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October 3, 2010


Post-Ramadan Teensie-Weensie Tip #5: Start learning Arabic (if you haven’t already) – Part 2

by Umm Muawiyah

Assalamu Alaikum.

[I’m still waiting for more comments on this post before deciding on which option to go for for.]

In Part 1, I mentioned 2 things that we needed to do to learn Arabic, insha-Allah. Here are some more:

[Look, I’m not an expert (and Arabic is not my native language either). These are just my personal views. I could be wrong. ]

3) You need to figure out why you are learning Arabic.

This one might have confused you. Let me explain.

There are 3 different types of Arabic:

a) Classical Arabic (used in the Quran and the ahadeeth).

b) Modern Standard Arabic (used in newspapers, books, and err…even in cartoons).

c) The Dialects – Yes, there are loads of them. There’s the Khaleeji (Gulf) dialect (“Agullich!”), the  Sham (Levantine) dialect (“Shoo biddik?”), the Egyptian dialect (“Aiyi haaga!”), the Northern African dialects (nobody understands what they’re saying so don’t worry about these) and some others. Of course, you have sub-dialects amongst these dialects so…

The first two use the same grammar but have a different vocabulary set.

The third one……..that’s a long story. They’re a hotch-potch. However, they’ve all branched out from the fus-ha (the proper Arabic).

[No, it’s not confusing. Remember what I said about English in Part 1?]

So, what do you want to do?

– Go to Egypt and order some Kushari?

Well then, learning Classical Arabic will not really help. The waiter will say “Haaga thaanee?” and you’ll say: “Aaid, min fadhlik”. And then you might get a glare from the waiter because he’ll think you used the feminine form to talk to him whereas you were actually using fus-ha but the poor boy doesn’t know that.

– Understand the Quran?

Well then, using Pimsleur Egyptian Arabic tapes (“La  Muakhza”) won’t really help.

Many sisters tell me that they want to speak in Arabic. Is this really a priority? Or is understanding the Quran more important?

Please understand that there are four elements in language learning:

1) Listening

2) Speaking

3) Reading

4) Writing

If you want to understand the Quran and focus on your salah, then you should first focus on listening and reading.

Speaking and writing can come later, insha-Allah.

4) The technique is not the key. It’s you.

Yes, that’s the dirty little secret that nobody wants to point out.

I used to feverishly search for the right technique and I found so many articles that gave lots of tips.

Some said that grammar should come first. Other said that it should be the way that languages are naturally learnt (i.e. through speech).

And on and on it went.

Yes, some techniques are better than others.

Yes, some Arabic learning sets are better than others, and some of them are more suited to your needs than others (e.g. the Madinah books are for those who wish to learn Quranic Arabic but the Pimsleur Egyptian Arabic tapes are for those who wish to speak in the Egyptian dialect.)

However, I realised that there was a problem. I heard different people claiming that different techniques worked yet none of them worked for me. From this, I derived two things:

a) All the techniques work to some degree.

Different things work for different people. And you know what? THAT’S FINE.

Why start a war over this? Why write long articles talking about how some methods really suck when those other methods DO work for some people?

If a group of people want to get to a place, then some may choose to go by car. Others may choose to walk. Yet others may choose to take the metro.

And guess what? It’s all fine because 1) the means that they are taking are halal (lawful) and 2) they all end up getting to the destination.

So, the first thing you should do is choose the method that suits you the most and stick to it. Don’t get confused by all the technique wars. If the technique is halal, it’s fine.

b) The reason that I didn’t learn as much as the others was because I was lazy.

You know, I was born and raised in an Arab country (the UAE). Half my friends are Arabs. I’ve been to so many Arabic classes.

My Arabic should be MUCH better than it currently is.

The reason for this is simply because I didn’t put that much effort in learning Arabic. I did lots of dua to learn Arabic. I expected to wake up the next morning with a PhD’s amount of Arabic (remember duaing?).

I was looking for the technique. You know, the one that would FINALLY work.

It took me a long time to realise that the techniques were fine but my brain was the main thing that needed to be fixed.

Suppose you have two people: A and B.

Person A buys a really awful Arabic set (very difficult technique). However, he uses it to its full extent and works really hard to learn Arabic.

Person B buys the best Arabic set available (the best technique to learn Arabic). However, he skims through it and doesn’t do much hard work to learn Arabic.

Who do you think will learn more Arabic? It’s Person A.

Unfortunately, I was Person B.

And you know what? There are many others who are also like Person B. They don’t want to work hard. They think that just doing dua and getting the “best set” or getting a “great teacher” will help.

They’ll only help if you let them help you. And the way to let them help you is to work hard. Trust me on that one.

You need to be dedicated. It’s as simple as that.

Insha-Allah, in the next part, I’ll discuss more things that you need to do in order to learn Arabic. I’m not sure how much the first two parts helped but I hope they did (even if it is a teensie-weensie bit), insha-Allah.

To be continued…

13 Comments Post a comment
  1. Andulusia
    Oct 4 2010

    Actually when I read the title, I was sure I had read this before, then I realized its called Part 2 ;)

    Jazakallahu khairan! Funny, well-written and very interesting post especially because this is something we all have experienced as Non Arabs trying to learn Arabic.

    In your 3rd point, you are right about the four skills in language learning. Reading and listening are known as receptive skills, while speaking and writing are the productive skills.

    4th point: In TEFL, they always shows us the scenario of an older man taking endless English classes but not learning and a young foreign university student who picks up the language in no time. Ofcourse age and environment are some factors, but the main factor in learning a language is the MOTIVATION of the person!!! So you are right again, you can live in a country where everyone doesnt the speak language you know and yet not learn their language just because you are not motivated to, subhanallah.

    Learning different languages is so cool, mashallah. (I wish I was mutilungual, inshallah) but ofcourse the superior one (in reference to the ayah where Musa (as) speaks) is Arabic and should be every Muslim’s priority. Imagine how Makkah was in the past when it was the main hub for trade in Arabia, regardless of where you came from, Arabic must have been the medium for trade just an English is now today. But if you weren’t a speaker of Arabic, you were called an Ajamy (which I will leave you to explain inshallah) ;)

    Jazakallahu khairan!

    • Umm Muawiyah
      Oct 4 2010

      Assalamu Alaikum.

      Welcome back.

      Wa iyaaki.

      [Sorry but when did you turn into a non-Arab and does your father know?]

      Jazakillahu kheira for the information. I didn’t know what the four skills were called.

      That’s their scenario? How demotivating….

      Erm…you are somewhat multi-lingual (remember when you decided to surprise with me with your Espanol?).

      Ajamy = non-Arab (actually, there’s more to being an Ajamy than that. I’ll put up something on that in Part 3, insha-Allah)

      PS. It’s Jazakillahu kheira for a woman.

  2. Andulusia
    Oct 4 2010

    hey you can put the counter again ;) 300 and something days to go before the next Ramadan or it doesnt go that far???

    • Umm Muawiyah
      Oct 4 2010

      Assalamu Alaikum.

      That counter was manually operated. I don’t have 300+ days of changing counters in me….

  3. Mona
    Oct 4 2010

    definitely helped. i was person B too. i’m going to be person A this time around.

    • Umm Muawiyah
      Oct 4 2010

      Assalamu Alaikum.


  4. Aliya
    Oct 4 2010

    Very interesting and an incentive to start. Inshallah.

    • Umm Muawiyah
      Oct 4 2010

      Assalamu Alaikum.


  5. Umar Farooq
    Oct 4 2010


    I am learning classical Arabic from the text book of Faa Abdur Raheem. I am into the second of the three text books. Have a class thrice a week after fajr. I am picking up rather slowly, cos i dont (get the time to) do homework. Classical Arabic would be my pick. Why should he stare, ask him to go learn classical as well. When we are classic, we shouldn’t care! The onus is on others to comply!

    (it’s like you worrying people will stare if you say aameen loudly, you’ll know what I’m talking about if you are an indo-paki by ethnicity!)

    Wassalaamualaiykum, Jazakallaah Khair

    • Umm Muawiyah
      Oct 4 2010

      Wa Alaikum Assalam Brother.

      Perhaps you mean “V” Abdur Rahim?

      Perhaps you didn’t understand the joke. “Min Fadhlik” in fus-ha is “please” for both a man and a woman, whereas in Aamiyah (the dialects) it is for a woman only. Many Arabs find it very strange when it is used for a man because they are used to it being directed at women only.

      And no, I never said one should care what others think when using classical Arabic. I’ll be discussing this issue in Part 3, insha-Allah. However, if I was talking to the Egyptian waiter, I would use “min fadhlak” for many reasons.

      No, I had no clue that Indians and Pakistanis worry about people staring at them if they say ameen loudly. I suppose one learns something new everyday….

      Wa Iyaak.

      PS. It’s Jazakillahu kheira when speaking to a woman.

  6. Faiza
    Oct 4 2010

    ASAK, I think it is the most important to learn the classical Arabic so one can understand Koran, as this is something you will do your whole life (read/memorize Koran inshallah). Who does not want to know the words of Allah and the message he has sent us. You don’t really need the modern Arabic unless you live in an Arab country and will use it to communicate (or try to understand what other women are saying behind your back). Come to think of it that is helpful too, but my vote goes to the Classical, imagine understanding words in the Taraweh prayer-priceless.

    Lastly you have such a good sense of humour, did you write comedy at some point in your life?

    • Umm Muawiyah
      Oct 5 2010

      Wa Alaikum Assalam.

      [It’s “Quran” actually. “Koran” is the wrong transliteration and is usually used by the kuffar.]

      Actually, most of the Arabs will say what they have to right to your face, alhamdulillah, so you don’t have to learn Arabic to eavesdrop….

      Yes, understanding the words during Taraweeh is a really amazing feeling. You don’t ever get bored or tired of standing for a long time.

      Erm…please define “write comedy”. SNL? No, alhamdulillah. My usual emails and blog posts? Yes.

  7. nelofer
    Oct 5 2010

    would like to learn classical arabic


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