Why is Arabic considered so difficult?

Hi all,

This question is more out of curiosity really :). Why is Arabic classified as being so difficult for English speakers? It is grouped in the same category as Chinese, Japanese etc, and I’m not sure why?


First, because of the script I think. Like Chinese and Japanese, it’s a “big” language that has a different script, so people see it as super difficult.

Then because of diglossia too, even if I think there’s a lot of exaggeration about that. Also, there are very few cognates with European languages.

Although the script is at least an alphabet, which looks daunting, but is actually pretty straight-forward! Ah, I wasn’t aware it was a situational language!

It’s straightforward but they don’t write the short vowels which makes reading difficult at first. I find handwriting very hard to decipher too.
And there seems to be very few good resources for beginners, compared to Japanese or Chinese.

Thats very true, I think the amount of interesting authentic material available makes a huge difference to simply sticking through the process long enough :slight_smile:

Arabic is a serious challenge and I found it considerably more difficult than russian …because it isn’t really one language. The written language “MSA” is very different than the native spoken versions… which vary greatly in each country. The grammar is really freaking complicated (standard)

but the hardest thing is reading… it is never actually written with short vowels, and letters make all change of changes and combinations depending on which letters are around it and you can’t ever tell because they don’t freaking write in the vowels: every arabic tutor told me “you just have to know the words already”.

I’ll just post this conjugation chart… for 1 verb. https://i.ytimg.com/vi/H9-qh6mwtKo/maxresdefault.jpg

yes and no. I got to a basic conversational level of levantine Arabic and the only people I could kind of understand were egyptians. To me it was very similar to an american and a cockney british accent, very different but generally understandable. All the dialects west of egypt are basically a separate language. I could SORT of understand gulf speakers and I didn’t really listen to saudi speakers.

I can listen to basic tv content in lebanese or syrian, but I cannot understand modern standard at this point. I may go back to arabic and try learning modern standard, but I would much rather learn more dialects for which resources are unfortunately very scarce.

arabic is one of subject in my school and I kinda hard to undersatnd it

Cheers! I didnt realise arabic had such a complex grammar, no-one ever seems to mention it when discussing arabic, I only ever hear people talk about the script (which I just didn’t understand, since it was an alphabet that you can learn). But this has all helped greatly, thanks!

The grammar is complicated because there are lots of exceptions to every rule. I’d say it’s complicated if you aim at speaking / writing MSA perfectly, but it doesn’t hinder comprehension that much.

As for vowels, with some experience you can predict most of them. It’s still frustrating when you encounter a word and have no clue how to pronounce it but it’s no big deal to me. Consonants are important in Arabic, not vowels. In Northern African dialects, they don’t even pronounce the short vowels. Most of the time words just sound like clusters of consonants.

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Romance languages also have conjugation charts that look daunting, and I suspect many other languages too.

Cheers for the reply! None of this is off-putting at all :), I’ve just never really seen anyone actually give any details as to what makes Arabic so challenging for western-language speakers!

I would say it’s mainly because of the script. People take one look at the unfamiliar symbols and go “Aaah! That’s too hard!”

I even had one guy claiming to me with absolute conviction that the Arabic script is more difficult than Chinese, even though Arabic has 28 characters, and Chinese has literally thousands, some of them as complex as 20+ strokes. He was obviously clueless about both Arabic and Chinese/Japanese scripts. But oh-so-confident in his statements.

People just tend to make these uninformed assumptions. When you listen to people who don’t speak Japanese talk about Japanese, someone’s bound to say something like this:
“Japanese is so hard, they use three different alphabets!”
And they all go “Three different alphabets? That must be so difficult!”
And I’m like yes they use three alphabets, but that’s not the reason why the Japanese writing system is difficult! I mean, two of them are as trivial to learn as the Latin script. The reason it’s difficult is that the third one is the freaking Chinese alphabet.
When it comes to learning languages, most people just don’t know anything.

Firstly, it is important to note that every person is going to be a bit different. One native english speaker might find Japanese to be the hardest thing ever while the other will struggle mightily with Arabic or vice versa. Personally I agree that Arabic is more difficult than Chinese which is logical and straightforward despite the fact that most non language enthusiasts just assume that Chinese is the hardest language in the world.

To just say that Arabic is an alphabet of 28 letters and that’s it is a real simplification. It is much more complicated than that and learning to read it well is much more difficult than you are making it out to be…Because short vowels are omitted you have to learn all kinds of rules and patterns for when a letter makes a certain sound and it is really technical and confusing. letters have 3 (or 4) different forms and works nothing like the alphabets we have in the west. Reading it is tied closely to the languages grammar which is freaking hard. It is technically much more challenging than Chinese

Japanese is also much more difficult to read than Chinese in my opinion because there are so many homophones and multiple kanji meanings.

is not difficult just there are new letters

Alright, I’ll admit I’ve voiced an opinion on a topic I don’t know much about.

However, I was only comparing the writing systems of the two languages, not the languages themselves. I am familiar with Japanese grammar, and while I haven’t studied Chinese, I am aware that its grammar is considered simple and straightforward. But I don’t know anything about Arabic. I couldn’t possibly comment on how the Arabic letters are read, because I don’t know the first thing about it.

Granted, there is some complexity involved in reading Arabic that I didn’t know about. But I would still assume the Chinese writing system is more difficult just because of the sheer number and complexity of characters.

You seem to have some experience with Chinese characters, so your take on the issue intrigues me. But I don’t know how far you’ve got.

If you’ve actually spent years (or at the very least months) studying the Chinese characters (either for the purposes of learning Chinese, or Japanese, or both), and have managed to successfully lodge several thousands of them in your brain, while keeping them distinct and separate from each other, with all their confusing similarities and near randomness in the composition of elements, masquerading as a logical system - if you did this, and you still consider the Arabic alphabet more difficult, then I guess I’ll have to reevaluate my assessment.

Again, I’m talking just about the writing systems here, not the whole languages.

I think that I agree that the chinese writing system is more complicated, but not more difficult if that makes any sense. Absolutely thousands of abstract pictorial characters is more complex system… but today learning it is straightforward today with browser enabled readers and standardized mandarin pinyin. The logic of mandarin sentence structure just works with characters and it is a long but straightforward path.

Japanese is a whole other can of bees though. I know around a few hundred characters and reading Japanese is some of the hardest stuff ever. Homonyms, multiple meanings, so few sounds and an unrelenting reliance on vague context. I am doubtful that reading kanji will ever make any sense.