For some people, the task of learning a new language with all of its corresponding grammar, spelling, conjugations, and everything else, just seems impossible. Others see learning a new language as a marvellous opportunity to learn something new and expand their horizons, as well as learning about different cultures and regions of the world.
One of the main things that puts people off studying a new language is the difficulty often associated with doing so. Many people had negative experiences learning languages at school and are therefore less keen to go through that again.
There is always a desire for a so-called quick fix, with some people suggesting it is possible to master Arabic in 30 days. But remember that you will need to be patient when learning this ancient language. Hard work and dedication are both the key to success when learning Arabic.
So what’s it really like learning Arabic?
Is it really that difficult to study?
Let Go of Your Presuppositions Regarding Arabic
The answer to the question: “is Arabic difficult to learn?”, is both yes and no. Of course, learning a new language always takes lots of work and an investment of time.
As with any language, learning Arabic will take time, determination, regular study, and lots of practice.
However, being a Semitic language, Arabic grammar is more regular and has a lot more patterns than English or French, and so in that sense it’s easier to learn than Germanic or Latin languages.
If you ask a person on the street what the hardest languages to learn are, they’ll more than likely answer with like Japanese, Chinese, Polish, Icelandic, or Arabic.
These languages often seem so different to what we’re used to, so much so that we think they must be difficult to master. The reality is often different, and although the Arabic language may seem a daunting prospect, if you give it time and approach it with an open mind you will soon see the benefits of learning Arabic.
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Obstacles in Arabic Lessons Are All Relative
When you look at things objectively, it is impossible to say that one language is harder or easier to learn than any other.
It all depends on your point of view, opinion, and your levels of motivation and determination. So long as you study regularly, and focus on the rules of Arabic grammar at least once a week, the task becomes much easier.
Remember to take the time to learn different verbs, nouns, adjectives, and anything else that is vocabulary based. As a beginner to learning the language, these will form the basis of your early experiences in Arabic. Learning to write Arabic letter and improving your Arabic pronunciation will come in time, but to do this you need to have the aforementioned building blocks.
Doing this will remove one of the main obstacles to learning Arabic; a lack of early progress. Building your vocabulary of words and phrases will instil yourself with a level of confidence as you will be able to see the progress that you make as your vocabulary expands. If you are going to learn a new language, don't be defeated early on!
Don’t Make Mountains Out of Molehills!
Of course, the Arabic language has almost nothing in common with English; either in structure, grammar, or pronunciation. However, this shouldn’t stop you from deciding to learn the language.
At the beginning, you’ll hit a few walls as you try to learn Arabic, but this is normal no matter what you choose to study. As long as you keep at it, what once seemed a massive challenge will eventually be completely achievable.
If you truly immerse yourself in the language, and you give it everything you've got, many of the things that previously seemed impossible to absorb will suddenly become obvious and you'll wonder why you ever struggled.
You will start to see the many benefits of studying Arabic, and your eyes will be opened to a wide range of fantastic Arabic cultures which have heavily influenced the modern world in more ways that most people fully comprehend.
Don’t Forget the Small Rules!
Without realizing it, we use lots of idioms and cliches in English which make it an incredibly tough language, not only to learn, but to understand and to fully utilize.
It’s a fact - native speakers are often the worst at judging the difficulty of their language.
So for some people, Arabic classes could seem nice and easy, but to others they might appear horribly difficult.
Pay attention to what people tell you and do some research about the Arabic language to decide if you really want to learn it. If you decide to pursue Arabic, you’ll find dozens of ways to achieve your goal.
What you must remember is that language learning should be fun. Don't get bogged down in the grammatical intricacies of Arabic writing. As a new learner, you should focus on the conversational side of the language, with an emphasis on Arabic words and Arabic phrases.
An enormous amount of help can be found online to help you learn Arabic, with a number of free resources being readily available. What's more, most Arabic classes are affordable.
Judging How Difficult It Is to Learn Arabic
When you think that there are over 7000 languages currently spoken in the world, including all the different dialects, it would be difficult to make a purely analytical assessment of which language is the most difficult to learn.
So while some African languages have a reputation for having incredibly difficult grammar, or alembic structures, they aren’t often included in the lists of the most challenging languages to learn.
So how can you decide if a language like Arabic is difficult or not?
There are several different objective criteria that you can use to judge just how difficult it is to learn Arabic.
How Long Does It Take to Learn Arabic?
This is a difficult question to answer. This does not only depend on each individual person and how much time and energy they invest into learning Arabic, but it also has to do with previous language experience, the quality of teaching and the exposure to the language outside of a learning environment. Your attitude and your motivation will also play a key role in how long it takes you to learn Arabic.
However, according to the US Foreign Service Institute (FSI), Arabic is a group 4 language. Research done by the FSI suggests that it will take around 720 hours of study to reach a basic fluency level in Arabic, whereby you can talk about social situations and work requirements. This is compared to 480 hours for group 1 languages such as French, German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish.
Therefore it is highly recommended that you are committed to learning Arabic, and that you take advantage of all of the resources at your disposal and online to make sure that the process is a successful one.
How Similar Is It to Your Mother Tongue?
A good way to evaluate how difficult a language will be for you to learn, is to find out how different it is from your native language.
For example, if Spanish or German seem like the easiest languages for you to learn, that’s because they have more in common with English, especially thanks to the ‘vulgar’ Latin that was spoken as the official language of the Roman Empire at the dawn of the first century AD.
After all, French, Spanish, and Italian are all divergent dialects which came from the same language (English is a slightly unique case because of its history of invasions, and although it has many similarities with the Romance languages, it is actually classified as Germanic.)
If you speak Spanish well, there are many words that might seem familiar in Arabic, but with different intonations. This comes from the long Arab presence on the Iberian peninsula.
As for French, it might seem easy for an English speaker to learn because a lot of English words actually came from French originally. However, the pronunciation is often very different and can pose a challenge for French students.
As you are probably now starting to see, the further from English (or a Romance or Germanic language) you go, the more difficult the language will seem, and you’ll face more challenges as the language you’re studying seems to have less in common with English.
Are the Sounds Similar?
If two languages have similar sounds, learning to speak a new language will often seem slightly easier.
But in Arabic, it is difficult to find any similar vowel or word sounds to English.
If you asked a native Arabic speaker to pronounce the difference between ‘in’ ‘on’ and ‘an’, would they hear a difference?
According to one study, Italian is considered to be the most beautiful European language, but that might be because most of the sounds in Italian are also present in other European languages, to various degrees.
It is this sense of familiarity which makes us think that Italian is a beautiful and easy language to learn.
With the Arabic language, it’s more difficult to find similarities in the sounds and pronunciations, especially since vowels are barely pronounced in the language.
Even though the Arabic alphabet has a somewhat familiar 28 letters, none of them resemble what we tend to use in America or Europe. Not to mention that the shape of each letter changes depending on where it’s placed in the word.
From this point of view, alas, it seems a given that learning Arabic will be more difficult for English speakers than for students who are coming from other languages.
Complex Grammar Structures
Arabic is spoken by more than 400 million people worldwide.
However, there are many different variations on Arabic, especially between the written (literary Arabic) and spoken (dialect) forms.
It isn't necessary to learn literary Arabic if you want to speak Arabic, but it’s a very good place to start if you want to learn the structure of the language well and avoid any bad linguistic habits.
Spoken Arabic, on the other hand, is something quite different. Essentially, each Arabic speaking country has developed its own local dialect, with its own unique vocabulary, expressions, and grammar.
If you live in Morocco, it isn’t a given that you’ll be able to understand Tunisian or Egyptian Arabic, or even that will understand someone from the United Arab Emirates.
You should think about which Arabic dialect you want to learn to speak, and make sure you find the right teacher and resources to learn the type of Arabic that you want to.
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A Confusing Script
Most Western languages use the Latin alphabet, and it is easy to recognize all the different letters that make up the English alphabet.
This is another challenging aspect about Arabic - there are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet, but their forms all change depending on where the words fall in the sentence.
You might see the same letter at the beginning, end, or in the middle of a word, each time with a completely different meaning.
You’ll also have to learn to stop reading from left to right, and begin reading in the opposite direction - but this is a hard habit to break for a native English speaker!
The 3 Unknown Sounds
Finally, pronunciation and reading pose one of the big challenges to learning Arabic - there are 3 sounds in Arabic which don’t exist in most Western languages, and are written with the numbers 3, 7, and 9.
These sounds don’t exist at all in English and therefore mastering them can be somewhat tricky.
But what are they? The sound ‘qu’ which comes from the back of the throat, a rough ‘h’, and finally a vocalized ‘h’ that sounds like ‘ai.’
Once you’ve learned how to understand and interpret all of these little quirks and differences of the Arabic language, learning Arabic will be just the same as any other language.
As you can see, learning Arabic will take a lot of personal dedication; it’s a long process which requires regular study of spelling and grammar rules.
Arabic is not a language that you can just dip in and out of. It requires dedication and a commitment of time and effort if you truly want to learn to speak and write it.
You will also need to make good use of a wide range of resources. It is highly recommended that you get hold of a good English-Arabic dictionary, especially if you want to learn Modern Standard Arabic. You should also search for some of the best smartphone apps to help you to practice what you have learned whilst you are commuting to and from work.
But perhaps the best way to tackle learning Arabic is to find an Arabic course. This could be an Arabic for beginners course at a local language school, private one or one classes with a native speaker, or if you are particularly motivated, free online classes for learning Arabic on the internet.
The prospect of learning Arabic can often seem quite difficult when you first start studying it, but so long as you work hard and maybe do a bit of conversation practice with an Arab speaker, you’ll make consistent progress.
If you make good use of all of the tools and resources available to you, you will progress quickly and you will learn about fascinating history of a language and a culture which is constantly shaping the modern world in which we live.
There isn’t just one place to go to learn Arabic, and since it’s spoken in so many countries you have a wide choice to choose from. So whether it's Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, or Lebanon, take your pick and discover a language that has been evolving for millennia. And remember, this is your best bet to learn Arabic quickly.