Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Trying not to feel confused with Arabic

I must admit I'm still confused with my Arabic studies. I'm trying hard not to but it's not easy. I guess I'm not the only one struggling through two main questions every beginner face: diglosia and cases. I try not to think about them but it's not possible as the are a part of the language.

I wrote several times about my confusion caused by diglosia. Shortly speaking, there are two levels/kinds of Arabic: MSA - language used in the official situations, books, media etc. and dialects - used in the daily life. I guess every beginner faces this question: should I learn MSA or a dialect? The answer seems to be easy: it depends on your aims and what you need the language for.
General advice from those who speak Arabic is: If you want to travel or work in an Arabic speaking country, it's better to learn a dialect, but if you'd rather use it to watch TV or read books - you should choose MSA.

Seems easy? It's not. Let's say you want to work in Egypt. So you start to learn the Egyptian dialect. You'll be able to communicate with your co-workers, with people on the street etc. But if you want to read newspapers or watch TV news - you'll have to learn at least some MSA.
On the other hand if you want to travel for a short period of time to, let's say, Egypt, is it worth it to put so much effort in learning the language? That's what I did. When I was planning my holiday in Egypt, I chose Egyptian dialect. I was able to order a coffee or a lunch, to buy a bus ticket, to say where I come from, what I already visited, I was capable to buy things cheaper in the souk - knowing Arabic numerals in script gained me sort of respect among shopkeepers.

Nevertheless I suppose that after returning home I won't need Egyptian anymore. Perhaps I'll travel to Egypt once more, but it's definitely not my favorite destination.
That's why I decided to switch to MSA. It will give me access to the media, e.g. to the Arabic version of Al-Jazeera, which in its English version, is at the moment my favorite news channel.

The second problem is the so-called nunation and cases. First I read that it's not worth bothering because people tend not to use cases, apart from some instances of accusative. I breathed with relief. Then I read in some internet forums and blogs that it's not true and I should learn all these cases. I said to myself "OK, I will do all my best to work through this part of the grammar". I supposed it shouldn't cause me much trouble because in Polish there are cases, so I am used to them.
Then, when I spent many hours drilling nunation and cases, I heard yesterday during the Arabic hangout, that in fact people don't used them (of course, if they use MSA at all). Does it mean that I wasted all this time?
One of the participants of the hangout tried to cheer me up a bit saying that he also spent much time in mastering things he's not supposed to use. Did I feel any relief? Not much.

I think this is the toughest part in learning Arabic. For some time I've been behaving like a drunkard, not being sure in which direction to go. Maybe I shouldn't think so much about this and take an advice from Youssef: Just stick to what you decided to do. If not, you'll always be switching, not improving in either or the other.

And what about you? What are your difficulties in studying Arabic? What do you think are the biggest obstacles while learning it?

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