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Author Topic: Stages of Learning a Language (as it applies to Arabic)  (Read 3275 times)
Ayesha Nicole
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« on: January 15, 2009, 02:14:26 PM »

Dear All,
I wanted to share some very useful information regarding the various stages of learning Arabic, that would also apply to any language.  Below is the the  'Preface' of ash-Sheikh Michael Mumisa's book, "Introducing Arabic".

It reiterates Mrs. Janet Doman's emphasis of moving from Step 1 to Step 5 as quickly as possible!, instead of being stuck in the vocabulary stage.  When reading his book, I always am inspired to continue because he makes it easier to understand, especially since Arabic is not his native language.

Happy Learning!
* * *
The first time I saw Arabic letters and alphabets was when I was seven years old after a visit to the local Mosque with my father.
Shaikh Ali Dawud, my grandfather and founder of the Mosque, took this opportunity to recruit more children for his Qur'anic Arabic classes.  He gathered us all in in the female section of the mosque and handed each one of us with a new qai'dah (a traditional text used to teach Arabic alphabets and Qur'anic words).  When I looked at the pages and saw those strange signs and characters looking back at me, I wondered if I would ever be able to decipher any of them.  A strange fear gripped me and I nearly walked out, however, when I heard my three cousins who were the same age as me reciting fluently the alphabets and words, I decided that if htey could do it maybe I also could do it.  After just a few days of attending the Kuttub (traditional Qur'anic school), I could hardly remember that I was the same person who had nearly walked out of the class not so sure if I could be able to learn the Arabic letters.
This problem affects most people who learn Arabic as a second language, and at times even those who are supposed to speak Arabic as their mother tongue since most of today's Arabs have been disengaged from pure Arabic language.
Over the years I have seen the same uncertainty and at times fear in some of the students, mostly adults, and some of the from Arabic ethnic backgrounds, when they are trying to study Arabic for the first time.  They also admit that they are not sure that there will ever come a time when they will be able to to read the 'strange signs' and characters known as Arabic.  After a few days of studying and working hard they can hardly recognize their own voices when they are reading fluently, and when the shaky voice is replaced with a steady and confident one.
Generally speaking Arabic language is easy, probably one of the easiest languages to learn.  There is always a connection between words and their derivatives and the grammar laws are logical.  The problem however is that most of the methods which have been in use over the years to teach Arabic have a lot to be desired.  There is what one may call an obsession and impatience to teach Arabic grammar to people who lack even rudimentary knowledge of basic Arabic sounds and words (al-aswat wa al-huruf).  The result of this approach is that people are able to memorize complicated Arabic grammar laws and yet they remain unable to construct simple Arabic sentences in speech and writing.  I have known renowned Muslim scholars, mostly from South Asia, South East Asia, Iran, and those teaching in the Indo-Pakistan seminaries in the West, who have spent many years of their lives teaching difficult classical Arabic texts and grammar books through their own languages (Urdu, Persian, English, Bahasa Malay, etc.) and yet are unable to speak a few sentences in fluent Arabic or write a simple Arabic letter or paper.
A person needs working knowledge of a language before s/he can start learning the grammar of that language.  When a person is able to read and understand sentences in a given language it becomes easier to study the grammar of that language.  It is difficult enough learning to recognize Arabic letters and sounds let alone understanding the grammatical concepts of a language which one is not familiar with.  There are thus five stages that need to be followed in presenting Arabic to total beginners:
1.  The listening stage - at this stage all the student has to do is sit and listen to the Arabic sentences, words, their sounds, and meanings.  This is the easiest part.
2.  The speech stage - the student will have subconsciously memorized Arabic sentences, sounds, and meaning after the first stage.  It will be easier to teach her/him to repeat and speak the words and sentences she has already heard many times.  This stage will focus on loosening the student's tongue enabling her to pronounce fluently Arabic letters and words.
3.  The reading stage - after having learned the Arabic sounds and meanings of words, and how to pronounce them, it becomes easier for a person to learn how to read the language.  At this stage all a person has to do is learn how to relate the sounds and meanings she has learnt to the signs on the page.
4.  The writing stage - during the writing stage the student starts learning how to construct Arabic sentences.  Equipped already with a vocabulary acquired during the listening, speech, and reading stages, the student will have no difficulty at all joining words in an attempt to construct sentences.
5.  The stage of grammar laws - learning grammar laws will be much easier for a person who already knows how tot read the language and understands the meaning of sentences.  A student at this stage will have no difficulty identifying, say, verbs from nouns or particles since she will already know the meanings of the words.
One common mistake made by some students and teachers of Arabic is to concentrate on memorizing single Arabic words in their attempt to build a good vocabulary.  This can be a very crippling approach.  Since linguists can now agree that it is much more difficult to memorize single words than it is to memorize sentences.  Some students are surprised that they are able to memorize hundreds of Arabic words and yet they have problems understanding Arabic speech or written texts.  This is because they do not know how to use these words in sentences.  However, if one was to learn sentences, s/he would also be learning how words are used in sentences.  Reading an Arabic text would become very easy since a person would be able to understand the meaning of strange words from the context and the way they appear in a given sentence.
Of course some of the above stages we discussed can run concurrently depending on the age of the student and number of students in the class.  This is not the place to address, even at a rudimentary level, the modern methods of second language acquisition with special reference to Arabic.  If God wills, we intend to complete in the near future a separate work that deals with this topic in greater detail.
The decision to prepare this book came after noticing that most of the books available in English are either too difficult for a student to understand because of the Arabic script used as well as the complicated grammar terminologies employed by the authors (some of whom write from a German or French background), or too basic as to cover all the important Arabic grammatical concepts and laws.  The latter genre provides working knowledge in what we may call "tourist Arabic" and fails to equip a student with the necessary language skills needed to read and understand classical texts.  Moreover, most of the best books available in English are reference texts for serious researchers and academics, most of whom already know Arabic grammar.
The present textbook is an attempt to present in simple language and style some of the basic as well as advanced Arabic grammar laws to the English reader.  It is hoped that it will benefit those who have just been initiated into this very exciting field of Arabic grammar as well as those who are already at an advanced stage of their studies.
The problem that one encounters when writing an Arabic grammar text using English as metalanguage is that one is constantly thinking in Arabic and this is always evident in the translations produced as a result of such a process.  In this book I have provided a lot of Arabic examples some of which I have translated into English.  I have done my best to assure that the translation of all sentences and passages is as closest to the original Arabic as possible and at the same time presented in good English.  Arabic is not always an easy language to translate into any language.  Therefore, if you come across English sentences that may not be according to "the Queen's standard", just pretend you are an Arab learning English!
Definition of Nahw:
The technical term used in Arabic for grammar is (al-nawh) which literally means "to intend", "direction", "similar to", "fashion", "mode", "method".  According to Arabic legend, it was the Caliph Ali who first used this word after one of his disciples had presented with a grammar text he had written.  Ali is reported to have remarked - "What a good method this is you have employed!".   The science of Arabic syntax was thus termed nahw.  Scholars define nahw as "that branch of knowledge which deals with the laws that govern the end-cases of words in a sentence, such as declension, indeclension, etc. [1]
When a person is reading this book without a teacher, it is assumed that she already has some basic knowledge of Arabic words, sentences, sounds, and their meanings.  Otherwise, one would need a teacher to go through this book successfully.  The book is divided into twenty-two chapters or lessons and each chapter is followed by an exercise.  Examples used in this book are taken from the Qur'an, the hadith, classical Arabic texts, as well as other sentences used in everyday life.  This book is based on three celebrated Arabic classical sources of grammar; Sharh ibn aqil ala alfiayat ibn Malik by Abdulah b. Aqil (698-769 AH), Awdah al-masalik ila alfiyat ibn Malik by Abdullah b. Yusuf b. Hisham al-Nahwi, and the Muqaddimah of Abu Abdallah b. Muhammad b. Dawud al-Sanhani (672-723 AH) well knowns as Ibn Ajrum.  I have deliberately avoided discussing the differences among the various schools of Arabic grammar regarding the explanation of certain laws since this is a subject that can be dealt with at a very advanced stage.  Moreover, a student can only appreciate such discussions if she has a good background in Arabic grammar and linguistics.
Michael Mumisa
Birmingham, UK
January 2003
Book > Introducing Arabic by

« Last Edit: January 15, 2009, 04:03:29 PM by Ayesha Nicole » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2009, 09:18:18 PM »

I just skimmed through but the stages are really interesting !

It is so true that the emphasis on Arabic grammar makes it so much harder than it actually is!

These steps also fall in line with how babies naturally pick up a language don't you think? Listening then making sentences then redaing then having a "sense" as to how sentences are structured....

Very nice smile

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