September 4, 2009 | Arabic

So Many Books, So Little Time

I visit Dahesh Heritage bookstore near the Time Warner Center.

Today I googled “Arabic bookstore nyc” and discovered the Dahesh Heritage bookstore, on 57th and Broadway, just three-fourths of a mile from me. (I love this city.) I promptly made my way there.

Dahesh Bookstore, Book-Lined and Welcoming

The store is on the fifth floor of 1775 Broadway, and is actually a publishing company as well as a bookstore. The manager, Mike Masri, told me they do wholesale primarily and have other offices globally. He also said that they sell to Columbia and New York University, which I found reassuring.

Mike was super nice and helpful. He taught me a few Arabic words, answered a couple of questions I had about written Arabic, showed me around the place, and gave me recommendations for study materials.

Obviously I wasn’t a high-volume kind of customer, but he didn’t rush me out of there. I ended up spending more than $50 on two things: flashcards, which I love, and a book/DVD combination, Alif Baa with Multimedia: Introduction to Arabic Letters and Sounds, which he said the Columbia and NYU students use.

My New Flashcards from Dahesh Bookstore

In terms of studying, I did Pimsleur today, plus I am blazing through the Nicholas Awde alphabet book. In fact, I stayed up until 3 a.m. last night (i.e., this morning) working on it. I’m currently on page 60-something, and I’m kind of able to write at least some words. Arabic writing is complicated, and I confess I am feeling pretty proud of myself.

Something that surprised me about written Arabic: when the definite article is included before a noun, the two elements are written together as a single word. I am therefore being taught, for example, how to write “prophet” versus “the prophet,” “religion” versus “the religion,” etc. (And yes, there continues to be way too much religion in this book for my taste.)

Regarding spoken Arabic: there are sounds that—at least when I try to form them—strike my English-speaking ear as, well, unfeminine. I am no girlie-girl, but I feel uneasy trying to make such throat-clearing sounds in public. The letters ع (called ayn) and ﻍ (ghayn) are among my bigger challenges, but there are other challenging consonants as well. Saying these sounds correctly requires physical skills that I do not currently have, and I fear I will need to practice extensively at home before I am socially acceptable.

Tonight I had buyer’s remorse about the day’s purchases. I have gotten really carried away with buying materials this time around. This is supposed to be a budget language-learning program, and I now have more than I will be able to use, including several books, a dictionary, various CDs, and the flashcards. Fortunately, Pimsleur was free through the New York Public Library, but this is still a case of my eyes being bigger than my brain. I have the same problem with the eye-stomach relationship, so at least I’m consistent.

One good thing: I discovered a free Arabic TV channel, 507 (at least in my area) through Time Warner Cable. I have no idea why it’s free.

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