Teach Yourself Arabic (with CDs)
Revised April 8, 2013
Authors Jack Smart, Frances Altorfer
Series Teach Yourself
Publication Date 2004
Skill Level Beginner, Intermediate
I used Teach Yourself Arabic by Jack Smart and Frances Altorfer back in 2009, and it struck me as an example of language-learning marketing trumping actual usability. This book-CD combo was a total bust for me.
I confess I am put off by many language-learning products that consist of a book and one or two accompanying CDs. Too often, it seems to me, publishers are just trying to jam books into a multimedia structure without considering whether they are in fact producing something of pedagogical value. Teach Yourself Arabic may have come in a clear plastic package showcasing its various assets—book! CD!—and reflecting light like a halo, but it dumped me unceremoniously on my language-learning ass.
Audio files are useful if they offer meaningful opportunities for interactivity and practice, but for Unit 1 of Teach Yourself Arabic, the CD basically just pronounced sentences and phrases from within the unit, without opportunities for practice, without repetition, and without explanation before rushing on to the next thing.
And I hated the way the CD related to the content. I was jumping around from section to section, trying and failing to follow along. There was no way to process the combination of book and audio meaningfully. If you are going to do audio, have it be good, smart audio that helps people truly learn!
I also didn’t like the physical appearance of the book’s insides. The text ran so far into the interior margin that I couldn’t even see some of the prompts indicating it was time to listen to the CD (which may have been for the best anyway), and the text layout itself was jammed and chaotic.
The Teach Yourself Arabic book began, “If you are an adult learner with no previous knowledge of Arabic and studying on your own, then this is the course for you.”
No it was not. I was exactly that, and I couldn’t read the Arabic well enough to manage. I did not, in fact, seem to be able to teach myself with this particular Teach Yourself book.
Addendum: Since I used Teach Yourself Arabic, it has gone out of print, and McGraw-Hill has issued an updated version under the name Complete Arabic with Two Audio CDs: A Teach Yourself Guide. Recently I looked through a copy at Barnes & Noble. Although the table of contents is nearly identical, I noticed minor differences in the text (details matter, but standing up in the bookstore I couldn’t determine how much they mattered!) and improvements to the layout.