You’ll often hear how difficult it is to learn Arabic for Europeans or North Americans. The Arabic alphabet, byzantine grammar, and pronunciation are all radically different from our Romance and Germanic roots, not to mention the Arabic grammar and how to pronoun some words and phrases.
A native English speaker can learn to speak Italian, Spanish, or French without too much difficulty because all the Indo-European languages have similar linguistic roots.
When you first begin studying Arabic, you’ll suddenly discover that it’s a lot more difficult than you thought.
For a complete newcomer to the language, learning all of its forms and rules can be quite challenging.
Of course, we aren’t denying that it can be a struggle, but as Jacques Cœur (the first French merchant to negotiate and establish commercial relationships with the people of the Middle East in the 15th century) said, “for a brave soul, nothing is impossible.”
And how long will it take to learn the Arabic language? One month? A year? More than a year?
How much work will it take to learn Arabic? What are the main challenges you face studying the language?
That’s what we’ll be discussing in this article - here are our best thoughts and advice on how hard it is to learn Arabic, and how long it will take you to become fluent.
Is It Difficult to Learn Arabic for Beginners?
Learning a foreign language is never easy. Like they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day. So, how hard is it to learn Arabic?
The decision to learn the Arabic language will require a considerable personal investment. Is it difficult to learn spoken Arabic dialects? A linguist might equivocate and tell you, “maybe so, maybe no.”
Not everyone who attempts to study Arabic will have the same ability to grasp new concepts quickly.
For some people, learning the basics of the Arabic language will be easier than for others, especially if they’ve already studied another language like French, Spanish, Italian, or German.
Someone who begins taking Arabic classes from a young age will also find it easier to pick up the language’s alphabet, grammar with its personal and possessive pronouns, suffixes, and prefixes, and vocabulary.
Right from the start, it’s a good idea to put your preconceptions and clichés about Arabic to one side - as the 5th most spoken language in the world and an official language in 23 countries, it is very useful to learn to speak Arabic.
But because of its alphabet and its script, the language of the Quran can often seem impossible to learn.
Arabic is a Semitic language, meaning it is a trilateral language, one where the spoken version of the language has a common root that can be traced to three consonants. With only a few vowels and many consonants, the Arabic language is quite different from American English, or German, French, or Spanish.
Arabic pronunciation requires a sort of guttural gymnastics, and language students will have to leave their comfort zone behind. Learning to speak Arabic can often feel like trying to find your way out of a boobytrapped house.
However, you’d be surprised to realize just how many Arabic words we use in English every day.
As you go through your Arabic classes you’ll quickly realize that many of our everyday words have been borrowed from Arabic, and you may even recognize some of the sounds.
Here’s our advice for learning Arabic the easy way:
- Breakdown your challenges
- Let go of your preconceptions of the Arabic language
- Learn to recognise the new sounds that you aren’t familiar with
- Master the Arabic alphabet, with its 4 styles of each of the 28 letters (beginning, middle, end, and solo), These need to be learned by heart, and this is one of the hardest things to do for a beginner.
- Decide which type of Arabic to learn. The diglossia of the language into written and spoken forms means there’s a careful choice to make with the version of the language you learn. It is more difficult to learn spoken Arabic dialects, because each version is different across the Arab world depending on the country you’re in, with each dialect having it's own colloquial native language which is enough to confuse any new learner. It’s much better to go with Modern Standard Arabic, which like the name suggests, has been standardized for all the Arab countries.
- Learn the Arabic script and get used to reading it from right to left - it’s an extra challenge when you’re coming from a language that uses the Latin alphabet.
Finally, if you truly want to become bilingual in Arabic, or even if you just want to learn the basics of the language, it’s worth investing in some good learning materials: make a point of speaking to native Arabic speakers to improve your verbal skills, and check out books, dictionaries, online Arabic classes, and apps to help you learn Arabic for free…not to mention private Arabic lessons London or classes at a language school.
Learning Arabic is a fairly complicated goal, but it isn’t impossible to achieve if you’re committed. There are ways to make learning Arabic slightly easier, but is it possible to learn quickly?
How Much Time Does It Take to Learn Arabic?
There’s no magic formula, and the time it takes you to learn Arabic will depend on you and your levels of motivation.
However, here are a few guidelines to help you quickly learn Arabic:
- Study regularly
- Don’t give up
- Find learning tools that are right for your level.
Learning to speak, read, and write Arabic doesn't require as much studying as becoming bilingual. But there’s still no set amount of hours that will make you perfect at Arabic.
For an English speaker, it’ll always be easier to learn Spanish or German than to learn Arabic. However, it is true that you can learn Arabic through Spanish (a Romance language), due to their close history.
The Iberian peninsula (ie, Spain and Portugal) and Septimania (today the Languedoc region of France) were conquered by the Omayyad Caliphate (an Arab dynasty which traces its roots to Mohammed) from 711 when Sevilla was conquered.
For more than 700 years, Islam and Arabic mixed with the Spanish language. The Visigoth and Latin peoples converted to Islam, and 80% of the population was Muslim, right up until the long “Reconquista” and the fall of Grenada in 1492.
Medieval Spain, once known as Al-Andalus, assimilated many different aspects of Arabic culture, such as architecture, arts, science, literature, and language.
Due to the period which followed the victory for the Arabs from Sevilla to Arles, the Spanish language now contains more than 4000 Arabic words today.
In order to learn the Arabic language, immerse yourself in the language and culture. Repeat, reflect, and work on your Arabic.
A few weeks of classes won’t be enough. You can take intensive classes to learn quickly, but you’ll really need a few months to learn to read and write the Arabic alphabet properly, not to mention master the grammar (pronouns, verbs, and sentence construction) and idiomatic expressions.
Although some people challenge this, it is widely thought that an American or a French person who wants to learn Arabic will need at least 88 weeks (2200 hours) of classes in order to learn to speak Arabic. In contrast, learning French would take just 600 hours.
The Assimil method helps Arabic students work on repeating and memorizing simple sentences that use vocabulary and adverbs to learn progressively.
But all of these daily chores need to be learnt in Arabic - run errands, clean the house, read the papers, listen to the Moroccan or Egyptian radio - and its crucial to commit at least 15 to 20 minutes to studying every day.
In order to succeed at learning Arabic, there are many tools you can use to assist in your studies:
- Online videos and podcasts
- Arabic conversations between native speakers
- Books that help you work through each level (introduction to Arabic, Arabic for beginners, intermediates, or advanced).
- Listen to Moroccan or Egyptian singers and imagine yourself transported to a full immersion experience.
- Sign up for private Arabic classes at home - there are many ways to find private teachers, experienced at teaching Arabic to adults and children of all ages. Superprof is one.
- Arabic language classes at a language school or a mosque
- Classes in high school or university - one module lasts for one or two semesters and can help you learn all the basics of literary Arabic (alphabet, reading and writing the Arabic script, grammar, verbs, vocabulary, and pronunciation).
- Online Arabic classes - there are tons of websites offering free online courses to learn Arabic quickly
- Study abroad - the best way to learn out of them all. Head to Cairo or Casablanca to learn Egyptian Arabic or Darija (Moroccan Arabic)
Are you headed off to an Arabic speaking country next month and want to learn a few key phrases in Arabic before you go? Here’s what to do.
Can You Learn Arabic In One Month With Arabic Lessons?
Unfortunately, we’d generally have to say no. However, you can find intensive language courses in most major cities which will get you reading and writing a few basic Arabic phrases within a month.
Most programs offer you an optimal language learning experience that is intensive and quick.
In a language school that specializes in Arabic, you can learn:
- The Arabic alphabet
- Begin to understand the spelling and pronunciation of the different Arabic letters (vowel, consonants, hamza)
- Learn how to write basic words in Arabic
- Learn to read Arabic letters
- Improve your Arabic vocabulary
- Begin to be able to express yourself in Arabic verbally, at least to a novice level.
Here are the places to go to learn Arabic quickly:
- Private lessons at home - when you’re starting from scratch, imitate, repeat, and speak like your private teacher. You can find a native Egyptian or Moroccan Arabic speaker on the Superprof platform, or check out Craigslist
- arabic courses online where you can learn quickly and for free. Check out Madinah Online or lexilogos for more resources
- Study abroad - the best way to learn Arabic in one month would be to take an intensive course while also living in full language immersion. When you arrive you will need to renounce English and go out and meet local people to speak with them!
Thanks to our common history and culture, learning Arabic is much less difficult and time-hogging than learning Hungarian, Thai, or Korean!