Learn Arabic by Focussing on SimpleTasks

Learn Arabic by Focussing on Simple Tasks

I love learning languages. When I start a new language I am motivated by the sense of anticipation that after a period of sustained effort, I will be able to connect with a new culture, and express myself in a new language. I am probably more motivated than most people. Nevertheless, there are many moments of frustration in the process of acquiring a new language.


One of my learning principles, something that sustains me and enables me to overcome the moments of frustration is the following: I should engage in simple activities that don’t require me to think too hard or deliberately remember anything, and which in some ways are effortless.


Of course these activities are not truly effortless, they are just less frustrating and therefore less effort than some of the more traditional ways of learning.  I often have to remind myself of this principle when I am disappointed at forgetting the same thing over and over.


Getting a Toehold In the Arabic Language

Learn Arabic by Focussing on Simple TasksWhen you start in a new language, everything is strange. At present, my goal is to learn Arabic. I have been at it for a week. Everything is different from what I am used to. When I listen I don’t understand a thing. I can’t read the writing.


I know that it can take years to learn Arabic. Nevertheless it is frustrating that after having studied the alphabet, and written out words, and read certain words, when I see these words again I still can’t read them. I have listened to a number of the mini stories we have at LingQ tens of times. I can make out where words end and begin, but other than a few very simple words, everything is still noise to me.


I know that once I am able to read, I will also have an easier time understanding when I listen. This will open up the possibility of learning while in the car, while exercising, while doing the dishes and so forth. But I am not there yet. And no matter how often I read these little stories and listen to them, I still don’t understand much.


But I don’t let this bother me. I don’t force myself to remember. When I do the review activities at LingQ, I minimize flashcards where I have to scratch my brain to remember the meaning of words that I have seen many times, and yet won’t remember when I see them again. Instead I try to engage in less frustrating activities, in the knowledge that eventually things will start to stick.


At this stage in my learning, when I still can’t read Arabic comfortably, my favourite activity is dictation, one of the five review activities at LingQ. I hear the word or phrase pronounced and try to write it with my Arabic keyboard. LingQ tells me if I am right, “close”, or wrong. Mostly I am wrong. Often the audio is not clear to me. I don’t know whether I heard a “d” or a “t” or a “b” sound. But I just write whatever I think is appropriate. I am not upset that I mostly get them wrong, although I am pleased when I get one right or even close. I am not really concerned about how well I’m doing. I know that if I continue in this somewhat repetitive task, trying to write the same words out over and over, eventually I will improve.

Learn Arabic by Focussing on Simple Tasks

Once I am more familiar with Arabic letters, and how the words are spelled, my reading will improve. Thereafter, my listening will improve, my word count will increase, and I will be on my way to the next level, where I can start to enjoy interesting content. But that can bring another problem, the feeling that we are not getting anywhere.


Breaking Through the Plateau

Many learners experience frustration in language learning because of the seemingly endless supply of new words that we have to learn. We want to be able to understand things of interest to us and eventually to be able to use these words to communicate. Yet we feel that progress is painfully slow. What can be done?


It is important not to allow ourselves to get frustrated over our inability to remember things. I just listen and read, whenever I can find the time. My concern is not how much progress I am making. I am either listening to content of interest, or listening to simpler material, in an effort to notice certain words or structures in the language that cause me problems.


I listen while doing other tasks. I vary the nature of the of the content, in terms of subject matter and in terms of the level of difficulty. I mix challenging podcasts or audiobooks on the one hand with repetitive material using a more limited range of vocabulary, like our mini stories at LingQ.  When I lose interest in the material I am reading or listening to, I switch to something else. This keep things fresh for me. Remember the brain likes repetition and novelty. Too much repetition and learning efficiency declines. Too much novelty in the form of more challenging material, can be too much effort.


I won’t be at level in Arabic where I can enjoyably listen and read to a range of material for another 3 to 6 months. So I have to choose simpler learning tasks that advance me towards my goals. I am confident that I will get there.

Learn Arabic by Focussing on Simple Tasks

I have been in this situation in other languages. I know from experience that once I’m on the plateau, I may think that I’m not making progress, but I am. In fact my statistics at LingQ will show me that as long as I continue listening and reading, my vocabulary will continue growing. At some point, when I feel I have enough words and phrases bouncing around in my brain, I will feel the urge to speak. At that point I will engage with native speakers, either at LingQ or if LingQ tutors are not available, I will use italki. I have done this for many languages.


Learn Arabic and Access A New World

A week into Arabic and my main task is to try to get some traction in this new language. I am dealing with new vocabulary, new grammatical structures, new sounds, and a completely new writing system. It is therefore important for me to keep things simple.


I have to work every day on tasks that are slightly difficult, yet within my capability . In this way I get a small sense of achievement doing somewhat repetitive tasks knowing that slowly but steadily I am assembling the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle that will eventually enable me to spread my wings in my journey of discovery of the Arabic world.

8 comments on “Learn Arabic by Focussing on Simple Tasks

Name *Natalie Eimertenbrink

Hello Steve,
I started to learn egyptian arabic before 1,5 years. However, I stopped just a few weeks later, because I had exactly the same difficulties like you. The letters are quite a challenge. I spent a lot of time searching for adequate material, but even at the language university where I studied, I was not able to find the fitting material. I found some promising books on Amazon like Ahlan We Sahlan from a german author who started with a phonetic approach.That Approach didn’t help me much so I went back to the letters. Seeing that you, a person that mastered 17 languages, are struggling with it as well has motivated me to start again. Especially as you have exactly the same challenges. Thank you for that. I will join your journey into the arabic language from far (Germany), hoping to master it one day 🙂 By the way your german pronunciation is great!

    Name *Mohamed Abouhadida

    Hi, my name is Mohamed and i am from Egypt. I just started learning German and had the same problem that you have in learning Arabic. I stopped a few months ago. i wish i will continue learning so if you are interested in language exchange that would be a great idea for both of us. Let me know if you are okay with that.
    my email address is mohamedabouhadida2019@gmail.com

Name *Yamil

¡Hola Steve! Comenzar a hablar árabe puede tomar dos meses, uno para aprender a leer y a escribir, y otro para asimilar el sonido de las letras, luego es muy sencillo hablar árabe si tienes la guía de una persona con experiencia (alguien que haya aprendido árabe) que pueda darte pequeños “flash” de gramática árabe que son de gran ayuda. El árabe es una lengua lógica. Es como aprender una fórmula matemática. Cuando memorizas un patrón de la gramática árabe, no se te olvida, y es tan lógico que de pronto comenzarás a hablar con todo el vocabulario recolectado, como por arte de magia. Es una experiencia increíble. A mi me ayudo Medina Arabic Course Reader 1 con notas en inglés (para gramática), ya que es un método usado en la Universidad Islámica de Madina para enseñar a estudiantes de todo el mundo, y por supuesto, el método Assmil, el árabe sin esfuerzo. Las cuarenta lecciones de la edición antigua en español fueron suficientes para comenzar a hablar árabe en un nivel básico para la vida diaria; hablar de lo que hago o voy a hacer en el día, organizar una salida, etc. Ahora estoy estudiando con Arabic between your hands, una colección de manuales completamente en árabe diseñado para no-árabes de cualquier nacionalidad, (usado en la Universidad Islámica de Ryadh). ¡Es excelente! trae sus audios y tiene su propio diccionario ilustrado. Los recomiendo. Mis mejores deseos para ti Steve, ¡¡¡¡y ánimo!!!! Se puede.

Name *Carl Bergquist

Hello Steve,
I have just seen your video about your first experience learning Arabic. I have been fooling around with Arabic for a long time and have tried many different methods. The best book I have ever found for written Arabic and learning the alphabet is the relatively new Assimil Arabic book. I have the German edition but there is now an English edition. It starts out with large letters and introduces them in small groups with words using only those letters introduced in the group + those in previous groups. This is done slowly and the the way letters are connected is explained in a very clear and understandable way. Might be worth your time to take a look at it. I have found it the best Assimil book that I have ever used for any language. Saudações do Brasil.


Hello, Steve! I am a polyglot from Canada as well. I am currently in the 10th grade. I speak English, French, Hungarian, Arabic and Mandarin. I have been learning Arabic since I was 8 years old. As a fluent-ish speaker of Arabic, I would like to say that learning Egyptian Arabic is a great initiative. First off, for resources, I would suggest you buy “Arabic stories for language learners” by Heizi Brosh and Lufti Mansur. It is filled with classical Arabic tales that will not only help you to read, but also give you some insight on the wonders of Arabic culture. I would recommend that you learn literary Arabic (Also called MSA), or Levantine Arabic. Literary Arabic is very handy for reading newspapers, watching Television, and other formal platforms. It is taught across the middle east. It is known as the international Arabic. Levantine Arabic is widely spoken in the Levant, some parts of the gulf states, and is comprehensible to people from Iraq. I once heard someone giving a talk on the different dialects of Arabic, and he said that speaking Egyptian was the equivalent of speaking English like a Texan. Also, as a side note, your Chinese is Excellent. Good luck with your Journey learning Arabic.

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