Many people ask me if you can teach yourself Arabic. Usually those people have already decided on Arabic self learning and what they want to know is how to accomplish this goal in the fastest and most efficient way possible. As far as learning languages is concerned, and Arabic in particular, it is the wish and personal fantasy of most people to teach yourself Arabic, independantly of teachers, at their own pace, under their conditions and preferably for free. It is always tempting to think we can do something completely by ourselves, such as learn Arabic for free without the input of another.
Regardless of the reasons some of us recognise the benefits of studying Arabic with a teacher combined with independant study which is why at LingoLearn we offer a free Arabic trial lesson with a teacher. Often, when studying Arabic, too much is made of its affinity to Hebrew or its worth, as a language, is limited to where it was first learned, such as school or the military and we end up thinking we have enough background in the language to continue to learn Arabic for free on our own. The truth is that to teach yourself Arabic is not at all trivial. In order to offer enough options to teach yourself Arabic we will first go over the subject in depth and then arrive at the relevant conclusions.
Arabic, like the majority of world languages, is first and foremost a mother tongue for most of its speakers (English is one of the exceptions to this rule). That means that most Arabic speakers “live and breathe” this language everyday of their lives from the day they are born. It is at this point we, who want to learn this language, come into the picture and wish to learn to use this language on a level that would allow us basic communication, using a bypass or a highway to master Arabic. This means non-natural study, or “lab” conditions. Not only do we not experience the language from the day we are born but we also, in many cases, do not relocate to a country or place where the language is used on a daily basis where we could learn Arabic for free by constant exposure to the language. Thus we study the language outside of its natural context in an artificial environment. This means learning Arabic can be a complicated process, even with the help of a teacher, and naturally much more so if we opt for teach yourself Arabic planning without any guidance or help.
To understand the process of acquiring a language in adults we will examine the same process in children (in general young children have the best affinity to new languages and as we get older the parts in our brain, responsible for acquiring new languages, are subject to wear). This will give us an insight of how a person with an affinity for languages reacts when studying and allow us to extrapolate conclusions about older students. We have all come across proud parents who tell us right away their children speak Spanish like a native speaker after watching Spanish soap operas. That’s amazing! From this senerio it seems that children have the ideal conditions in their brains for learning a language, as their can watch, listen and afterwards mimic what they have seen and heard. Since the best form of study happens when the learner isnt consciously aware of learning, we can assume that it’s an effective process and could be used in this context to learn Arabic for free. And indeed, after a short while the children only reply on some subtitles and can understand many words and expressions. But which expressions do they understand? Well, those that are repetative, namely conjuctions, short words which are easy to pronounce and so on. What expressions do they miss on? Words and expressions less used or less approachable, because of complicated pronunciations etc. There in lays the danger to only teach yourself Arabic as your only learning method.
The important question in this analysis is – do the forementioned children really know how to speak Spanish after a year of watching soap operas or is it only wishful thinking on their parents part? The answer is no, they can’t. Spanish speaking is an active skill and the children only acquire a passive skill in using the language. In addition their “study” is non-linear, there is no element of guidance or feedback given to their passive learning. Such feedback is important, even vital, for several reasons:
• Not every translation we read really conveys the meaning of the expression or used sentance. This can create distortions in our perception and understanding of the language. Without a teacher, who knows the language by heart, these distortions are harmful for our future learning and application of the language. While it is possible to learn a certain amount when you learn Arabic for free you can never be sure you are learning the nuances of the language correctly without this guidance in the language.
• When we hear an expression we repeat it and use it ourselves (See, I can say “Good morning” in Arabic!). The issue with this is that, without feedback, we have no way of knowing whether we used the expression correctly, both in its pronunciation and grammatical structure and syntax. We ask ourselves – “I understand what I said, but would a native Arabic speaker understand me?”. A continuous lack of feedback when you teach yourself Arabic can lead to the wrong use of the language, that can cause a destruction in confidence, and can lead to the learner giving up on the study process.
• Languages are living organisms, involving complexities and nuances. Students are not expected to understand this organism by themselves and they need a teacher to guide them through the path of obstacles which studying a language involes. When you learn Arabic for free and alone you miss this vital part of the learning equation.
What we discussed so far is mainly an illustration of the problems children have in passive learning of a language, but it applies even more so to adults who learn only by themselves. An adult will experience difficulties in aquiring a full understanding of a language only by means of watching tapes or using textbooks for self learning. This applies to passive skills in language learning (hearing and reading) and even more so to active skills (conversation and writing). You can to teach yourself Arabic and learn Arabic for free without a teacher but, as illustrated, you can never be sure you are aquiring the skills to be able to use Arabic effectively and correctly without feedback from a teacher.
Considering this, it is always advisable to study a language with the guidance of a teacher, especially in the beginning. It doesn’t mean that every form of studying, or even most of the studying should be with a teacher. On the contrary – a serious student does most of the hard work on their own. Reading texts, using a dictionary, watching or hearing native speakers use the language are very useful for mastering the vocabulary and structure of sentances. A language is made up first and foremost of vocabulary and then the means to connect individual words (grammer and syntax), a teacher cannot learn words in our stead. When we come to class we repeat what we learned outside class and receive feedback and guidance; this process gives meaning to the structure of learning and avoids situations where we are misinformed or moving about in the darkness in search of the correct use of words and sentances.
In short, if you are serious about studying Arabic do not give up on having a teacher and look for every possible means to study the language passively and actively. Read texts and use dictionaries to translate them, watch news and other television shows that interest you in Arabic and try to understand the content. Speak Arabic with every native Arabic speaker you know, force yourself to use more difficult words and be open to feedback and correction – learning from your mistakes is the most effective way to learn. Bring your personal learning experience to class and test yourself to see where you are right and wrong. When you start learning Arabic use a teacher as much as possible and as you progress you will be able to rely less on the teacher and more on learning yourself.
We hope this explanation helped you.
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