I think an important thing in any learning strategy or any learning method that we use is to do what we want to do.
today I want to talk about my strategy for learning Arabic.
So Arabic, Arabic spoken by, I don’t know, 350-400 million people in the world. An area of the world that’s often in the news. Well, I was very motivated to learn Arabic, but I’ve been at it for quite a while and I’m probably not doing that well.
And so I want to go over my strategy and things that, uh, maybe have changed in my strategy and maybe my experience can be helpful to other people. I will show you in my statistics at LingQ when I started with Arabic, uh, I will show you that I started Arabic in April of 2018.
That not long thereafter I also started learning Persian and not long after that I started learning Turkish.
So I had this strategy of learning three major languages of the Middle East. Uh, my motivation was…
I started with Hebrew cause my wife and I were visiting… in fact, I did Greek and Hebrew cause we were going to visit Crete and Israel. Then I went to Jordan and I said, there’s a lot more Arabic speakers. So I went and decided to learn Arabic.
Then I came home and discovered that in Vancouver, we have so many Iranian immigrants here.
So I decided to learn Persian at the same time. Uh, and then my wife was watching this Turkish mini-series on Netflix so I
said, why don’t I go after these three major languages of the Middle East?
Um, I dropped Turkish, uh, because written in the Latin alphabet, it’s in fact easier for me. A major obstacle in my Arabic learning is the writing system. It’s simply so difficult for the brain to get used to a different writing system.
So I decided to focus on Persian and Arabic, both of which use the Arabic script. Then the other problem, of course, with Arabic there is standard Arabic, which nobody speaks as a native language, but which is the language used in, you know, education in, in political discussions, on, you know, television, podcasts and so forth.
Uh, most things are written in Standard Arabic, but if you go to Lebanon or Syria or Egypt, not to mention Morocco or Iraq or the Persian Gulf uh, people speak various forms of Arabic.
And so I initially had the strategy of focusing my Arabic, uh, effort on Standard Arabic, but then more recently I decided because the movies are all from Lebanon or from Egypt or sometimes from the Gulf.
Uh, and of course that’s the language that people speak that is the conversational language. So I said, I should try to learn those as well.
So I had a tutor in, uh, Egyptian Arabic, in fact, yeah one, and we have at LingQ, we have a number of resources in both Levantine and Egyptian Arabic. Uh, but what I found after a while is that by trying to speak Egyptian Arabic with my Egyptian Arabic tutor, in the end, I ended up not being able to speak anything.
Uh, and so I had this experience the other day, and this is what sort of triggered my decision to change my strategy, which I’m coming to. Um, so I was actually cleaning my deck because my deck, I have a big wooden deck and get a lot of, uh, you know, moss growing on it.
So I actually bought a power washer and a great power washer. It took me quite a while to assemble it, but it works. Uh, and in the middle of doing that, I said, I’m going to go down… I wasn’t confident the power washer would do the job.
I’m going to buy some vinegar and I’m going to scrub the deck as well with vinegar. And then I said, I’ll drop by… there’s an area where there’s like three Persian, uh, stores. One is a guy who fixes electronic equipment and then there’s a little
place where they sell kebabs and then there’s a coffee shop and there’s a little patio in between the three of them.
So I go there.
So I walk into the coffee shop and I, and it’s got the same name as the kebab shop. And I said, are you connected?
Yes. So I can eat here?
Yes. And then I said, Salaam expecting to speak Persian, but she was from Lebanon. So we spoke Arabic and I couldn’t say anything in Levantine Arabic. Basically what came out was my Standard Arabic. And she was very happy with my Arabic.
She told other people, of course, they’re always very nice to you about how well I speak Arabic, which isn’t true, of course, but I was surprised at how much I could say in Standard Arabic, even though I had left it and was trying to learn Egyptian Arabic. Just as a matter of interest, uh, people who walked into that, oh, and this lady who was originally from Lebanon had lived in China, but she didn’t speak Chinese. She’d lived in Sweden. So we spok in Swedish and she had some connection with Russian, which I don’t know, but she spoke Russian and lo and behold, some Persian people came in and we spoke Persian and then another person came in from Moldova and we spoke Russian.
So I had a whole… And there was another gentleman sitting there who had lived in Korea and wanted to learn languages.
And I persuaded him to join LingQ. I had a great time, but I walked away from that saying the language, the Arabic language that I spent the most time with, the Arabic language that I can actually say something in is Standard Arabic.
I now know enough of Egyptian Arabic and Levantine Arabic that some of the things you know, that they do… so it’s, you know … uh, you know, the Levantine’s say … at the end of the sentence instead of … at the beginning to introduce a question, uh, you know … or all these things in Egyptian, uh, or in Levantine, I know enough of them now that I can understand better if someone is kind of speaking mostly … but mixing in a lot of dialect or a lot of regional variation.
So I’ve kind of achieved what I hope to achieve, but I’m going to go back to speaking Standard Arabic mixing in a bit of Egyptian or Levantine, depending on the situation, hoping to understand. And very often we pick up from other people.
So if I’m speaking to someone and I’m sort of mixing in, it’s a bit like my … if I mix in a bit of Egyptian or Levantine but stick to what I know. I think that’s going to enable me to communicate. So my strategy where I’ve said, initially, I said, you know, stay with … because I can listen to podcasts. Then I said, no, I’m going to learn, you know, Egyptian or Levantine and
put some effort into both of those. And now I’m saying those are good for comprehension and I’ll mix some of those expressions in, but basically I’m going to stay with, um, Standard. So I think an important thing in any learning strategy or any learning method that we use is to do what we want to do. The only thing that really matters in language learning is the attitude of the learner and the time we put in.
So some people like flashcards, some people like Anki, some people like a Duolingo. It doesn’t matter. As long as you enjoy what you’re doing, you will improve as long as you’re putting in the time, you’ll do fine. So on that basis and, and we can change. I can think that my… I should be doing this in Arabic. And then I changed my mind.
The other thing I would do now is I would not attempt three languages at the same time. Uh, because it means you’re going to be slowed down in each one of them. On the other hand, I have a sense of Persian. I can actually converse in person.
I can kind of converse in Arabic and I have a bit of a sense of what Turkish is all about and whatever I put into those languages it’s not lost.
Cause if I go back to my Turkish, which is the, now the weakest of the three, very quickly will I get back to where I was, and then I can take it forward. So it’s not a, I didn’t make a mistake by sort of dissipating my energies. It just meant that I didn’t get as far in any one of them as I would have been able to do had I focused on just one.
So, and I’m going to leave you with a little walkthrough of my statistics at LingQ so that you’ll see, you know, what the history has been of my, uh, learning, uh, of those of those languages. And after that, uh, I will leave a couple of videos that you can go to, uh, to see, you know, my Arabic, uh, three years ago, and then two years ago, already, four years ago and two years ago.