My Arabic journey

I have embarked on Arabic. It is a language I have next to no prior knowledge of. It has a very unfamiliar alphabet, some unfamiliar phones, and do not know a lot about Arab culture.

As a language teacher, I am very interested in putting my claims about language learning to the test.

For me, the first rule to learn any language is to listen, and concurrently not worrying about learning meaning too quickly.

I am currently listening to a 1 minute long piece from a news site. I have listened to it at least 100 times.

I am resisting the urge to look for meaning in reference works at the moment. I am treating the listening as if it were a purely sonic adventure.

When I listen, I note my attention settling on clues that my brain can possibly relate to prior or global knowledge: pauses for new sentences, pauses for emphasis, a rising tone for a question. A sharp rise-fall-rise for an important idea. One or two words borrowed from English or other familiar languages jump out. Other groups of sounds remind me of English words… or just jump out at me without any apparent reason. But I am not sure if they even considered words in the original Arabic.

I have taken to pausing the listening at those groups of sounds and recording my pronunciation of them in a voice reorder, as well as the time in the recording that they appear. I have a vague idea that I will come back to them at some point. But I am not sure… to be continued.

“voice reorder” > voice recorder

I heard that there is really no standard Arabic and the accent can vary greatly from country to country, which Arabic did you settle for?

I think there are Standard Arabic and also Classic Arabic.

My source is

…Part 2

Today I was able to sit at the computer, attach my voice recorder, and look up all the sound groupings I had noticed. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they all more or less corresponded to single words. At least they were all single “content” words (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs), although they sometimes were associated with a few “function” words (prepositions, conjunctions, articles and the like). To do this, I listened to my imitation of the sound cluster, located it using the recording and transcript on, and found the meaning using the word for word English rendering on the same site.

That site provides a lot of resources. including an alphabetic transliteration which was already separated into words. I could have just imported that and LingQed it, learning the meaning and the approximate sound through the transliteration.

I decided against that for the following reasons. 1) I wanted to immerse myself in the sounds of Arabic. Using the noticing method I mentioned above facilitated that. It allowed me to notice all kinds of sonic qualities of the language. I found myself really loving the sounds of Arabic. I find it has a lovely, lilting sound with a slight undertone of bitterness and/or distress, a nice broad palette of emotional undertones. It seems like a language to tell a story with. 2) I wanted to use connected speech as a basis for learning Arab alphabet. I am planning on LingQing the Arabic script in the near future, then puzzling out the Arabic alphabet based on the words themselves. 3) I enjoy the discovery process. It motivates me because I feel like I am an explorer in new territory, making my own maps. I am pretty sure the thrill will eventually go away and I will start to use readily available resources such as alphabets and transliterations. But in the meantime I want to nurture the sense of being dropped into a foreign land, without preconceptions.

What I have found so far is that the need for meaning and anchors is strong. It was hard not just go ahead and LingQ the transliteration. It was torture, at first, to listen to the torrent of sounds, even though it was only about a minute long. I imagine the process would have been much harder were I a real explorer, for example, a Christian missionary in the New World, trying to learn Algonquin. I regained an appreciation for the IPA, because without a digital voice recorder and a computer, it would have been invaluable. And I still might use it. However I feel like the my method is helping my appreciation for the language in and of itself, and not just as a tool for communication of meaning. I think that in the past I have over emphasised the function of language to the detriment of feeling its beauty.

…to be continued

I find this journey very interesting. Thanks for posting.

I’m enjoying it too.

Me too! Keep us posted.

Lovin’ it. Can’t vait for next episode.

First, thank you for all of your encouragement. I feel grateful and even more motivated!

The last few days have been busy with work and family taking precedence. However I have just had a about 90 minutes of precious free time to continue studying.

I have continued my ‘sonic’ journey, but in a much more methodical and goal oriented fashion, by extending the listening from the train and bus, where it had been happening exclusively before, into the study. Having a really good feeling for the listening but not knowing the details of the meaning, I uploaded the mp3 to Audacity and am in the process of cutting it up into word bites with the help of the Arabic transcript and word for word English translation in . (I am not trying to promote this site. But it happens to be a great tool at the moment.) I am exporting each word as a separate mp3 file and the name of each file is its English meaning and the Arabic equivalent. So with each word file I have a triad of Arabic sound, Arabic script and English meaning.

In doing this I am also learning the Arabic alphabet… slowly. Every time I isolate a word in the Audacity file, I locate the word in the transcript and then try to mentally break the sound up into its alphabetic constituents. I then try to locate the individual, alphabetic parts of the written word in a great site called “Learn Arabic Online”. The alphabet page I have found most useful: Learn to write in Arabic Alphabets - Learn Arabic Online . I also found this video useful as a general review:
Arabic Alphabet Arabe Arabische Buchstaben Arap alfabesi الحروف العربية - YouTube ----three cheers for the internet :)—

This whole process is very painstaking. I sometimes hear a very practical voice in my head saying: “Aww jeez, just upload the Roman alphabet transliteration to LingQ and be done with all this chop-chop- chopping.” I may yet do that for subsequent articles. But this is still fun and I feel like I am really tuning my ear to the sounds of Arabic. Plus, the Arab alphabet itself is more or less phonetic, so why not just learn it and be done with it?

A surprising side benefit I have noticed is that when I listen to Japanese cartoons, which is my habit when spending time with my son, I swear I am hearing more than I did when I was studying Japanese. Japanese speech that sounded too elided to really understand now reveals itself to me. It is great! Like I am training my ear to hear any language more precisely.

By the time I am finished this particular article, I will get going with making sound flashcards… probably with Anki. My current goals are to get to the point that I can sound out most words more or less accurately, without using audio as a back up. This will free me from the sound flashcards and allow me to use LingQ more. I will post again when I am finished the current article.

… to be continued

I find this interesting and might want to have another look at Arabic because of it. Thank you for sharing your experiences so far.

… and Part 4
As happens so often, in refining my goals I have changed my practices. I see this as a good thing, although it sometimes get quite chaotic doing new things all of the time.

In my last entry I said I wanted to get a handle on the pronunciation of the Arabic vocabulary. To be precise, I want to use a language slot in LingQ to learn Arabic.

But to use LingQ you need to be able to listen for words. You have to be able to feel the flow of words as you listen to the audio without transcript. It is essential to me because I consider listening only fruitful for learning if you have that “word” awareness. It is helpful to think of listening as a kind of super fast flashcarding, where all you get is the sound of the word, and you either know or you don’t, and you don’t get any feedback other than that sense of “knowing”.

To listen for words, you have to be able to think in terms of “words” when you are listening. One way is to follow along the transcript while you are listening and recognise when words start and finish. It also helps to be able to recall the sound of the word by looking at the written form when you study flashcards.

I was on my way to achieving that goal using the painstaking method of chopping up sound bytes from the audio and making audio flashcards in Anki. But, soon after my last entry, while looking around the website, I found the quiz function. Basically it is like a built in audio flashcard function that covers every word in the article. It starts with the word and its audio, and you have to choose from among 4 possible answers for its English meaning. WOOOHOO… I immediately stopped reinventing the wheel, and just went through the quiz.

In addition to guessing the English meaning, I would try to break up the written form of the words in to letters and check myself on
I also would copy/paste the target word into Google translate to compare the machine pronunciation to the human one.

This practice was an extremely good way to familiarize myself with the sounds of the alphabet in connected speech, But it also raised many questions about how the alphabet worked. How do you know the vowels? Why are there so many seemingly unpronounced letters? Why do some letters (final TAA for example) have more than one pronunciation? etc

These questions led me to the following webpage:

which is a tutorial for the Arabic alphabet. I am now in the middle of it, while still listening to the same audio while commuting, and doing and redoing the quiz.

While I am happy to use this tutorial, I am relieved that I had a chance to immerse myself in the sounds first. I can already see that it has some limitations— its explanation of “stacking” and the word “Laam”, to just name 2. But it is still a good explanation to supplement my direct experience of the sounds.

I am also getting familiar enough to get something out of the Wikipedia entry for the Arabic alphabet.

So, I just need to get to the point of “listening for words” when I am listening. To do that within the website should be relatively easy. But to be able to sound out all unfamiliar words with 70% accuracy is my next sub-goal. This should be achievable within the next few weeks if I am able to take time to study….

Since the last entry, there has been a huge disaster in Japan. I am indirectly affected as I am married to a Japanese national, and I have in-laws living in the affected areas. Luckily they are all ok and not gravely injured like so many others. I am amazed at the positive and energetic response of the Japanese people. I hope… no… I KNOW the country will survive this and continue to be a great culture, as well as an inspiration to the rest of the world.

Now back to studying another great culture…

Long Time ago, Arabs to talk one common accent which is the Modern Standard Arabic… Now every country have a different dialect, but usually Arabs can understand each others accept people from Morocco or from Tunisia, since they have a hard dialect that we can’t fully understand it. Modern Standard Arabic is being in schools, so who doest go to school or people who cant read or write don;t know Modern standard Arabic… I know Modern Standard Arabic, and my dialect is Lebanese …

At long last, the next entry in this log…

I have found a great new resource, The beginner resources are free. Each lesson targets a short dialog of about 10 seconds and maybe 20 words which cover many and varied situations. The beginner resources alone consist of about 160 such dialogs.

These materials are perfect. Short enough that I don’t get bored and I can almost memorise each dialog as a unit. I have downloaded the audios (editing out the English explanations) and I am in the process of importing them to an unused language slot in LingQ. The Arabic script works fairly well in LingQ. Since the transcripts all include English translations, I don’t need to use the dictionaries.

I have also found that Arabic scripts usually do not include the vowel sounds. You must guess them from grammatical context or from memory. So the script is less reliable than I thought as a source of pronunciation. That, plus the fact that the sound aspect of the flashcards do not work in LingQ for Arabic, has forced me to include word transliterations in the hints. They are not perfect but they at least let me know the vowel sounds. I am, however, familiar enough with the Arabic script now that I am not reflexively relying on the transliteration. I believe this is going to help my pronunciation.

Arabic contains a few velarised and pharyngeal sounds that do not exist in English. I am not too worried about them because I have always listened to connected speech and I can see how short they are in the grand scheme of things. The odd time I have cracked a pedagogical book I am always surprised at how seriously these sounds are taken. I think there is sort of cultural pride that wells up when people teach their own language that causes small peculiarities to become emphasised completely out of proportion.

So I am finally LingQing away and building up my Known Words. I am on my way.

What I would suggest for LingQ from this:

Each language should have 100 or so SHORT beginner lessons… 10 seconds or so… 20 words or so. These lessons should be ideally translated to all other languages. All languages should have a sound hints and there should be links to resources explaining how the alphabet relates to the sound.

Thanks to all who took the time to read this. That is all for now.

Thank you, dooo. I had recently wondered how you were getting on with Arabic. Mine has fallen by the wayside for the moment, it is not even on the back burner.

Would you want to see a story line run through these short lessons envisaged by you? Perhaps you’d like to start a new thread on the topic (even if it means that you’ll rekindle our points debate)?

“Would you want to see a story line run through these short lessons envisaged by you?”

I would rather energy be put into other things. The most important point would be to keep it short. I would say 20 words max. I would prefer dialogues to have a mini-story arc within themselves rather than across dialogs, since you are more likely to listen to them out of order. sort of like haiku. I would also like many quite random and eclectic scenarios: " waiting for a taxi with your boss on a rainy evening" and not just the usual greetings goodbyes etc

LingQ is a platform and we welcome the eclectic creativity of our member-content creators.

I would also say that beginner lessons should have pre made ‘LingQ-packs’ ie flashcards. It would be a lot of work to prepare them, but I think it would be less scary to start with those for the average beginner. Once this stage is finished they would be able to understand the concept of LingQing much more easily.

dooo, there are a few changes coming up next week that will help beginners. Let’s look at those and then see about LingQ packs. I am not against the idea, although I do not know how it would work. But let’s talk next week, and let’s move this discussion over to the thread that Sanne started.