My first Arabic lesson EVER
January 12, 2013 7 Comments
I can proudly say that I now know three things about Arabic that I didn’t know last week. No, I don’t know how to ask where the bathroom is or any other essential phrases that would save me from discomfort or embarrassment in an Arabic-speaking country. No, I can’t even pronounce with confidence a single Arabic word. But I know these three things:
- The Arabic alphabet has a character that looks like a smiley-face.
- The words sugar and alcohol come from Arabic.
- Rosetta Stone has online tech support you can chat with if you can’t install your software properly.
When I started to tell people I was going to learn Arabic this year, I got a lot of questions, especially about the relationship between Arabic and English. What English words come from Arabic? A quick internet search provided a good list. A lot of words beginning with al come from Arabic, like algebra and alcohol, and, less obviously, artichoke (il carciofo in Italian, alcachofa in Spanish, al-khurshuf in Arabic). Al is a definite article, like the in English. Another great category is food words: sugar comes from sukkar, lemon comes from laimon, and the spices caraway, saffron, and cumin resemble their Arabic names al-karawiya, za’faran, and kammun. The fabrics muslin and damask are named after the cities Mosul and Damascus. Other random Arabic-derived words I like include sofa, ghoul, ream (as in ream of paper), crimson, lilac, zenith, and zero.
In perusing the internet for Arabic-language learning apps to supplement the Rosetta Stone software I got for Christmas, I stumbled across the website ArabicOnline.eu, an educational site created by the European Union for Arabic language learning. The site features a very dignified-sounding introductory video about the reasons to learn the language. It gravely warned me that I must clear my mind of the myths surrounding Arabic before starting to learn. Since I had never heard any myths about the Arabic language, I learned them from the video and then promptly forgot almost all of them. (Four hundred words for the camel? Really? That doesn’t sound terrible– it sounds interesting!) What I do remember from the video is that Arabic grammar has a root-and-pattern system. So related words will have the same root, and adding prefixes or suffixes to them will give you different meanings. So when you learn one root, it’s easy to recognize the related words that come from it. Feeling reassured, I decided to stop stalling and try my first Rosetta Stone lesson.
After a very long time trying to install the software and about 40 minutes online with customer support, I got the first Arabic software CD installed and ready to go. In my previous post I said I wanted to focus on speaking and listening, but when the time came to configure my settings I impulsively selected the extended course, with Arabic letters, characters and sounds included. I’m taking the saturation bombing approach: anything I can find to teach me Arabic, I will consume.
You can try Rosetta Stone’s free online Arabic demo for yourself here (you just have to enter your email address). It starts out by modeling the pronunciation for what I assume to be the words for woman, man, girl, and boy. Then you have to match the word you hear to a picture. The rest of the unit teaches you words for basic verbs like eating, drinking, reading, writing, running and swimming. You also have to distinguish between sentences about multiple people versus just one, and what I assume to be the pronouns he, she, and they. There’s even a part where you have to figure out which sentence means that they are inside and which one means that they are outside. The program makes a happy noise when you make the correct match, and a sad noise when you mess up. I started out okay, but as the lesson went on I got chastised with more and more sad sounds. As the sentences came faster and faster I desperately tried to think of mnemonic devices to help me remember. The word for girl, which sounded like bintun, was easy to remember. The word for boy had a sound that sounded like the Spanish word huele, so I imagined a stinky boy. The word for man sounded like rajulun to me, so I imagined Raj from the Big Bang Theory when I heard it. And the word for woman wouldn’t stay in my memory no matter what I tried.
For me, the biggest difference between this Arabic lesson and other languages I have learned is that I saw the words written in Arabic characters, not in the Latin-based alphabet I am used to.* Although Rosetta stone showed me the words and sentences I was practicing, the Arabic script I saw didn’t hold any meaning for me and I mostly just ignored it. I did notice, though, that the word for girl had my favorite Arabic letter, the one that looks like a smiley-face.
At the end of the unit, I was told I had scored an 80%. Not bad! And certainly better than I thought I was doing.
If you tried to online demo too, let me know how you did! Any ideas for how I can remember the sounds better?
I thought about going back and repeating the first lesson to try for a better score, but instead I decided I really wanted to repeat only the words I thought I could remember, for boy, girl, man, and woman. So I went to Google Translate and typed in the word girl. Google Translate has a little speakerphone button where you can hear the translated text. Imagine my surprise when I got this Arabic word instead: something sounding like fatet, nothing like the word I thought I had learned. I tried the other options for girl, but nothing matched. I had a little more luck trying to translate boy, the fourth option sounded like the one Rosetta Stone had taught me. I guess what every language teacher says is true: you can’t rely only on Google Translate for your language-learning needs.
To end my Arabic lesson for the day, I found this cute video of Maha, a woman teaching Luca, an Italian man, (probably her husband) the Arabic alphabet. I saw my favorite smiley-face letter again, and I learned how to say “my love:” Habibi!
Next up for me in my Arabic2013 challenge: Practice, practice, practice! I am going to repeat that lesson about boys, girls, men, and women and see what else I can remember.
*Fun fact: even though it begins with al, the word alphabet is not from Arabic, it comes from the words alpha and beta. The characters I am using to write this are the Latin alphabet, but the numbers I use (1,2,3,4,5…) are Arabic numerals (except, of course, when I use Roman numerals).
- How to learn to speak Arabic in just one year (bilinguish.wordpress.com)