Oct 13

The Ultimate Barrier to Language Learning That No One Talks About


It always intrigues me to find out the reason why some people are just better at language learning and some aren’t.

We’ve all met those people before, those who seem to be able to get it (almost instantaneously and annoyingly at times), while others plod along, even though they spend hours and hours studying, memorising vocabulary words, learning the grammar rules and seemingly doing everything by the book.


My Rigorously Unscientific Study

So in order to examine this in further detail, I took out a clean sheet of paper and drew a line down the middle. On a second separate piece of paper, I made a list of all the people whom I had known during my time at the language institute I was studying at in Jordan.

Then I got to work categorizing the long list into two groups – those who got it, and those who had struggled with Arabic more than average. Now clearly this wasn’t the most scientific and meticulously researched of studies (I have the hugest aversion to anything math and science related, in fact I break out in hives the second I see a chemistry problem) but I just wanted to get a quick-and-dirty idea of why was it that some of my peers were able to make leaps and bounds in progress from class to class while others just barely scraped by from level to level.

This is what I’ve found.


It’s Got Nothing to Do With Intelligence

When I looked at the Struggle list, it was pretty clear that there was clearly nothing wrong with them academically or intellectually. Quite the opposite in fact.Some of them had graduated from Ivy League undegraduate programmes in the US and the UK, some were studying Arabic on full scholarships and still others were pursuing masters programmes in top universities.

Similarly, there were shining stars in the Got It list as well, some that had graduated from top universities in the UK and the US.

There were also a sprinkling of students who had gone to lesser known, smaller schools in both columns, but lest you think they’re not as smart, let me assure you that from my conversations with them, none of them were intellectually challenged – in fact they could probably kick my ass anytime in a discussion on the Middle East.

So clearly, academic and intellectual ability had nothing to do with it.


It’s Got Nothing To Do With Time

A quick mathematical calculation turned up that the average amount of time that each group had spent learning Arabic was around 3.4-4.5 years, which made sense since most of them had gone through academic instruction in Arabic during their college, which averaged out to be around 4 years long.
It’s Got Nothing to Do With Age

Most of the students averaged between 23 and 27 years in both groups. It wasn’t as if the Got It group happened to have incredibly young students and it wasn’t that the Struggle group had geriatrics in there.

Nope, barring for some outliers of people who were a little older (in their 30s) and those a little younger (younger than 20), on average the spread of ages in the two groups were more or less equal.


It’s Got Nothing to Do With Being Muslim

I’ve heard this argument before, that people who are Muslim tend to do better in Arabic because they’ve had increased exposure to the language since childhood.

To an extent, I can see how this would be true. I would be the first to admit that being Muslim myself, I certainly started out a step ahead of the others in the beginning because I was already familiar with the alphabet and the pronunciation of the letters.

But only in the beginning. That advantage is quickly levelled out when you realise that Classical Quranic texts are vastly different from Fus-ha, which is in turn vastly different from Levantine dialect. And to be honest, a vast majority of Muslims read the Qur’an without any sort of understanding as to what it means.

So sure, there is an edge but only marginally so.

Over and above that, there were Muslims in the Struggle group and non-Muslims in the Got It group. Like I said before, this is purely anecdotal evidence, but it proves that if it can be done, then it’s definitely possible.


What has it got to do with then?

If you were to ask my humble two cents worth, the one differentiating factor that set the Got It column from the Struggle column was one thing – fear.

More specifically, the lack of fear.

See in my opinion, the Got It group were willing to go outside of their comfort zone. They were willing to get their hands dirty in language learning. They were willing to succeed at all costs and put themselves out there.

Let me give you some examples.

One of them joined went for religious sessions every week to discuss deeply the teachings of the Qur’an. Another joined a rock climbing group to get the opportunity to meet and make friends with local Jordanians. Another volunteered every weekend at a centre that dealt with orphaned children, helping to create programs to entertain them and help them socialise. Another worked in an NGO that dealt with Syrian refugees and spent large amounts of time with his best friends who were mostly Arab.

The Struggle group, however was a little more content to stick around with people from the same countries they were from, people who spoke the same native language they did, not as eager to expand their circle of friends or zone of comfort and ultimately, ended up learning less about the culture, people and language than the Got Its.

Now you could sensibly argue that it was increased practice and exposure that allowed them to achieve kick-ass levels of fluency more than anything else, and that answer would be true.

Well, partly true.


My next question would then be – why?

Why was it that these people were more motivated than the others to achieve more practice and exposure? After all, the same resources and opportunities were available to everyone. Plenty of organisations were in dire need of more volunteers, plenty of conversation partners were available and seeking English speakers, churches and mosques abound with Arab families who would have been thrilled to have a native speaker teach their children English in exchange for Arabic.

I think the reason is much more deeply-rooted than that.

It goes back to this fearlessness that separated the Got Its from the Struggles.

If we were to drill down further, it’s that they were fearless in making mistakes. Unlike so many others, fear was not a barrier for them.

If you were to ask someone who Gets It in any language, Arabic or otherwise, if they felt self-conscious and afraid of failure at any point, chances are they’re going to say yes. Probably most times!

Is it scary to come up to a stranger and introduce yourself in a foreign language? Of course. Does it make your stomach flip to give a presentation in Arabic? Definitely! Does it make your hair stand to hold interviews with people who can’t speak a work of English! Hell yes!

But they’ll also tell you ‘if I never made a mistake, I’d never learn.’


It’s About Reframing Failure

See it all depends on how you view failure. If you (like many people) view making a mistake, and therefore failure as some sort of fundamental flaw of you as a person, then you’ll probably want to avoid putting yourself in that position and feeling that way at all costs.

What happens next? You’re likely to not try as often because:

Not trying = not failing = you’re not a failure = life is good. 

And as we can all agree, not trying in something as practice- oriented in language learning puts you squarely nowhere.

But what if you were to reframe failure as a stepping stone to where you want to be?

What if failure were merely an experiment, merely a means to find out whether Method A leads to Results B? Take scientists for example – if they took every single scientific failure they did as a personal flaw, we’d never have the light bulb today. Or the ability to travel by air. Or the cure for cancer.

We need to look at language learning and speaking in the same paradigm. The Got Its did, which is probably why they were crushing it better, faster and harder than those who were content to sail through within their comfort zones, sipping coffee at Starbucks, eating at Macdonalds, and watching Breaking Bad with their English-speaking friends.


Why Am I Telling You All This?

Now I’m not saying all this to scare those of you are reading into thinking that you’re never going to get to where you want to go Arabic-wise, but to inspire you to be more aware that your psychology plays a bigger role in this than you think.

Once you’re more aware of it, chances are you’re more likely to change it.

Once you’re more aware of it, you’re more likely to spend more time identifying and facing this fear head on and getting out there speaking to people, rather than throwing more vocabulary lists, verb conjugations and listening exercises at it. Of course, the latter is much easier to do than the former, which is why so much time is spent talking about strategies and techniques and not enough time on what the underlying limitation is.

I have seen too many times students who are perfectly capable, second guess themselves in their ability and end up not trying as hard as they should. I’d like for you not to experience the same.

And before you think that I have no fear altogether, I’m writing this for you as much as I am for myself, for even after years and years of studying Arabic, I still have a twinge of self-doubt when I start a conversation with a native Arabic speaker, thinking that I won’t be able to express my ideas and will end up making a complete fool of myself.

The great thing is that it’s possible to overcome this. All it takes is a little tweaking in your belief system.


So how do you Slay the Self-Consciousness Dragon? Look out for it in our next post, when we talk about The Top Limiting Beliefs About Language Learning – Busted. In the meantime, do you agree that getting over your self-consciousness will help you to accelerate progress in language learning? Or do you think it’s a crock of s***? Let us know or if you prefer, rip us a new a**hole in the comments!


Oct 13

A Beginner’s Manual to Typing in Arabic on Your Laptop and Smartphones


Believe me, I am well aware that this may not be the sexiest topic around.

But one of the things that I find people tend to gloss over when they talk about learning Arabic is how to successfully marry Arabic language with technology.

It’s easy to take for granted.

After all, most language learning takes place in the form of old-school resources like books and papers and hardly any thought or explanation is given to how to type, send a text, Google search in Arabic and so on and so forth.

It’s a little ironic, considering how much more of our time is spent online rather than offline.

I personally only came across this problem when I first started studying at Qasid Institute in Amman, when the teacher demanded a full 1000-word essay in Arabic, typed up and emailed to her by the end of the semester.

After panicking for a good week, I decided to just buckle down and sort out how to go about doing this.

As such, here is my manual that will hopefully make your transition from writing to typing Arabic much less painful. Please remember that I am not a techie of any sort (in fact I will be the first to tell you I’m the biggest tech idiot around) so I only went about trying to solve the problem in as few steps and as simply as possible.


How to Type in Arabic on Your Laptop

Now this would depend first and foremost on what operating system you’re using.

If you’re using a Macintosh

You would have to:

1. Go to your System Preferences application

2. Under Personal, go to Language and Text, where you will see four bars at the top, Language, Text, Formats, and Input Sources.

3. Go to input sources and click on the checkbox that corresponds with the language you want to have available. In this case it would be either Arabic, Arabic PC or Arabic QWERTY.


What is the difference between them?

The difference basically lies in the Arabic letters that correspond with individual keys. In the Arabic PC keyboard (pictured above) for example, . would appear as ز while in the Arabic keyboard, it would appear as .

Arabic QWERTY is a different animal in the sense that the Arabic letters match as much as possible with the letters in English by how they sound. So ك would be k and ل would be l. It’s probably a more intuitive keyboard if you’re first starting out.

Here’s what the Arabic QWERTY keyboard looks like, to make it clearer.



After selecting the keyboard, you will notice that at the top right hand corner of the screen, right beside the date and time, a country flag will appear to show which keyboard is currently in use.

In order to change the language, just click on the flag and select from the list that appears one of the keyboard you’ve installed. This comes in especially useful if you need to search on Google for something in Arabic or create any type of document.


Which keyboard do I use?

I personally use the Arabic PC keyboard because it’s the most common. But it really depends on which one you’re most comfortable with, so don’t fret about which one is the best one.

In any case it’s just a matter of time before you get used to it so don’t sweat which keyboard you need to pick.


If you’re using Windows

You would have to follow the steps outlined in this video. I’m a little cautious about giving advice for Windows OS, simply because I’m not using one.


Another alternative solution you can try, if you’re averse to installing new keyboards or if it’s still too newfangled for you, would be to use free online software to type Arabic into. I can’t lavish enough praise on Yamli Editor , I used it for most of my assignments and got away with it, and later on experimented with Arabic Keyboard with much success as well.
How to Type Arabic on your Smartphones

Now don’t fret, I’ve found this to be pretty simple as well. I clearly can’t devise instructions for every single smartphone out there, but I do know how to do this for iPhones and Samsungs. For the rest of you smartphone users out there, you can use this as a sort of template, or even better, trying Googling how to change your keyboard input.

You’re a smart bunch, you’ll figure it out.

Also at this point I would caution not to end up changing the entire language of the phone into Arabic just yet because believe me, you will be kicking yourself when you have to turn something off under Data Settings and don’t know what Data Settings are in Arabic and can’t go back to changing the language back to English because you don’t know where the Language Settings are either and end up frantically pressing anywhere, anywhere on the screen in the hope that your operating language will magically return to English.

Not that it’s uh, happened to me or anything.


So in order to change your language input for iPhones:

1. Go to your Settings

2. Go to General

3. Go to Keyboard

4. Go to Add New Keyboard

5. Choose Arabic

Now for example, if you want to switch from your English keyboard to your Arabic keyboard, open the Messages or Whatsapp application and you’ll have to click on the Globe icon on the left side of the space bar and this will allow you to toggle between keyboards.


For Samsung phones,

1. Click the Menu button

2. Go to Settings

3. Go to Language and Input

4. Click on the Gear icon next to Samsung keyboard

5. Click on input language

6. Select عربية and make sure that the checkboxes are tickes for English and Arabic

On the message screen, simple swipe the spacebar from left to right in order to toggle between keyboards. This website explains it in much more detail than I ever could.


If all else fails, go to either here or here to get any and every tech issue you could possibly have sorted out when it comes to typing Arabic.

Seriously, I should have just posted am empty page with links to both these pages, they are that awesome.

Was this post useful for you? Does technology drive you up the wall like it does us? What other Arabic language-related technological problems have you faced? Let’s face it we probably can’t help you out, but share with us in the comments and hopefully another commenter can!

Sep 13

5 Amazing Resources for Levantine Arabic You Need to Know

I’ve ranted before on how difficult it is to find resources related to learning Levantine Arabic, and how even when you do find them, they tend to be skimpy, disorganized and poorly updated.

But here at the Art of Arabic, we’re into helping you guys out.

And so, I’ve specially compiled for you a list of the most useful resources that yours truly has gathered over the course of a year, dealing specifically with the Levantine dialect.

Please note: I am not affiliated with any of these products in any way and do not receive any commission for recommending them. First and foremost, almost all of these are free and secondly, I’m providing you with this list because I firmly believe that they will add much value and help with your Levantine Arabic education, as they have with mine.

As such, here are my top picks! I hope you enjoy and benefit from them as much as I have.


#1.  The Arabic Student: www.thearabicstudent.com

What Is It: I honestly consider this my Bible of Levantine Arabic learning. Set up by an American non-native speaker of Arabic, The Arabic Student has been creating content since 2010 specifically geared for students who want to make the jump from Fus-ha Arabic to Levantine dialect. Not only does he deal with Jordanian Arabic, but also with more popular ones like Lebanese and Egyptian dialects and also with lesser known ones like the Sudanese and Kuwaiti dialect. Whatever rocks your fancy, I consider him one of the leading online experts in the field of Arabic dialect.

Why I Like It: Bursting with clips from news channels, entertainment shows and Youtube videos, The Arabic Student is great at giving exact word-for-word transcriptions, translating them into English and breaking them down further into what they mean, in which context and how to use them. For example, did you know that من وين لوين / min wein lawein means to say What do you mean? And not actually From where to where?

The Arabic Student Knows. And that’s why I placed his blog at the top of the list. You might also want to check out his Youtube channel here, where he has some amazing resources, like Introduction to Levantine Arabic and shows you how to pronounce phrases with the right stresses and accents. And let me tell you, he’s got one of the best Levantine Arabic accents that I’ve come across.

Where You Can Get It: Simply click the link at the top and it will direct you to his blog. There’s loads of valuable content on there, and I usually go by the tag cloud that’s located on the right-hand column to search for posts related to what I’m looking for. For the Youtube Channel, I’ve included the link in the paragraph above.


#2. N2O Comedy Channel on Youtube

What Is It: A brilliant comedy series produced, directed, and acted by (mostly) Jordanians. Comprised of talented cast and crew like Rajae Qawas, Nikolas Khoury, Laith a-Sharie, Abu Nathara and more, it tackles social and political topics with such an amazingly comical touch, it will leave you belly-laughing like few other series can.

Why I Like It: It’s light-hearted, it’s entertaining, it’s well-produced, it’s got good-looking men in it, what more could you possibly want? Jokes aside, it’s great practice for getting used to the Jordanian accent, phrases that they use and gives you insight into Arabic humour. They also tend to go at a rapid clip, which will accustom you to hearing and understanding native speakers because let’s face it, no one speaks with two-second gaps between each word and not many will be prepared to repeat words three times over.

If you’re a beginner, I’d suggest starting with the Fe-Mail series, which has the first few episodes containing English subtitles and the Ex In The City series, which has Jordanian almost-native Brett Weiner explaining how to use expressions in Jordanian dialect.

Most of the episodes in the N2O series come in short, 10-minute like segments so you don’t get overwhelmed with the amount of content you’re consuming. They’re the comedic equivalent of macaroons – light, fluffy, they make you delightfully happy and they finish fast.

Where You Can Get it: Just click on the link above, or search for N2O comedy on YouTube and results are aplenty. If you want the Fe-Mail series in particular, enter it in the search box. Click around on the channel and I promise you’ll find something that will not only entertain you and tickle your funny bone, but will teach you loads about Levantine Arabic.


#3. Being a Fan of the Cast on Facebook

What Is It: It’s really quite straightforward – getting daily updates from members of the cast of N2O when you log into Facebook.

Why I Like It: Whenever the cast members post status updates on their pages, it shows up on your Facebook News Feed. This way, not only does it allow you the rare opportunity to see how Levantine Arabic words are written so you can write it down and refer to it for future reference, but keeps you updated each time a new video is posted.

By the way, the members don’t always post on things related to the show – oftentimes you will see posts related to the local economy, politics, social and cultural issues that will give you some great insight as to what’s happening on the ground in Jordan. Nikolas Khoury, for example, is one of my favourites because he always throws up interesting topics for discussion, like how to alleviate problems relating to poverty in Jordan.

Where You Can Get It: Simply search for any of the names of the cast on Facebook, like ‘Rajae Qawas’, ‘Nikolas Khoury’, or even ‘N2O Comedy’ and their official Facebook fan pages will show up in the search results. Click the ‘Like’ button and their updates will appear on your News Feed.


#4. Diwan Baladna – The Unprecendented Spoken Arabic Dictionary (CD included)

What is it: A book published by Jordanian Arabic teachers Ahmad Kamal Azban and Tony Michael Anqoud, its a fun dictionary that lists out ‘metaphors, metonymies, signs, and similes’ for learners of the Jordanian dialect. This book has served me many times, in providing me with useful phrases and expressions to use (and let’s face it, to impress native speakers with) and I had the pleasure of meeting Ahmad himself during my time in Jordan.

Why I Like It: I always find the more challenging things to understand when it comes to any foreign language are the expressions, metaphors and similes. Diwan Baladna plugs that gap with pages and pages of expressions, greetings and responses that are used in Jordanian dialect and more importantly includes the proper context to use it in and it’s equivalent expression in English.

It’s also divided into different categories, like Positive Characteristics for People, Negative Characteristics for People, What to Say at a Funeral, Common Dialect Verbs, Words Related to Medicine, and so on and so forth.

The book even comes with a handy CD guide, so you can listen to the proper way to pronounce the expressions. The only challenge is because there’s no digital copy and no glossary, it’s not as easy to look Arabic phrases and expressions up for the English equivalent, and instead you have to resort to flipping through the book page by page until you find what you’re looking for.

Where You Can Get It: If you are in Amman, you can purchase the book easily from several bookshops on Rainbow Street, like The Good Book Shop, Books@Cafe or Wild Jordan.

If you are in the United States, you’re in luck! They’ve just started making the books available within the Intercontinental US through US post. All you have to do is send an email to either diwanbaladnaculture@gmail.com or ahmadazaban@yahoo.com.

If you are outside of the States and Jordan however, you might have some trouble getting your hands on a copy. At this point they’ve released an e-book version of Arab and Jordanian culture (which is available here on smashwords.com) so I would imagine they would be working on a similar version for the book on Levantine Arabic.

Keep an eye on this space and I’ll let you know the second I find out that they have an e-copy for Levantine Arabic as well.


#5. Colloquial Arabic by Leslie J. McLoughlin

What Is It: An introductory text on Levantine Arabic published by famous British English-Arabic translator and interpreter Leslie McLoughlin. He served as an interpreter for British ministers and Arab VIPs for 20 years and is the author behind books such as Confessions of an Arabic Interpreter, Ibn Saud: Founder of a Kingdom and British Arabists in the Twentieth Century. He’s always been a proponent in the push for the education of dialect Arabic in academic circles, which explains the decision behind the publication of this book.

Why I Like It: It outlines concepts for Levantine Arabic simply and clearly, without any of the dry academic dissertations you will find in most Arabic textbooks. It’s succinct, clearly outlined, easy to understand for the average Arabic learner and includes short and helpful exercises within each chapter. If you prefer a text to refer to in studying Levantine Arabic, this would be one of my recommendations.

The only trouble with this book is that it doesn’t come with an audio guide, unfortunately, so you’ll have to supplement it with another resource for listening.

Where You Can Get It: You can get it on Amazon here, in both the hard copy and the Kindle edition. You can even take peek inside it to see if it will be suitable for you.


What other resources have you come across that you’ve found to be crucial in learning Levantine Arabic? What has been your experience in using the resources listed above? Were they useful to you at all? Or do they need to be scratched off the list? Give us your opinion in the comments!

Sep 13

1 Quick Tip to Instantly Improve Your Levantine Arabic Accent (with videos)

I always think one of the hardest things when it comes to speaking in Levantine Arabic dialect is getting the accent down pat.

Lord knows I had trouble getting it, and sometimes still do.

When you’re used to speaking and hearing Fus-ha in a certain way, trying to get accustomed to how words are pronounced in Levantine dialect can be frustratingly awkward and foreign on your tongue.

However, there are a couple pronunciation tricks that I’ve picked up that differentiates Levantine dialect pronunciation from Fus-ha pronunciation that you won’t really find explained in textbooks.


Pirate-isation of Words

One of the most distinctive things I’ve found about the Levantine Arabic accent is the way they pronounce the ending of particular words with an -ey ending instead of a traditionally Fusha -a ending.

I call this the pirate-isation, for no other reason than the constant -ey endings remind me of a pirate saying aye.

(I know, that might have sounded slightly lame, but you have to admit it works on some level.)


When does this happen? Firstly…

It tends to happen with nouns that end with a taa marbuuta, like رحلة ,  عائلة , غابة .

Now in Fus-ha Arabic, all words that end with a taa marbuuta will have an -a ending. For example:

Meaning Word in Fusha Pronunciation in Fusha
Trip رحلة riH-la
Family عائلة ‘aa2i-la
Forest غابة gha-ba


In Levantine Arabic, however, the ‘a ending at the end will be replaced by a -ey ending instead, even though you’re using the same word. Using the same table as above,

Meaning Word Pronunciation in Fusha Pronunciation in Dialect
Trip رحلة riH-la riH-ley
Family عائلة ‘aa2i-la ‘ay-ley
Forest غابة gha-ba gha-bey

However, please note that this does not work in an idaafa construction, for example when you’re saying رحلة السيارة. In cases like these, the taa marbuuta is sounded out so the construction is pronounced riH-let alsayaarah and not riH-ley alsayaarah.


Seeing it in Practice

To prove my point, take a look at this video from a Jordanian comedy channel on Youtube called N2O comedy.

(On a slightly separate note, I personally love / adore/ am a huge fan of this series because it’s hilarious, well-produced and taught me a ton of what I know about Levantine Arabic today.)

In this video, the cast are basically talking about the problems with  رحلات علئلية  / riHlaat ‘aa2liyyeh, or family trips.


Example #1:

They will keep using pronouncing the word رحلة as riH-leh instead of riHla.

What he said:

البَني آدَم الي يِطْلَع مَع الرحْلة , اذا نَقّد عَليك / albani aadam ili yiTla’ ma’a riHley, idha naqqed ‘aleik…

The member of the tribe of Adam that goes on a trip, if he criticized you…

At this point I should probably explain that البَني آدَم is a common Arabic expression for a person or someone.


Example #2:

When he pronounces عائلة / family as ‘ay-leh instead of the more Fus-ha sounding ‘aa-i-lah, like in the clip below.

What he said:

باحِب رِحْلات العائِلِة اِنها رِحْلات خصَة لِلاجل النَقْد / baHibb riH-lat aley-ley innha riH-laat khussat lil-ajl an-naqd

I love that the family trip is especially a trip for criticism.


Example #3:

When he uses the word غابة pronounced gha-bey instead of gha-ba.

الغابة للبنت هي عبارة عن طبيعة. عبارة عن شجرة شجرة شجرة / alghabey lal banat hiye ‘ibara ‘an Tabee’a. ‘ibara ‘an shajara shajara shajara

The forest for women it consists of nature. It consists of a tree, a tree, a tree…

الغابة بالنسبة الشاب عبارة عن حمام حمام حمام / alghabey bi annisbah alshaab bi ‘ibarah ‘n Hamam Hamam Hamam

The forest for the guys, it consists of a toilet, a toilet, a toilet…



Does this happen to all words ending with taa marbuuta?

The tricky answer to is no, it doesn’t. Certain words that end with a taa marbuuta like سيارة , مدينة and سياسية  retain their -a ending, similar to how they sound in Fus-ha.

The only way to go about knowing when to use the -ey ending instead of the -a ending is through repeated listening and experience.


It also happens when..

Now that we’ve seen how pirate-isation happens to specific nouns, another pattern I’ve realised in Levantine Arabic dialect is that whenever  صفات / characteristics or adjectives are attached to an اسم / noun, it also takes the -ey ending.

For example, take a look at the table below:

Meaning Word
Pronunciation in Fusha Pronunciation in Dialect
 secret competition  مسابقة سرية  musabaqa sirriyyah musabaqa sirri-yey
 specific situations  حالات معينة  Halaat mu’aiyyanah  Halaat mu’aiyyaney


Example #4: When he says مسابقة سرية / musabaqa sirriyy-ey (secret competition) instead of musabaqa sirriyyah.

What he said:

قسم النسوان بكون في صار اشيين / qism alniswan bikuun fe Sar ishy-ein

In the section of the women, two things are happening.

في مسابقة سرية / fe musabaqa sirriyey

There is a secret competition…


Example #5: 

When he says حالات معينة / specific situations as Halaat mu’aiyya-ney instead of the more Fus-ha sounding Halaat mu’aiyyanah.

What he said:

انا برائي نصيحتي صراحتاً جداً عم باحكي حتى حالات معينة / ana bira2i naSeeHati SaraaHatan jiddan ‘am baHki Hatta Halaat mu’aiyyaney

I, in my opinion, my advice, really I’m now speaking frankly, even in specific situations…


Again, does this happen all the time?

And I’m afraid, the answer is again no. I’d safely bet it happens a good 70-80 % of the time, but as with many rules with language, there are bound to be exceptions.

But as long as you are aware of this pirate-isation in Levantine Arabic and that it happens with specific nouns and when adjectives are attached, I’d say that puts you a long way towards achieving a legitimate Levant Arabic accent.


If you’d like to see the video in its entirety for its full effect, here it is:


What are some of the tricks and tips that help to cultivate an authentic-sounding Levantine Arabic accent? Are there more instances of pirate-isation in Levantine Arabic that we’ve missed out? What other curious aspects of Levantine Arabic can you think of? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear from you.

Sep 13

How Timothy Doner Became Fluent in Arabic (and 21 other languages) Without Leaving his Country

Have you heard of Tim Doner?

I have.

And the reason I heard about him was when I was watching Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 Months giving a TED Talk on Hacking Language Learning and showed a video of Tim switching effortlessly from one language to another, covering a total of 20 languages in 20 minutes.

Needless to say, my jaw was on the floor.

Do you know what else was so impressive?

Not only is Tim only 17 years old, he’s never spent an extended period of time in any country except for his maiden city New York.

Yep, Tim has been called not just a polyglot, but a superglot and has been interviewed by news channels like Al-Hurra, ITN and Sunrise and featured in newspapers like GlobalPost and MSN.

Intrigued, I tracked down an interview of Tim with Luca Lampariello of Lingholic on the secrets of his success.

Here’s a breakdown of what the articulate teen had to say about his method for success:

1. Be Interested

Before learning any language, understand your motivations for learning it. If you’re learning it for career advancement or to get a good grade in school, chances are you’re not going to be very good at it. As long as your motivations are extrinsic as opposed to intrinsic, it’s not going to be enough to get you through hours and hours of verb conjugation, vocabulary memorisation and grammatical deconstruction.

The reason why Tim picked up Ojibwe (the language of Native Americans) was because he said ‘it was unlike anything else I’d ever heard of’ and the reason why he picked up Farsi was because he was enthralled by the beauty of Persian poetry. Similarly, I decided to pick up Arabic not because I was gunning for Saudi money but because being part Arab, it felt like a natural extension of my self-identity. I was also driven by the desire to communicate and understand the people and culture from a separate region in their tongue instead of mine.

Decide what your genuine, authentic motivations are for studying a language, and getting through the blood, sweat and tears won’t be as overwhelming because you’ll have your motivations to see you through it.

2. Explore Your City

Fair enough, Tim does live in cosmopolitan, international New York. However, your city might be more diverse than you expect.  Keep an ear out for people or tourists who might be speaking the language that you want to practice in, or sign up for a language group on Meetups or even spend some time at a language institute that has teachers who can speak the language that you want.

If you want to practice your Chinese, scope out Chinatown, if it’s Italian, go to Little Italy, if it’s Hindi or Bengali then Little India might be useful. Since these are places that tourists largely frequent, you have the added advantage of bumping into more people who speak the language you want to practice in.

Singapore might not have a huge community of native Arab speakers, but there’s always Arab street, where you’re bound to bump into some resident or visiting Egyptians and Khaleejis. I also try to spend time at least once a week at the Arabic institute I used to study at to touch base with the teachers there and to not lose touch with the language. Tim mentions that the reception he’s received from random encounters with foreigners has been warm and encouraging, and I’m inclined to agree.

3. Get Creative with Learning Resources

Want to know how Tim picked up Egyptian Arabic dialect? By having an online conversation partner with whom he speaks to regularly on Skype. Even while I was abroad living in Jordan, I met some of the most amazing, helpful conversation partners on Conversation Exchange who remain some of my good friends till today.

Don’t just depend on textbooks to learn what you need to – the Internet is abound with songs, lyrics, and movies in foreign languages. Tim says that he learnt Hebrew by literally memorising hundreds of Hebrew songs until played them over and over in his head until he was comfortable enough with the phrases that were being used.

Even before I left for the Middle East, I was using resources like BBC Arabic and Al-Jazeera Arabic for reading and YouTube clips for listening to expose myself to the language.

4. Start practicing as soon as possible.

Tim says that all he needs are 100-200 words in his target language, the most rudimentary understanding of grammar, and he’s out on the streets starting the conversation – which probably explains why he’s able to cover so many languages in such a short period of time. And here is where most of us trip up – we wait and wait and wait, for that one magical day when we’ll wake up and realise that we can speak fluently, perfectly and smoothly. I know because I used to think like that.

But the rude truth is that that day will never come unless you’re willing to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to stumble, stutter and make mistakes, in fact, I’d recommend make as many mistakes as possible, because chances are that’s the fastest way you’re going to learn.

Another trick that Tim says he continually uses is self-talk. Quite literally, it means he talks to himself about regular, every day topics in a target language to get used to the pronunciation and sentence construction. In this way, by the time he’s actually engaged in a conversation with someone, he’s already done the mental groundwork with certain phrases and responses and it takes him a shorter amount of time to respond.

5. Leave What You Can and Take What You Want

There is no single, Holy Grail method that will 100% work for you. Some people prefer the Pimsleur method and others prefer the Assimil method. Some people prefer learning vocabulary words off a list while others prefer learning them in context. Don’t be afraid to pick and choose between a range of methods, the important thing is to pick whatever works for you and leave whatever you feel is not important, or at least not important right this minute.

For example, I didn’t really start concerning myself with Arabic grammar until about 6 months into my language study, because the sentence construction was already consuming so much of my brain power that having to add another factor over and above that would turn me away from it completely. Similarly, Tim says that in order to have a regular, everyday conversation in a foreign language, you don’t to be concerned with the grammar just yet. The reason he likes to delve into it is because of the additional challenge that it provides, but that’s his personal style of doing it. You don’t need to do the same.

What works for someone else might not work for you, so you need to figure out what is the easiest and most comfortable method for you to learn, and then gradually the rest of the puzzle pieces will fall into place.

The Ultimate Lesson Here

The reason I wrote this post was to show you that even though you might not be able to travel and live in another country for an extended period of time doesn’t mean that it’s going to be impossible for you to learn a foreign language. Many of us are not as fortunate, with work, study and family commitments and we tell ourselves ‘I’m never going to be able to do this’.

As Tim has showed us here, there’s hope. As long as you’re willing to commit to finding these creative, unusual ways of creating your own immersive environment in your home country, there’s nothing standing in your way.


Sep 13

4 Tips to Remember Any New Word in Record Time

I get asked many times by friends on what tools or techniques I use to learn new words in Arabic.

Why Traditional Methods Don’t Work

We’ve all been there before – you write down the word in English, and then the corresponding word in Arabic. You stare at the word in Arabic and sound it out to yourself, then close your eyes and repeat it 5, 10, 20 times and hope and pray that somehow the word will magically stick in your head and that you’ll recognize it the next time you hear or see it. Except when you check the same word back several minutes later, you realize you’re still nowhere close to remembering it.

I know because I’ve been in that position many times. Research has shown that while this technique will keep the word in your short term memory, it doesn’t remain in your long term memory. So what we’re really looking for is not just learning the word, but retaining it.

Needless to say, it’s incredibly frustrating (not to mention incredibly dull), and when faced with time pressure and potentially tens of thousands of words in front of you, it can be easy to want to give up.

Don’t fret. The problem isn’t with you or your brain, it’s with the method that you’re using. Here are four tips I’ve gleaned from the masters and from personal experience that I’m hoping will help you to trash that traditional method and halve or third the time it takes you to remember new vocabulary words.

1. Create your sanctuary.

And chances are, it’s not going to be in a room where the TV or music is blaring or when you’re going to be constantly interrupted. Set some time alone in a quiet, comfortable corner, and focus on the work you need to do.

2. Context is king.

Sam of Lingholic has a great post about how important context is. For example, if we were to take the word ‘get’ in English, the amount of time it would take for you to remember each and every dictionary definition would be months. If however, you had a passage like this, (credits to John Perry of Structured Procrastination):

I got out of bed, got the paper, got myself some breakfast, got some coffee, and began to get dressed and to get ready for work. I got in the car, got to the office, and got to work. I got a lot done, and still had time to get some money at the bank and get a sandwich at the deli for lunch.

The truth is a single  word may have multiple layers and meanings that change depending on context, and it would serve you better to learn them in context rather than randomly selecting words from a dictionary and attempting to memorize them from there.

Another good thing about learning in context is that you will be able to pick up phrases containing words that may be new to you. For example, one of the ways I learnt the word hammer مطرقة / maTriQa was by coming across the phrase ‘بين مطرقة و سندان ‘ / baina maTriQa wa sindan, which literally means ‘between a hammer and an anvil’, which is the equivalent of ‘between a rock and a hard place’.

3. Imagine.

Here’s my personal trump card when it comes to learning and retaining new words. I always tell other students that when they first sound out the word in Arabic, take note of what it sounds like in English and the first association that comes to mind. This is best illustrated by an example.

When I first heard the word تطرف / taTarruf, what it sounded like to me was ta-tar-ruf, or ‘two tars on a roof’. Knowing that the word meant extremism or excessiveness, I put the meaning and association together by imagining Osama bin Laden holding two cans of tar on a rooftop.

Here’s another: when I heard of the word شفة / sha-fa, I thought it was similar to the word ‘shuffle’. Knowing that the word meant lip, I just linked the image and the word together to imagine a pair of lips shuffling a pack of cards. The image was enough to make me giggle, which is why it sticks in my head till today.

It doesn’t matter if the image doesn’t make sense in any way, in fact the crazier, more ridiculous and more colourful it is, the better. As long as you tie the meaning of the word back to the image, you can be assured that the probability of you remembering it will be far higher. Benny Lewis of Fluent in 3 months has great post on the power of using imagination and stories in vocabulary learning and this post on Build your Memory outlines the steps in greater detail.

It might seem like a long-winded method, but think of it this way – the amount of time you invest in it now will save you the amount of time later on having to flip back again and again to recapture the word. Moreover, you might find that with practice, you will be faster and faster at associating words with images and will be able to do it almost instantaneously.

4. Read, read, read. Then read some more.

One of the most tricky things about Arabic in my experience is that some verbs, when conjugated, can come across as foreign in a piece of text, especially when it comes to verbs with weak endings like و، ي، أ . For example, you know that the word for ‘he sees’ is يرى / yara. However, if I wanted to say ‘he saw him’, it would change to رآه / ra-aah. Not so similar to the first form anymore is it?

The good news is that all it takes is more exposure to written texts to be able to recognise the different conjugations when they appear. In fact, I’d go a step further and recommend starting by reading articles that you’re personally interested in, whether it’s football, hairdressing or celebrity gossip – anything that will keep your interest in the material for an extended period of time.

In Conclusion

I’m not saying that these methods will work for every single person out there (I’ve never even taken anything close to a linguistics course) or for every single language, but I am saying that it has worked for me. And if it has worked for me then I’m hoping it will also be useful to someone else.

What are some of your tips and tricks for remembering new words? Did any of these techniques work for you? Share in the comments below!