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As you launch your journey of learning Arabic. I have also seen even more people live here a long time and yet find themselves unable to interact in Arabic on any practical level. They are a small but representative cross-sample of highly experienced experts in their field.15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner by Andrew Dempsey What makes some people who try to learn Arabic succeed. As I sifted through the many valuable insights shared by each person. In the past few years. I began to see specific skills. All are internationally recognized for their contribution to helping Arabic learners from many different backgrounds and countries to become proficient in the language. these skills will prove essential to you being able to successfully become fluent in the Arabic 2 . mindsets. Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. What are the essential skills that lead to their success? In the summer of 2015. They hold leadership positions in some of the most highly recognized universities that teach Arabic to non-Arabic speakers in the world. while others fail? What will help you become fluent. Their books have been used by tens of thousands of Arabic learners. This led me to begin to ask myself what successful Arabic learners have in common with each other. or continue to press forward in it. Together they have over 150 years of combined experience in Arabic language teaching. © 2016. What came out of these interviews was a clear set of factors that should be taken into consideration in order to become a successful Arabic learner. even if the names and terminologies differed slightly from person to person. and approaches that were mentioned by most or all of them. They have together authored more than 100 articles in research journals. and to ask them these questions. where others have not been able to? Over the past 25 years I have lived in the Arab world and have observed many successful Arabic learners. I was able to conduct a series of interviews with some highly accomplished leaders in the field of Arabic language teaching. What are the traits that are common to successful Arabic learners? What are the skills they demonstrate that make them successful? Each person I interviewed is a thought-leader in some aspect of Arabic language teaching. interest in learning the Arabic language has increased exponentially around the world.

Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. Each of the interviews was thoughtprovoking and highly instructional for me. Each person I spoke with was very generous with their time and their willingness to share their experience.The Interviews The people I interviewed included (in alphabetical order): • Laila Al-Sawi (American University in Cairo) • Abbas Al-Tonsi (Georgetown University) • Kirk Belnap (Brigham Young University) • Kristen Brustad (University of Texas at Austin) • Aiyub Palmer (University of Kentucky) • David Wilmsen (American University in Beirut) I would like to offer a sincere word of appreciation to each of these language teaching professionals for helping me compile this collection of essential Arabic language learning 3 . © 2016. The 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner is a compilation and synthesis of what was shared with me. and not to those whom I interviewed. gained over decades of teaching Arabic. Any mistakes or oversights should be attributed to me.

Here are 5 key mindsets that are essential to learning Arabic.interaction with the people to reinforce what is taught in the formal classes…" (Laila Al-Sawi) 3. and it © 2016.A. motivation. energetic approach to learning Arabic. Clear Goals Set fluency as your aim.. Using your imperfect Arabic for partial interaction will activate and solidify what you have learned. It will heighten your ability to receive and process Arabic input. “You can learn Arabic…not only does the teacher need to believe. 1. and energy to launch you and sustain you on your journey to becoming competent in Arabic. their goal is to be able to read or recite Arabic without understanding it. it will accelerate your ability to grasp and learn new things. Communication is your primary means of learning Arabic. be sure to use each new thing you learn in a conversation with someone. but also the potential to hold it back. Your mindset has the power to accelerate your learning. By setting your goal to becoming fluent. Often. and position you to learn even more. It is not a mystical goal that is only achieved at the end of the journey.. This will bring about a genuine change in how you experience the process of acquiring the language. Enthusiasm Be enthusiastic. Mindset Having a correct mindset is foundational to all of the other skills. Learners who approach Arabic with these intentional mindsets learn Arabic more quickly and more effectively than learners who do not. for religious or cultural reasons. and so at every step along the way. You will learn Arabic as you use it to interact in real life 4 .” (Kirk Belnap) 2. Interaction Commit to interact. ". you will activate all of your thinking. Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. but the student as well. Choose a positive. Many people approach Arabic with a mindset that they will tinker in the language and learn the alphabet and possibly a few helpful words. This approach will not result in you effectively learning the language and being able to use it.

“Students need to be alright with ambiguity…if the student is of the type that has to know or understand everything before they feel comfortable or safe. their own and other students'. and choosing to show off your growing skills to the world rather than hiding “imperfect” skills. or on a false perception of what others will think of us as we begin to use our imperfect Arabic.” (David Wilmsen) 4. we're adult learners. Overcoming your fear of failure in Arabic means believing in yourself.” (Aiyub Palmer) 5. and can set up anxiety filters that make it difficult to process and learn. Usually. the more feedback and growth you will experience. you need to make mistakes. Having the flexibility to be able to adapt to input that is slightly beyond your ability to fully grasp will stretch you and cause you to apply internal learning strategies that advance your language skills. Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. The fear of failure can prevent you from attempting to speak or listen in Arabic (or write and read). they will be extremely slow in progressing. Ambiguity Accept ambiguity in your conversations and interactions in Arabic. if they progress at all.will give you resilience and persistence when the journey seems long. “We’re not child learners. not hindering you).com/15skills 5 . It will also make the process much more enjoyable and fascinating. “… students notice errors. The more that you experiment and get things wrong as you use Arabic. Being able to accept and be comfortable with situations in which you do not understand everything that is being said to you (or written) is essential to learning Arabic. and learn from them. Don't look at it as a chore… find it fascinating. but you have to approach it with that same kind of fascination. laughing at your own mistakes (knowing they are helping you in your journey. our fear of failure is based on a false feel that we are incapable of learning.” (Laila Al-Sawi) © 2016. Mistakes In order to grow as an Arabic learner. Lots of mistakes.

You can implement them in the order that works best for you. Establishing these habits means that you are taking control of your time and focus in a way that maximizes your ability to understand. B. or pronunciation. These skills are not necessarily sequential. a word becomes part of their world. Habits The daily habits that you cultivate can greatly assist you in your Arabic learning journey. There will be days where you will learn much more than one item. but you will be growing in your Arabic at the most optimal rate when you are are successfully taking all of them into account. you will have broken the inertia of passive learning and will be actively increasing your Arabic level. One of the dangers that some people fall into is growing in their knowledge of vocabulary. Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. They use it to think or write about their own lives…" (Kirk Belnap) © 2016. "They personalize vocabulary. they own it. this will lead to a significant increase in your ability to understand and express yourself in Arabic. and produce Arabic. you will ensure that your mind stays freshly focused on expanding your active vocabulary at all times.” (David Wilmsen) 7. but by setting a minimum of one term per day. but never taking initiative to actually use it in real life. acquire. If you make a daily habit of using your Arabic in some small way. you have to use it.The Habits-Systems-Interactions Cycle The following three areas all contribute toward your growing fluency in 6 . “To keep [Arabic] in your head. Over time. Vocabulary Build your vocabulary daily by adding at least one new word or expression to your repertoire each day. Activate Use what you have already learned in Arabic immediately. grammar. 6.

Try to read things through to their end even when you don’t understand every word. and a sense of the rhythm of how the language is spoken. pronunciation. commentary. Read Read Arabic daily. Reading is foundational to enriching your vocabulary and engraining Arabic structures and styles of discourse into your thinking. This listening can be include some periods of active listening. whether news.. "It is very difficult to reach a high level of proficiency in speaking without being almost native in listening. sung. tweet.” (Abbas Al-Tonsi) © 2016. It is not difficult to find materials to read in Arabic. or many other 7 .the listening builds up vocabulary. but also longer periods of having Arabic playing in the background as you do other tasks. Listen Listen to Arabic being used – spoken. and push yourself to complete reading something in Arabic every day.. you will develop an ear that can comprehend verbal Arabic effectively. social media.. ".. Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. This is foundational to building understanding. we help them to get really good at reading.. Daily listening builds your confidence and level of comfort when it comes to engaging in conversations in Arabic.. and when you are listening the grammar and pronunciation become correct. blog entry. The discipline of reading to the end (whether a chapter.8. or recited – every day. By listening every day. religious. or article) overcomes our tendency to drop focus when we don’t understand everything.the proficiency that they develop and the confidence that they develop doing that spills over…" (Kirk Belnap) 9.

to work specific language skills. can be used to provide the time-intensive drilling and practice that is usually not feasible in class. The structure and evaluation built into these systems provide you with a step by step plan for progress. 10. "In class they are going to show you why it works this way. Apps Take advantage of the increasing number of computer-assisted language learning tools that are available for Arabic learners. pronunciation. "Any technology that allows students to do more and better mechanical work on their own. is something that we need to be thinking about how best we can use it. Classes provide a framework that can dramatically accelerate your progress in all areas of Arabic. They also provide feedback and evaluation. in order to be able to follow a learning curriculum that has been set by someone who has experience in facilitating Arabic language learning.” (Kristen Brustad) © 2016. These classes can be in person or online. They can provide excellent exposure and practice in comprehension. Classes Take organized lessons given by a skilled 8 . or why it shouldn't work this way but perhaps does…" (David Wilmsen) 11. Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. These apps. whether websites or software that runs on your computer or mobile device. as well as correcting errors that would otherwise become engrained in your Arabic. which are essential to prevent the recurring mistakes we make from becoming a permanent part of our language (a process known as “fossilization”).C. and receive corrective feedback. outside the classroom. Systems Having organized systems in place that set a framework to your Arabic learning enables you to systematically progress through a planned curriculum of Arabic content. and structure.

12.. and will need to customize your own approach. Self-Led Take charge of your own Arabic language learning by directing your own program of acquisition.. you may not have access to classes or programs that provide you with the kind of instruction that you would like to have. take control of your learning by building your own self-led framework of Arabic instruction that combines multiple learning strategies into an overall plan. Many times. Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. Even when you are actively engaged in class work.those learners that are self-directed and highly motivated will jump on these opportunities…" (Aiyub Palmer) © 2016. ".com/15skills 9 .

13. Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. Having regular interactions in the language is a key to your success.. even on a small level. you may find yourself exposed mostly to instructional materials. Interactions For most people.” (Abbas Al-Tonsi) © 2016. The satisfaction of having understood someone and having been understood. ". “ (Abbas AlTonsi) 14.D. And the frustration of communication breakdown. where you are not able to communicate as you would like. whether spoken or written. over time. Constant interaction with authentic input will. whether reading or listening. whether spoken or written. Conversations Have real conversations. will motivate you like very few other things. where there is a give and take of information and interaction. the reason that you are learning Arabic is to be able to interact with people and situations in Arabic. will bring into play all of your receptive and productive skills in Arabic – the skills that are required to understand (receive) and produce language in a way that allows actual communication. "Arabic websites with videos and newspapers help keep Arabic fresh.. There are a lot of sources on the Internet that can provide the desired authentic input. with Arabic speakers. they lack many features of Arabic materials that were produced for native Arabic speakers. Interacting requires you to bring together all of your language skills and use them in real life.Talk with Arabic speakers. will also sharpen your focus on areas in which you can improve. enable you to more effectively understand and produce native-like Arabic. True conversations. When you are actively engaged in learning Arabic. While these materials have the advantage of having been designed to teach specific skills or 10 . for a native Arabic speaking audience. Authentic Input Interact with “authentic input” – content that is produced by native Arabic speakers. It must be verbal communication to keep the Arabic at the desired level of proficiency.

each of the other areas accelerates further.” (Kristen Brustad) © 2016. attaining fluency is not just possible. Fluency The ultimate result of building each skill over time is that you will become fluent in Arabic. the use of appropriate language learning systems. With the foundation of a proper mindset. the development of daily habits. because as you grow in fluency. Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. Functional fluency means that you can effectively use Arabic to accomplish the specific needs that you have.E. creating a positive. selfsustaining cycle of language 11 . it is a natural outcome. Knowing what your goals are will enable you to achieve the level of fluency that you need. and consistent interaction in Arabic. They keep seeing they can do more and they keep setting their goals higher and higher for themselves. “…they keep adjusting their goals upward and upward and upward. Fluency becomes a skill in and of itself. in a way that approaches native-speaker effectiveness. Results 15.

An Intensive Course in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. at various levels since 1981. An Intensive Course in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic with Layla Al-Sawi. Her areas of academic interest include AFL (Arabic as Foreign Language) pragmatics. and An Advanced Reader in Egyptian Colloquial with Kristen Brustad. Arabiyyat Wasaa’il al-iclaam (Media Arabic) with Nariman Warraki. In 2015 she was promoted to Senior Instructor II. sociolinguistics and the use of CALL (computer assisted language learning) to promote AFL teaching. Vol.The Experts Laila Al-Sawi Senior Instructor II of Arabic as a foreign language. Professor Al-Sawi co-authored Kalaam Gamiil. He has written many articles in literary criticism. professor Al-Sawi received the CASA Award for Excellence in Teaching. She has also served as the director of the Arabic Language Intensive Summer Program: 2004-2006. listening. professional development and services to the ALI department and AUC at large.Arabic Language Instruction Department (ALI) at the American University in Cairo. (Source: Georgetown University Directory) © 2016. In 12 . Laila Al-Sawi has been teaching Modern Standard Arabic. Egyptian Colloquial: A Structure Review. Georgetown University Qatar Abbas Al-Tonsi is Senior Instructor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar and a faculty member at the Arabic Language Institute (ALI) at the American University in Cairo (AUC). in addition to academic years: 2011-2015. She has presented a number of conference presentations and workshops in the field of AFL inside and outside Egypt. writing. in addition to Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. I & II. reading. and politics. the highest rank in instructor track appointment. Abbas Al-Tonsi Senior lecturer. Arabic media. speaking and media. He has authored or co-authored a number of Arabic textbooks including Al-Kitaab fii Tacallum al-cArabiyya [The Book on Learning Arabic] with Kristen Brustad and Mahmoud Al-Batal. for excellence in teaching. as well as co-authoring Al-Murshid: A Guide to Modern Standard Arabic Grammar for the Intermediate Level.

Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. politics. Brigham Young University Kirk Belnap holds a Ph.Dr. the University of Texas at Austin Kristen Brustad teaches and studies Arabic dialects. language policy and planning. and society. His research interests include second language acquisition. and journal articles. including books. and is currently an Associate Professor of Arabic Studies in the Department of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas in Austin. Previous professional service includes six years as executive director of the American Association of Teachers of Arabic and then six years as editor of its journal. and the history of Arabic. Kirk Belnap Director. National Middle East Language Resource Center. Al-‘Arabiyya.D. Kristen Brustad Associate Professor. in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania and is a professor of Arabic in the Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages at Brigham Young University. © 2016. She is a co-author of the well-known series AlKitaab fii Tacallum al-cArabiyya [The Book on Learning Arabic] with Mahmoud Al-Batal and Abbas Al-Tonsi. This includes helping teachers and program administrators gain the vision and skills to design learning experiences that promote total engagement. a comprehensive effort to empower students to become effective self-regulating learners who proactively work to accomplish their goals. Dr. She completed her Ph. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at Harvard University in 1991. textbooks. and L1 and L2 13 .D. language ideology. He also heads up Project Perseverance. and has written dozens of academic publications related to Arabic language and Arab culture. Department of Middle Eastern Studies. the history of Arabic. where he has been since 1988.

 The American University of Beirut David Wilmsen has written and published extensive works during his time as a professor. and the American University in Beirut. and he has authored many journal articles. chapters in books. Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages. For the past eight years Aiyub has also been the primary curriculum designer and content producer for Qasid’s online Arabic program (Qasid is currently the home of CASA in 14 . Jordan). and translations in fields related to Arabic language (see list here). Georgetown University.Dr. Dr. His book Arabic Indefinites. and Arabic instructor at the American University in Cairo. Interrogatives and Negators: A linguistic history of western dialects was published by Oxford University Press in 2014. Andrew Dempsey thearabiclearner. Kentucky where he resides with his family. David Wilmsen Professor of Arabic. which debuted two years ago and has been teaching university-level Arabic online to students from all over the world. Aiyub Palmer Assistant Professor of Arabic and Islam. Currently Aiyub is an assistant professor of Arabic and Islam at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. © 2016. Aiyub is the primary author of the Arabic Anywhere series of educated spoken Arabic courses offered through OpenLanguage. translator. University of Kentucky Aiyub Palmer completed his master’s in teaching Arabic as a foreign language in 2009 and his PhD in Islamic Studies in 2015 from the University of Michigan. Chair. linguist.