A few months back, I posted the following pic on Instagram:
The statement drew some very enlightening responses with many people disagreeing. Most people seem to think that Arabic is categorically hard, especially for native English speakers.
According to Babbel.com, Arabic ranks as the second hardest language in the world for English speakers. Arabic is second only to Mandarin Chinese on their list.
Even they recognize in their article that Mandarin Chinese is actually the most widely spoken native language in the world.
When I read articles like this one from Babbel, I can’t help but to remember a joke I heard once as a teenager. It goes like this: “Kids in Mexico are SMART! They got 4-year-olds down there speaking Spanish!”
This joke really shows why it’s not really useful to rank languages by how hard they are.
Why saying, “Arabic is hard.” is holding you back.
To say something is “hard” is basically the same as saying the thing will take a lot of time and effort. If we rephrase it this way, we see that there’s not much benefit for the beginner student to really focus on the question of whether or not Arabic is hard.
By saying to ourselves over and over that Arabic is hard, we are setting ourselves up to feel like it will be a painful, gruelling journey. For many people, this is indeed the case.
If you’re finding your Arabic studies hard, I would encourage you to think about what options for learning language that you may be missing. Learning any language takes a great deal of time and practice. Try to think of ways that you can spend that time and get that practice in more enjoyable ways.
When I first started out studying Arabic, I shied away from children’s books. To me, it wasn’t a serious enough way to study Arabic. Now, I realise that I was the one making things hard on myself. Instead of finding enjoyable ways to study Arabic, I only wanted to focus on the options that involved the most traditional studying.
Once you find a way to enjoy learning Arabic, you’ll find that your mind shifts away from thinking “this is hard” to simply thinking “this is fun.” You’ll still be getting in loads of practice, but you’re more likely to stick with it in the long run and see the results that you want.
Now I study Arabic through playing, reading, and simply living with my kids. We learn a little every day and it never seems hard. I’m constantly amazed by the words and grammar I can learn just from trying to translate simple sentences with my kids.
This brings me to the second myth that’s holding you back in your Arabic studies.
Children’s brains are not wired to be better at learning.
Let me say it again. Your children’s brains are not better at learning. They are different, but not better.
Children are often placed in environments that facilitate and encourage learning. They also do a lot more actions that promote learning that adults aren’t usually willing to do.
The other reason why we think that children can learn Arabic faster than us is because children almost always focus on vocabulary. As adults, we think that we have slower brains, but if we would imitate our children, we would learn just as fast as they do.
Why saying, “Children’s brains are like sponges.” is holding you back.
Most of us know that there’s not much benefit in comparing ourselves to other adults. Yet when it comes to learning Arabic, I hear people compare themselves to their kids all the time.
Instead of thinking “I’m old, I can’t learn Arabic.” we should instead give ourselves permission to learn like children do.
Here’s a challenge for you just to show you how fast you actually can learn Arabic. Find a children’s Arabic lesson online. It can be anything. Even an alif coloring page with 3 new words on it. It just has to be something that you and your child don’t know.
Then, do it.
That’s it. Color the page, make the craft, sing the song. Do whatever you expect your kids to do.
You’ll find that when you learn like a kid, you learn just as fast as a kid. When you adjust your expectations to match those you have for your kids, you’ll get much faster results than them.
When we take a deeper look at how kids learn, we can see our last Arabic myth. You may not have actually heard this one spoken aloud.
Arabic learning should never start with grammar.
Most Arabic programs focus heavily on grammar. The idea is that students should be able to speak properly and grammar is necessary to lay a strong foundation for perfect speech.
Why starting with grammar is holding you back.
When your 2 year old says a full sentence, you rejoice. When a second-year student in Arabic writes a paragraph with 2 grammar mistakes, they feel rejected. Grammar is not a good measure of how well you are progressing in a language.
This is a completely unnatural approach to learning a language. It’s also an approach that leads to burnout in many students.
I’ll be writing a few more posts to go into more detail about these myths. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Are there any things you wish you knew about Arabic when you were just starting out?
There is no such thing as a hard language.
This is the first and most powerful myth that new students face when they start to learn Arabic. We are bombarded with new shapes and sounds and when we struggle to grasp it all in one course, we think, oh, that’s because Arabic is hard.
It’s not. Arabic is not harder to learn than any other language.
When we say a language is hard, we forget that language is just a natural process like sleeping or breathing. Our brains are wired to pick up language. They aren’t necessarily wired to pick up language fast.
Instead of focusing on the “hardness” of a language, we should instead think about what the language can do for us. The more you focus on the difficult parts learning Arabic, the more frustrating it is. The more you DO with Arabic, the easier it gets.
Every child, in every culture, is born with the ability to understand any language. Children in China learn how to speak Mandarin just like children in America learn how to speak English.
Of course, the article does mention that Arabic is a hard language “For English speakers.” I’m sure there are plenty of people reading this thinking, of course children can learn any language, they have different brains. They pick up things “like a sponge.”