Sunday, May 24, 2009

What kind of Arabic?

So I've been trying to learn Arabic for a while now. Specifically, I've been trying to learn Qur'anic Arabic--to understand the Qur'an, obviously. Spoken Arabic has been for me something of a lower priority. Mind, I still try to pronounce Arabic properly--something that learning tajweed really helped with--but I haven't tried to use it for conversation, nor do I have the vocabulary for conversation. I'm getting better at understanding the Qur'an when reading it or listening to it, but listening to speech? I just can't make out most of the words, and if you ask me what I ate for dinner I would probably just look at you with an eyebrow half-raised.

And that's why I'm kind of frustrated that the Qur'anic Arabic class I've been taking for the last few weeks decided to adopt a few minutes for conversation at the beginning of the class.

Many of the students welcome the challenge and opportunity, and while I probably should also, I can't help but get irritated that in order to "prepare" for a dialogue session I would need to spend probably hours studying vocabulary that isn't related to the Qur'an at all, when the point of the class is to learn the Qur'anic language. So it would take away from the time I use to study Qur'anic Arabic.

Am I right to be upset? Should I grin and bear it? Is there any real benefit to 5 minutes of Arabic conversation twice a week to learning Qur'an?


sami said...


Personally i think Quran is the soul of (literary) Arabic (Muslim scholars agree that too),
So mastering arabic is the path to understand Quran, understanding Quran helps also to improve arabic level.

Considering my experience of learning a foreign language (English), I understand written English, but it's harder for me to use it in a conversation, I need a more pratice (in conversation, watching media..) to speak it without difficulty.
So I can infer that mastering a given language is a matter of continuing and evolving practice.

The difference is that you will win Hassanat for each effort to imporve your Arabic practice, and enjoy the Koran in its original version !! witch is a great stimulating fact !!

Naeem: said...

AA- Amy,

I totally agree with you. But oddly enough, very few people see it that way. Especially here in KSA. They all come here wanting to learn Arabic (so they can understand Quran and other Islamic texts), but then busy themselves with learning how to SPEAK.

I try to argue that the vocabulary is completely different and they're wasting their time, but to no avail.

I seriously believe that Indo-Pakistani madrasas have got it right. They focus 100% on reading and writing comprehension, leaving aside speaking/listening. So, you'll find their graduates who can read classical texts upside down, but can't hold a 5-min conversation!

Amy said...


Thanks for the comments.

Naeem, that's exactly how I see it. I'd much rather be like the madrasah grad who can read Islamic texts upside down than just be able to carry on a conversation with some Arabs.

Because that's where the ilm is.

Hajar said...

Personally, I do not see any harm in spending 5mins of Arabic conversation. I started off learning Quranic Arabic, and is en-route to learning spoken Arabic to fortify my comprehension. Between classical/archaic Arabic and modern standard Arabic [msa], there are differences and similarities. I suppose it depends on the individual. My sister learnt Quranic Arabic but she never really grasped the tajweed/pronunciation ... after learning msa, she has become better at it.

Amy said...


At first I would think that 5 mins of "conversation" wouldn't do any harm. But there are a few problems that have arisen:

1) That 5 mins turned into 20 minutes out of a lesson that lasts for only 45 minutes. A HUGE chunk.

2) Conversational Arabic requires mostly different vocabulary than reading Qur'an.

3) We have barely learned a few grammar essentials, and conversational Arabic requires implementation of rules far beyond what we have studied.

and 4) Preparing for the conversation section takes away from the time which could be spent reviewing previous material.

So far, I see the "conversation" section as just the teacher giving us a long long long list of vocabulary words, that I have no time to study, nor are not helpful in reading Qur'an. I don't really have time to study all those vocabulary words in that case, so it doesn't contribute anything to my knowledge of Arabic, while it takes away valuable time in learning grammar.

Simultaneously, tajweed or pronunciation (not the same thing) isn't my problem. Most of the students in the class cannot properly pronounce Arabic letters and sounds (even when we read from the Qur'an in class), and if reading from the Qur'an can't help a person learn to pronounce Arabic, I'm not sure that trying to wing it colloquially will help much.

Hajar said...


1] Then that is a problem. Couldn't they have it like before or after the classes instead? The ones we normally have here are vocabulary words that aids us in establishing a further understanding of the Quran context held during breaks.

2, 3 & 4] Understood. :) From experience, that is true. It is especially tougher for people that do not have any basics. I find it a little disturbing that the mass bulk of the time is spent on something besides the syllables.

And I can understand your predicament. I am considered in the 'advanced' category so the 'beginners' are seemingly finding it difficult to cope with us. I suppose your teacher is trying to make things easier for them, in his way. Perhaps you should have a talk with your classmates, teacher and institute to try and come up with a better solution for the most part.

Shawna said...

ASA Amy,

Coming to this late, but after studying Arabic myself, if the conversations are actually capped at 5 minutes, it could be extremely beneficial.

You mentioned that the dialogue vocabulary is unrelated to Quranic vocabulary. My experience has been that, through simple dialoague, I am much better able to find the rhythms of the Quran as well as extrapolate vocabulary because all words spin off of roots in Arabic--that means the conversational vocabulary too.

I think you should make the recommendations suggested in the above comment to shift when this conversation practice takes place. You do need to focus to really grasp Arabic. Insha'Allah I'll begin learning it again too someday soon!

JAK for all the wonderful, iman-boosting articles!



Farhan Qureshi said...

Sorry to barge-in on this so late (and more importantly without knowing the relevancy of my comments) my two cents on this are that learning two independent yet seemingly very similar languages is just a bit more difficult than learning them separately..

Urdu and persian are very similar yet different languages. and urdu has its roots in persian.. but i wont advise anyone to learn one while learning the other.. it is just too much of an ask..

should both of the languages be learned..? yes.

should they be learned together at the same time? no

i took some mandarin classes a few weeks back.. now mandarin has a lots of dialects.. All have common chinese origin.. same roots.. they seem very similar.. spoken and written in similar fashion but actually are different languages..

In my opinion (which probably is baseless), current day arabic and classical arabic are seemingly similar langauges with similar roots but actually are very different.. learning one while learning the other will only increase the difficulty of the whole cognitive process..