammar. Mark your mistakes using a red pen and count your total mistakes.

Good luck!

Mohammed Ghudai – الــلـغــة العـربـيـَّة لِـلـجمـيــع