September 5, 2009 | Arabic

Arabic Writing Challenges

On learning to write in Arabic.

This morning I was happily working my way through the Nicholas Awde alphabet book, with Arabic TV on in the background, when I found my educational goals thwarted. The Arabic programming had just been replaced with an infomercial, tragically in English, for younger-looking skin. This could be achieved, according to Jane Seymour, the star of the infomercial, by using a product called “Natural Advantage.”

Jane Seymour, I loved you in Somewhere in Time, but you are blocking my progress.

Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, with Diacritical Marks

Anyway, in the Awde book I was learning how to write words like “bee” and “love” and other short little things like that. Then all of a sudden they threw this one at me: “the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” I tried to write it in Arabic on my own, without looking, but I did abysmally and gave up.

I began reading another of my Arabic books today, Arabic by Jack Smart and Frances Altorfer, one of the many offerings in McGraw-Hill’s “Teach Yourself” series. The very first person thanked on the acknowledgments page was H.H. Dr. Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad al-Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah. Normally my grammar books do not contain references to rulers of Sharjah, or rulers of anywhere.

One of the things I read in this book was that Arabic writing hasn’t really changed in 12 centuries. How utterly unlike English. It seems as though that would keep you closer to your literary traditions. In English it is hard, since old English is unrecognizable to modern speakers, and there aren’t many people willing to brave learning a dead version of English in order to get through Beowulf in the original.

Another thing I read in the Arabic book was reassuring: “Many people are put off learning Arabic because of the apparently difficult script. In fact, this is one of the easiest and most rewarding aspects of learning Arabic. The Arabic alphabet consists of only 29 letters, and its spelling is 95 percent phonetic and therefore largely self-explanatory—something that could never be said of English. Once you have mastered the basic forms of the letters, you will never have to ask yourself the (equivalent) question of ‘How many p’s are there in apartment?’ and the like.”

I didn’t think of this until today, but there are no capital letters in Arabic—what a lucky break!

Besides working on my grasp of Arabic writing, I also worked on my oral skills, doing Pimsleur lessons while lying on the wooden floor of our office. I often do Pimsleur on our office floor with my eyes closed. I’m not sure why, but it helps me concentrate. There is something very pure and elemental about lying horizontally on a hard surface. 

Me and Pimsleur, on Office Floor

I also played a VocabuLearn CD for Arabic nouns (Level 1). They say al (the definite article “the”) in front of each noun. Just as with the Russian VocabuLearn, Mozart music plays in the background.

Weirdly, so far Arabic actually seems easier than Russian. The grammar seems simpler. It is too early to tell, though. For one thing, I can’t understand a lot of the sounds on the Pimsleur.

Ma salaami, which is “good-bye,” makes me laugh. I’m sorry, but it does.

I’m exhausted because I keep staying up too late doing Arabic.

Comments (2)

Kris L. • Posted on Mon, August 19, 2013 - 6:14 pm EST

I’ll have to try this lying down on the floor thing.  I do usually close my eyes as well when I am listening to my Pimsleur.  I have a feeling that my cats will think it is time to play!  They already find me strange when I am talking another language and not talking to them!

Ellen Jovin • Posted on Mon, August 19, 2013 - 6:34 pm EST

I have decided since this post that my best Pimsleur results come on walks. The walks have to be in quiet places, like a park, on routes that I know and don’t have to think about - not on noisy urban streets where I have to negotiate people and cars.

My memory seems better when I walk than it does when I am lying down. Lying down works well, too, but I tend to get fidgety.

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