By: Sawitri Mardyani (Phd)
It seems like a completely outrageous claim, doesn't it? Especially if you've tried to study Arabic before. You know how many weeks, months, years or even decades you've spent learning words, constructing simple sentences, and not coming anywhere near a real Arabic book.
So how could this be possible? How could you cover enough of the language to begin reading your first Arabic book within 21 days? Do you need to study night and day in an immersion environment, ignoring of all your other responsibilities?
No, actually. Not at all.
Starting their first Arabic book within 21 days is something students have been doing, studying part time, 5-7 hours a week, with no prior
knowledge other than the letters of the Arabic alphabet.
So what's the key?
The key is in how the language is taught and which portion of the language we focus on first. If you pick up any Arabic instruction book today or join any class, you'll notice that you start by learning lists of words and little sentences and structures, gradually adding more and more complexity as the lessons progress.
It seems like a good idea, right? Break something big down to little parts and start with the simple and progress to the complex.
The problem is, without an overall framework to tie all this information to, everything you learn starts to feel like a series of disconnected rules and words. It seems so complicated and random that you quickly become overwhelmed. It's no surprise that you come to the conclusion that the language is difficult. Too difficult. Or you're just not cut out for it.
The hope and enthusiasm that you had when you started learning the language quickly diminishes. Attendance in the class dwindles. You quit the course or it's canceled all together. You abandon one series of text books for the next.
It's a pretty sad story. And what's sadder is how often this cycle is repeated, until you have a whole stack of Arabic books gathering dust on the shelf. You see, when you teach Arabic from the simple to the complex, i.e. starting with words, and then simple structures and sentences, you're ignoring the fundamental nature of the language itself.
The truth is, Arabic isn't like other languages. In Arabic, the majority of meanings do not even come from words, but instead from vowels and patterns. Weird, right? This doesn't mean that words don't have meaning. Obviously they do. But there are more “non-word” meanings than meanings that come from words. And when you only learn words and stick them together into simple sentences, you miss out on this absolutely fundamental fact.
You miss out on the key aspect that lead scholars such as Ibn Khaldun to conclude that Arabic the most superior language on the planet.
On the other hand, if you can start by teaching how patterns and vowels convey meaning in Arabic, then you create fascination and you feed the student's natural enthusiasm. Because really, you can't help but be amazed at this absolutely brilliant system that packs so much meaning into the vowels and patterns that make up a single word.
And you sit awe as you realize that it's a feat of staggering genius on part of the medieval grammarians that they were able to isolate, analyze and explain this in the books of Nahw. When you start with these “non-word” meanings, you're actually getting right to the heart of the Arabic language. You're talking about the unique mechanism that Arabic uses to convey meaning. And this is something that you're going to see in every single Arabic sentence you will ever read.
This is the key.
It's by covering the most broadly applicable aspects of the language first that you can begin a reading text within 21 days.
Then, as we start reading the text, you'll see all the theory that you've learned come to life with real examples. Your vocabulary grows organically through the medium of the story and each sentence solidifies your understanding of the theory. As the story progresses, the author introduces new structures so that you learn new elements of grammar without getting overwhelmed. As counter intuitive as it seems, the key is to teach the most elaborate aspects of the language first. Arabic is taught best when we lead with the complex, instead of going from the simple to the complex.
It's counter-intuitive but it works.
Now, to really get an understanding of this method of learning Arabic, you're going to need to see more details and examples. You need to see the language in action to really understand what's meant by ”no-word” meanings. So Mufti Yusuf, the founder of this method, has put together a 45 page document which you can download here.
One of my classmates said that, after having taken Arabic in university, he can safely say that this document covers more than a full year of class. I've never taken Arabic in university myself, so I can't comment on that. You're invited to assess that for yourself, though.
Behind the document, there's two hours of free video lessons and a more elaborate online program where classes have been in session for over 10 years.
Of course we hope you consider signing up for the program, but there's a lot of teaching in the free resources too and we'd love for as many people as possible to benefit from that.
If you haven't already checked out the 45 page report, you can go here to get your free copy.
Feel free to post your comments below on what you think of this approach. Do you think it's appropriate for beginners or just advanced learners? Is it really different or more of the same?
If you're already a student of the program, you're more than welcome to share your experience below as well.