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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Conversational Arabic: Maha's Beginner Arabic Lessons

One of the best resources I found early on was "Arabic with Maha," on YouTube.  She teaches MSA, the audio in her videos is good quality, and the vocabulary she introduces is very useful.  She is a gifted teacher who explains things clearly, and she uses repetition techniques to promote recognition and memorization.  Furthermore, she includes on the video the Arabic text and the transliterated text for what she is saying, which lets you read along with her.  In particular, she has a series of 15 excellent beginner lessons, roughly 5 minutes each, which teach basic conversational Arabic--"Hi," "what's your name," "where are you from?" etc.--The first time I watched each of these videos, I wrote out the words as she taught them, pausing the video to read and copy the text on the screen.  I watched and listened to each of these videos several times thereafter, sometimes repeating out loud, sometimes paying particular attention to how the phrase is written in Arabic, sometimes just listening carefully to pronunciation.

I have compiled Maha's beginner lessons into a playlist here.  Sometimes I would just put the playlist on in the background while I did other things, and it kinda brainwashed its way into my head.  Watching Maha's Beginner Lesson Series for a bit every day taught me very quickly basic conversational expressions and simple questions and answers in Arabic.  I highly recommend using this resource early on to build your ability to read and speak Arabic.

Learning the Arabic Alphabet 3: Transliteration, First Written Words

The first thing I wanted to do after getting a chart and listening to the Arabic alphabet was to be able to write my name.  I discovered an online Arabic keyboard here, and this was really the tool that advanced my memorization of the Arabic alphabet, as well as my understanding and recognition of the different forms of the letters (isolated, initial, medial, and final)  When typing letters into this keyboard, you can actually watch the forms change as you stick letters together, put spaces between them, etc.  I played with this keyboard a lot, transliterating a lot of words just for the sake of it.  In this way I absorbed a basic understanding of how Arabic is written very quickly.

As I mentioned, I started with my name, which happens to be Phil.  Looking at my chart, found my equivalent for 'f' for the first letter:


I then added the letter 'ya' (ي) for the 'i' sound in my name, noting how the letters slightly changed as they hooked up to each other:

ف + ي = في

I finished transliterating my name by adding the 'lam' (ل):

في + ل = فيل

And there it was!  I took particular note of how the letter 'ya' (ي) changed once it found itself in the middle of a word.  I moved on to try some others.  My brother's name is Patrick.  This would normally present a bit of a puzzle, because there is no english "p" in Arabic, however I did know already that a 'p' sound is usually turned into either a "b" or an "f" when Arabic borrows an English word.  I decided 'b' (ب) would work best, so I started with that, and added alif (ا) and 'ta' (ت)to complete the first half of my brother's name 'Pat':

ب + ا + ت = بات

I then added 'ra' (ر) and 'kaf' (ك) to round it out into Patrick:

بات + ر + ك = باترك

I noticed how 'alif' and 'ra' did not connect to the letters after them.  This is because these don't have medial forms, they can only ever be isolated or final. At first that seemed wierd and inconsistent, but I quickly learned that this actually helped a lot in identifying these letters.  I kept on fooling around with the online keyboard and my charts, transliterating words and absorbing these little details about how Arabic letters fit together, and after a while decided to try to read some words.  I remembered from learning other languages how the proper names of countries are often similar in different languages, so I decided to test this.  I searched google for a map written in Arabic, and came up with this one:

I used the keyboard and tried to copy what I saw, as I sounded out the letters of the words on this map.  Most of the Arabic names for these countries are roughly the same as in English, and knowing which country I was looking at helped.  For instance, Libya is a direct transliteration, letter for letter: 

ل + ي + ب + ي + ا = ليبيا

I also saw that Sudan is basically a direct transliteration, but as with many country names in Arabic, it has "the," or 'Al' in front of it, thus "The Sudan," or Al Sudan:

ا + ل + س + و + د + ا + ن = السودان

One country whose Arabic name does not resemble its English title is Egypt, which transliterated into English is 'maSr':

م + ص + ر = مصر

Try using the keyboard to decipher the names of other countries on the map!  Try to write the names of people you know, or whatever else in Arabic text.  These exercises will help a lot with memorizing and learning to quickly recognise the letters and their different forms.  From here on, I was able to use my charts and keyboard to figure out how to read and write the Arabic Alphabet.  I found that memorization just came with use.  In the final post in this series, we'll look at a few other markings and characters you will encounter when reading Arabic we haven't yet covered; which aren't considered part of the alphabet.  I will also post a detailed pronunciation guide for the Alphabet.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Learning the Arabic Alphabet 2: Videos

It is important, not just for the purpose of pronunciation and recognition, but for memory, to hear and repeat letters and words as you learn.  Once I had my charts on the Arabic Alphabet, I immediately went to Youtube to see if there was some kind of Arabic Alphabet song, or other presentations on how to pronounce the letters properly.  I found many videos, however a good portion have sub-standard sound, or they don't move along at a very good pace, making learning tedious.  What can also throw someone off is that several videos pronounce the letters in dialect, not Modern Standard Arabic, without announcing that is what they're doing.  Below are 2 of the the better videos, which were effective at helping me learn the Arabic alphabet. 

The following video I found very useful, and it has gathered about 1 million views, so I'm not the only one!  This video is actually excellent because each letter is sung 3 times, each with the three essential Arabic vowels.  This really reinforces pronunciation and interpretation, and repetition is good for memory.  My Lebanese friend's Father told me this is the way kids sing the alphabet song where he came from:

Here is another video which moves along quickly, and very clearly pronounces each letter once.  This is a good accompanying video to the guide I've put below:

I used both of these videos initially to help me learn and remember the sounds of each letter, but I have also come back to them from time to time to listen more carefully and to iron out my own pronunciation of the letters which are harder to pronounce.

Now that I had my charts and these videos to reference the sounds of the Arabic letters, I thought the best thing to do next was to put my knowledge into practice by transliterating some English words, such as my name, into Arabic text, and even trying to read some Arabic words.  In my next post I will discuss how I wrote and read my first words in Arabic, which was the next logical thing to try after getting a handle on the sounds and look of the Arabic alphabet--and quite simple and beneficial for that matter.  Actually using the alphabet, for just a short time, did a lot to reinforce and ingraine the Alphabet in my memory.  By writing and reading the letters I was recognising their different sounds and forms quickly.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Learning the Arabic Alphabet 1: Resources and Reference Material

My first goal in learning Arabic was to be able to read and say all the letters.  I began by searching google and YouTube for reference material, looking for a good chart of the alphabet, as well as an alphabet song or video on reciting the alphabet.  Then I would learn to say and write a few words, to help the alphabet sink in and start to build a vocabulary.

What stuck with me is printout of the following chart:

This chart only shows the Isolated form of each letter, comparable to the "capital" form of each letter in English.  I quickly learned that it would be useful to have on hand a chart showing the Initial, Medial, and Final forms of letters as well.  I printed the following chart out on the back of the one above, which allowed me to recognise and read each letter of each Arabic word I ran across, even if I still couldn't understand them!:

These are the two reference papers that have stuck with me.  Several videos and self-tailored exercises also helped me to quickly memorize and be able to clearly hear, recognise and pronounce these letters.  I will look at the best of these videos in my next post:  Learning the Arabic Alphabet 2: Reference Videos