Language learning… a lost cause?!

By Hannah, mission mobiliser

When talking about reaching Arab people, there is one question people often ask with fear and trembling: ‘But do I have to speak Arabic?’.

The sight of unknown squiggles and dots, the sound of unknown (and sometimes indistinguishable) letters can be overwhelming. It doesn’t help that a quick google will probably tell you that Arabic is one of the hardest languages to learn, which is a bit of a turn-off to those of us who don’t get excited about that ‘Learn holiday Spanish in 7 days’ book before we board a plane.

But let’s not be too hasty in writing Arabic off. There are a lot of myths surrounding Arabic that aren’t exactly true. Let’s debunk a few:

  1. There are lots of sounds different from English.

There are actually only 2 or 3 sounds we don’t have in the English alphabet, and like anything, practice makes perfect!

  1. The alphabet is impossibly difficult.

There are only 28 letters to learn. The trick is recognising those letters in their different forms. Because letters get joined up, they are written slightly differently depending on whether they appear at the beginning, middle or end of a word. On the plus side, there are only 5 main shape groups that the letters fall into, which makes them easier to learn.

  1. Arabic has a huge vocabulary.

Okay, so there may be over 100 words for ‘camel’. But, you need to remember this is a very ancient language, and not all these words are still in use. In reality, Modern Standard Arabic vocabulary is comparable to any other modern language.

I’m not trying to lure you into a false sense of security – learning Arabic requires a lot of time and patience. However, the road from English to Arabic is well-worn, and many have succeeded in embracing this language in order to reach the many unreached peoples who speak it.

If you’re thinking, “That’s great, but I couldn’t wait to drop French at school” and the thought of opening a grammar book brings flashbacks of less-than-idyllic times, keep reading.

Different people learn differently and discovering how you learn best goes a long way to a more positive language-learning experience. Aside from attending language school, lots of people have used the ‘GPA’ or ‘Growing Participator Approach’ method. This approach to language learning isn’t all about grammar exercises and vocab tests. Its emphasis is on the sociocultural nature of language and learning language as a child would learn. Rather than attending classes, you learn from one local native speaker who becomes your tutor, introducing you gradually to new language and scenarios. One of our members who chose this way of learning said:

“Remember that you aren’t just memorising words and phrases but you’re entering into a new culture, and understanding the language helps you understand how people think and feel and live.”

Suddenly, the squiggles, dots and strange sounds come to life! They’re more than just a means of getting by in a strange country, they’re a key to understanding the culture and people of that country.

*Library image used for illustrative purposes only. Image credit = unsplash.

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