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Although Jesus was not talking about learning Arabic, the notion of counting the costbefore committing yourself to something or someone is applicable in this instance.Have you ever committed yourself to something without fully knowing the implications of that commitment? For example, many people get married without the knowing the full scope and depth of that commitment.

I believe the same is true when you commit to learning Arabic. Before you begin, it is important that you know what you are getting yourself into. As I see, there are at least five things that you must know before you begin this journey.

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1. You are learning not one, but two languages.

This may sound strange to those who do not know anything about Arabic.You will be learning MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) and an Arabic Dialect (Ammiya). There is an overlap between MSA and Ammiya as illustrated in the diagram below. There are also some significant differences between the two.

MSA is formal and written Arabic. MSA is formal in that it is spoken in academic contexts, in the media and any other official setting. In addition, MSA is what is written in publications, newspapers, contracts, etc. Ammiya is the Arabic of any particular country. For example, you will find Jordanian Ammiya, Egyptian Ammiya, Iraqi Ammiya and so on.

Ammiya is the language of the people regardless of class or economic status. If MSA is Shakespearian English, then Ammiya is the English that is spoken by all Americans educated or uneducated. Normally Ammiya is not written, however this is beginning to change. MSA is still the official written language of the Arab world; the common language which allows communication between Arab countries.

2. There are major differences between MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) and Arabic Dialects.

The differences between MSA and Ammiya are found in the pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar. In short, there are differences on every level. I am more familiar with Egyptian Arabic or Egyptian Ammiya and therefore I am only able to speak of the differences between MSA and Egyptian Ammiya.

One significant difference between MSA and Egyptian follows. Egyptian Ammiya is different from MSA in the pronounciation of the letter ".". Most of the letters in MSA and Egyptian Ammiya are pronounced the same, but some are not. In MSA, "" is pronounced jeem and in Egyptian Ammiya the same letter is pronounced geem. If you have been learning MSA for a few months, trying to change this can be quite challenging. Imagine for a second that all of the js in the English language we're pronounced with the hard g sound as in go. Would you remember to say gumping gacks, when you wanted to say jumping jacks? Imagine that you we're eating breakfast. Would you remember to say pass me the gelly please? I would guess that sometimes you would forget. Egyptian Ammiya has this unique feature with this letter.

3. Learning Arabic is not Spanish or French.

I know that you know this. What is meant is that if you and a friend started to learn a new language at the same time, you Arabic and your friend Spanish, you should expect them to excel faster in Spanish. This should not bother you at all.

When people say that Arabic is one of the hardest languages to learn you should take this statement with a grain of salt. Saying that a certain language is hard depends largely on the native language of the language learner. English and Spanish have the same alphabet even though they differ in pronunciation. This aids the learner in a significant way. The learner can begin to sound out words from the beginning of their studies because they share the same alphabet. In addition, some of the words have similar meaning to English words. The gap between the native language and the second language is smaller.

If an Israeli, for example, we're to learn Arabic, then he or she would have an easier time learning the language. Hebrew and Arabic share some of the unique sounds that are not found in English. They are both written from right to left. They share some of the same letters words. For instance, the word brother is pronounced akh in both Hebrew and Arabic.

The difficulty of the language depends on how close the prospective language is to the native language of the learner. However, once you build the basic foundations of the language, you will see that your Arabic skills will increase. A major part of building that foundation is related to the next point.

4. Pick a dialect and stick to it

At some point in your Arabic studies you will have to pick a dialect and stick to it. I know that your inner Renaissance-man likes to think that you can accomplish everything and the very thought of choosing one seems to violate your modern sensibilities. The reality is that you need to choose onethe quicker, the better.

I am not saying that you are not incapable of learning two or three dialects. I am saying that you will not learn all dialects due to the linguistic situation in the Arab world. First, there are Egyptians who have a hard time understanding Moroccan Arabic. Now, if you have native Arabic speakers (Egyptians) who have trouble understanding Moroccan Arabic, then it would be unreasonable to think you can learn Egyptian Ammiya and Moroccan Ammiya. Second, even if you we're able to understand Moroccan Ammiya, it would very difficult to speak Moroccan Ammiya. Just as there are differences between MSA and Egyptian Ammiya, there are differences between all of the dialects, including Egyptian Ammiya and Moroccan Ammiya.

So, if you are going to learn Egyptian Ammiya, I would focus on that and try to only speak with Egyptians. When you are learning a language, repetition is important. It will hinder your progress if you are hearing different pronunciations and different words, despite it still being considered Arabic. Once you have mastered a particular dialect, then you can move on to another one.

5. Which dialect should you pick?

This is always a funny and interesting question. When I tell non-Egyptians that I am learning Egyptian Ammiya, they try to convince me to change my course of action. Sometimes, they smirk or are in shock that I am learning Egyptian Ammiya. Of course, they always suggest that I should learn their local dialect. Quite naturally, every Arab will be proud of their local dialect and therefore encourages that their dialect should be learned.

When choosing a dialect, there are a few points that you should consider. First, you should know which country you want to focus on and learn that dialect. If you are interested in Lebanon, then you should learn Lebanese Ammiya and so on. Second, some dialects are more similar to others. In other words, there are regional dialects: the Maghrebi group, the Arabian Peninsula, the Levantine group, the Egyptian group and the Sudanese group.

If you we're to learn a particular dialect from the Levantine group, then you would be able to navigate through Jordan, Palestine, Syria, etc. Perhaps a certain region may interest you rather than a certain country. If so, then choosing one of the regional dialects may be the way to proceed.

Lastly, there is a reason that most universities tend to teach Egyptian Ammiya over other dialects. Egyptian Ammiya is the most popular dialect because of it's influence over the Arab world. A lot of Arabs understand Egyptian Ammiya due to movies and entertainment. They understand Egyptian Ammiya more than any other dialect. If you we're to learn Egyptian Ammiya, the chances of you being understand by non-Egyptians increases. When they speak back, however, you may have difficulty understanding them because they will not speak back in Egyptian Ammiya. Instead, they will speak back in their local dialect.


How far you want to progress in Arabic will determine how many dialects you choose to learn and how much MSA you choose to learn. You can be a competent speaker by simply mastering a certain dialect, without learning MSA. It is not necessary to learn MSA. But if you want to function in society and access articles, contracts and listen to the news, etc. then you must learn MSA. If you have not seen my video already, this is what I intend to do.

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