Arabic has a reputation as one of the hardest languages to master, and it’s not entirely unjustified.
The United States Foreign Service Institute (FSI) places Arabic in Category IV alongside Japanese, Chinese, and Korean as one of the most challenging languages in the world to master, requiring over 2200 hours for complete fluency.
But really, how hard is it to learn Arabic?
It’s important to remember that no language is “easy” to learn. Any language, even languages related to English, can take hundreds to thousands of hours of study to master. Spanish, for example, takes over 24 weeks of daily training — nearly half a year to complete.
If you remember that learning any language is a long-term commitment, it makes Arabic’s perceived difficulty a bit less daunting.
What Makes Arabic Hard to Learn?
For starters, Arabic grammar is quite different from English grammar. While in English, gender does not modify verb form (we say, “she thinks,” and he thinks”), Arabic has different verb forms depending on whether it’s a man or a woman performing the action. This can be tough to incorporate for an English speaker.
Another factor that makes Arabic hard is that it uses some sounds that are new to English speakers. This happens with almost any new language you want to learn (think about the “r” in French) but even more so in Arabic. The letter ” ق” , for example, sounds like a “k” but is pronounced farther back in the throat. Learning all these new sounds can be a significant challenge.
And then there is, of course, the Arabic alphabet- which is completely different from the Latin alphabet (used by most of the languages in the Western hemisphere). To start with, it is written from right to left.
Even though Arabic may be harder to learn than other languages, it does not mean it’s not worth your time and effort. Learning Arabic will sharpen your mind, put your language-learning skills to the test, and give you a competitive advantage when applying for professional roles for which Arabic is useful.
How do you read and write Arabic?
When learning a language, reading and writing are two critically important skills to master alongside your conversational skills. When it comes to languages that use the Roman alphabet, such as Spanish, Romanian, and even Turkish for reading, you don’t have to learn a new script to read. As far as reading out words is concerned, you’re already literate!
However, you will need to spend additional time learning the script in languages with their own scripts, like Arabic. Arabic is also read right to left.
Learning how to write can take a lot of time in some languages — those that use logograms like Chinese and those that use syllabaries like Malayalam have hundreds, or even thousands, of letter/character combinations. Luckily for Arabic language learners, the Arabic alphabet only contains 28 letters.
It’s a great idea first to teach yourself how to read the Arabic script before you embark on your language-learning journey. Flashcards are a great tool to help you do this.
How to learn to read the Arabic script with flashcards
Flashcards can help you easily master the Arabic script in a week or less. Create a deck of flashcards with each letter of the Arabic alphabet — from Alif (ا) all the way to Ya (ي). Write the letters’ sounds in Latin script on the back.
Try to learn how to write five letters every day, then revise your flashcards to make sure you know them. Once you’re able to read all 28 letters, check out some Arabic media online — news websites are a good place to start. Just read the content out loud. You don’t need to know what it means; the purpose of this exercise is to learn how to read the script.
Learning how to read Arabic: going beyond the script
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve overcome a major hurdle to learning Arabic. Knowing how to read the script means that material written in Arabic is now accessible to you. As an extra perk, you’ll also be able to make a good attempt at reading a number of other scripts based on the Arabic script, such as Urdu and Farsi.
Here’s a key question, though: Is knowing how to write the Arabic script the same as knowing how to read Arabic? Unfortunately, it is not. Reading Arabic — being literate in the language — means understanding what the script is trying to convey. This requires you to actually learn Arabic.
Reading and writing Arabic aren’t standalone skills. They’re a subset of the entire Arabic language learning experience. In other words, if you want to learn how to read and write Arabic, you’ll need to learn Arabic!
Getting started: building up a core vocabulary in Arabic
How does this relate to reading and writing Arabic? Conversational fluency — building a vocabulary and being able to put words and phrases together — is an essential skill when trying to understand written material. Through Middlebury’s Immersion Program with the Language Pledge, you gain Arabic oral communication skills, cultural knowledge, and the ability to read and write in the language.
Building a basic Arabic vocabulary is a great way to get a head start before the program. You can do this by using flashcards, too. Once you know how to read and write the Arabic script, draw up a list of 100 simple words — for example, “food,” “house,” “me,” and “water.” Write these words in Arabic on the front of a flashcard and write the English translation on the back.
Study 5-10 new words every day or more if you’re up for it. Since the Middlebury Arabic Immersion Program is a full immersion course, having a core vocabulary in place can make life easier over the first couple of days.
Middlebury Language Schools Arabic Immersion Program: The best way to learn Arabic
While today’s digital world offers a range of language learning opportunities, a full immersion program with a Language Pledge is the only way to effectively build functional knowledge. Reach out to us here to learn more about the Middlebury Arabic Language School Program, the most effective way to learn how to speak the language.