UAE | Heritage and Culture

Learning Arabic in 20 days

Can British expat Jamie Goodwin pick up a new language in a month? Follow his progress



Learning Arabic lesson 1: Back to school

  • Posted by Jamie Goodwin, Web News Editor
  • Published 15:50 May 20, 2013

Can a British expat with a historical allergy to learning languages pick up Arabic in four weeks?

That’s what I decided to find out when I gamely volunteered to do such a thing for the amusement of Gulf News readers.

Day one back in the classroom, and a small group of just two other students and the teacher is great news as I won't get lost if I am slow to pick anything up - and also bad news because I can't get lost if I am slow to pick everything up ...

The bell rings (yes, my language school actually has a bell!) and the first lesson is under way.

With the priority on learning spoken Arabic, we read Arabic words using English characters, though the Arabic characters are written on the board and in the book, should we feel ambitions. I'll walk before I try to run.

First, fittingly, the alphabet: Arabic has 28 characters to our 26 - and it is not as simple as learning a neat table with the letters that I know and love next to their Arabic equivalents, plus two extras. The Arabic alphabet contains very different letters, such as those create the subtly different 'ta', 'tha' and 'tah' sounds, plus a sound that our Lebanese teacher compares to noises made by a chicken and one she describes as the sound you make when clearing your throat (her words, not mine!).

After learning essentials such as yes, no, and, or, and what, we move on to learning useful basic nouns; boat, station, bus ... that kind of thing. It reminds me of French class as a 13-year-old. The time flies, and soon the bell is ringing again.

As I leave the language centre, I realise something - I am hooked. That first two-hour session has stirred inside me something that lay dormant since I finished secondary school.

With a short-term memory that's poor, at best, I accept that the process of learning Arabic will be an exercise (tamriin) in sheer will and effort. So, upon arriving home after my first lesson, I spend an hour creating revision cards and then force a friend to test my progress.

I beam from ear to ear upon every correct answer. I find I have learned most of the 30 or so basic nouns we have been taught in day one, including car (sayyaara), airport (mataar), boat (baakhira). Yes, I have a long way to go, but even this most basic of learning experiences is exhilarating. Now I know why my two-year-old niece is smiling all the time.

Comments (15)

Have you tried to learn Arabic in the UAE?
  1. Added 14:22 June 18, 2013

    I know the basic words & greetings.

    Abbas, Dubai, Pakistan

  2. Added 15:08 June 11, 2013

    Hi, i would like to know where are you learning Arabic from? which school is it?

    kahsif, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  3. Added 19:02 June 3, 2013

    Hi, during my vacation time in Dubai I enjoyed it so much that back home I decided to study Arabic. Here in my birhplace, the place where I live in Salvador Bahia Brazil -I have Arabic classes at the local University - UFBA. It is great and not as hard as I imagined. Regards, Maria

    Maria Rodrigues, Salvador Bahia, Brazil

  4. Added 09:14 May 26, 2013

    Hi, Its good to know that I can learn Arabic and it would be so proud for me.

    Muhammad, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  5. Added 12:39 May 25, 2013

    Yes, I have tried to learn arabic , I have attended even classes also. I have relized best way to learn Arabic is to make arabic friends and speak to them in arabic only, ask them to correct when you are wrong. I feel so happy when i can make some one understand my arabic comunication.

    Shivanand, Sharjah, India

  6. Added 09:32 May 24, 2013

    Yes would love to learn arabic please let me know how to start

    Ganesh, Bangalore, India

  7. Added 19:12 May 22, 2013

    I'm American but rather than learning through an online programme I'd prefer living in UAE, Qatar or Egypt and learning the language. Not only would I be learning a new language but I could learn more about the overall culture of where I'm at. That would be so exciting!

    Tabiah, Dallas, United States

  8. Added 07:27 May 22, 2013

    please suggest me good arabic teacher or school, where i can learn arabic.

    Nadir, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  9. Added 14:10 May 21, 2013

    I am using an online learning programme now and after only two sessions feel empowered. I woke up remembering the words for horse, coffee and dog. Now, I need an Emirati speaker on which to try my newly acquired skills.

    Lee, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

  10. Added 13:57 May 21, 2013

    I would like to learn arabic. Anyone could give me a hint of a good school?

    Ravichandiran, doha, Qatar

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