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29 thoughts on “How to Safely Learn Arabic in the Current Middle East”
I just wanted to speak on behalf of Qasid Institute in Amman, Jordan. I studied there for 12 months from Mar 2008-Mar 2009. I completed levels 2-5 in their 5 level layout. I later returned twice (!!) to do another advanced class in 2010 and again with a FLAS for private studies in summer 2014. I kept going back because I always felt I was learning, and because Jordan as a whole really grew on me during my time there. I can say that what I learned there helped me significantly, I am completing PhD dissertation research that heavily relies on reading Arabic sources from the Iraqi government.
I started in their MSA- Modern Standard Arabic program, which uses Al-Kitab, a book used throughout the USA in universities to teach Arabic. I switched into their Classical Arabic program for levels 4 and 5 and I am very glad that I did. If I had it to do over again, I would have started in the Classical Track (as they call it). The MSA is ok but it relies heavily on al-Kitab, a book I don’t like at all. When Qasid teaches Arabic in the pedagogical manner they developed themselves using their own curriculum, it is the Classical Track. If you are only there for the summer, sign up for their grammar level two course. It is basically everything you need to know about Arabic grammar, and it’s taught like a science, in English, with tons of examples dissected on the board to teach concepts. You will not regret taking that course.
The center is well run and the staff are very helpful and friendly, I can’t emphasize this enough! I am still friends with them.
Finally, Qasid can arrange housing for students- I can’t speak with experience about this. They also organize trips to various places of interest outside Amman. I highly recommend Qasid!
Thanks for sharing your experiences about Qasid.
It seems to really be rolling and becoming a Go-To spot for Arabic students.
These specific details are very informative and will be helpful to readers.
Why didn’t you like Al-Kitab? People seem to have a love-hate relationship with that book. I loved it. Specifically because of the structure the chapters offered, and the way that CDs really complemented them. Maybe that’s the way I learn and everyone is different, but I learned a ton from that book and liked it the most out of any I used.
Very helpful article Nathan. Question for you:
I am currently living and working in Amman. I’m going to be here for a year, taking 2-3 hours of Arabic class a week. I’ll be using Arabic as much as possible in Amman and will certainly reaching 250 hours over the course of the year. However, most of the Arabic will be for day-to-day tasks as opposed to in-depth conversations since my coworkers and friends all speak English. Furthermore, my Arabic usage won’t really be continuous, as it will be interrupted with time with expats. Should I expect to get to a high level?
Any advice on how to approach this situation?
By 250 hours, I mean total, cumalative hours of solid conversation, especially in a fixed period of time, like one year.
It’s an arbitrary number but I think it’s a very achievable benchmark.
Obviously, 350 hours is better than 250, and 500 hours is better than 350, but if you hit 250 hours in one year of really solid conversations, you can definitely become very good at speaking Arabic at a high level.
The key is the QUALITY of the conversations. Aim for situations where you have to think mentally and really engage mentally. Not just “how was your day” or “how is the weather”
Some ways to do that:
–Argue with Jordanian friends against whatever soccer team they root for, for the sake of arguing
–Go into a department store and ask about the pros and cons of all of the vacuums they have on sale or which vegetables are better, or how can you find the best book store in Amman, a million things like that
–If you’re there for a year, you will meet people who want to speak about politics and with them you can, once you get familiar with them.
Another thing you can do is just tell your Jordanian friends who speak English “today we are going to speak in Arabic.” That was a problem I had sometimes in Egypt. People want to practice English, so if you want you can only speak English, you can.
When I started studying Arabic in Egypt I knew literally no Arabic and some of my English-speaking Egyptian friends thought it was funny when I said I’m not speaking in English.
But I persisted, and within a few months and then 6 months, and over time, I was speaking Arabic vastly better than they speak English. You have to kinda just draw a line.
Another thing you can do is just advertise for a language partner. You formalize things a bit. Meet for two hours, you speak Arabic one hour, English the second hour. I am sure in a place like Jordan, you can easily find lots of good language partners.
How have you found the rental market in Jordan? What’s the going rate these days for potential students looking to get an apartment?
If I had to study in the Gulf, I’d definitely go to Oman. The student is likely to encounter more Arabic speakers in the social venues, which is the biggest advantage, but the other is that Oman is beautiful. They call it the Pearl of Arabia. It actually has a summer vacation destination in the south of the country, where the Monsoon rains hit and the weather is cool. And Muscat – is so organized and orderly that one has to remind himself that he is in an Arab country when he is driving around. In parts, it looks like my mother’s neighborhood in the foothills of the Catalina mountains north of Tucson! And the Omanis are famous for being exceedingly gracious and polite. And they are.
For a real Arab experience, Jordan is pretty much the best. And, of course, you can find Arabic speakers everywhere. There is a cool hangout street in Amman called, of all things, Rainbow street. There used to be the only Chinese restaurant in Amman there, called Abu Khalil (!). But it just closed recently when the owner, who is Chinese and not named Abu Khalil, retired. But there are all sorts of other restaurants, and some active NGOs in the neighborhood, including a place called Green Jordan – or something like that that boasts a panoramic view of the old city. I really like Amman, but my wife, who is from there, doesn’t (!!) – except for friends and family. And, of course, it is safe, too. And speaking of Arabic study in Jordan, the Virginia/Yarmouk program is about half the price of a summer at Middlebury, air ticket included. And you’d be in the Arab world instead of Vermont or California!
Definitely deserves to be in the top 3. In fact, it and the Gulf are enjoying a boom in the Arabic study abroad business.
The Dahiya in Beirut is not dangerous at all, discounting the human bombers that Daesh sends now and then. Not too often, though. And then a few years ago, we had a bomb go off a few blocks from our house – on a street that I had been walking just the day before, in one of the poshest neighborhoods in Beirut. I have to go the Dahiya at least once a year to get the car inspected, and our daughter goes there once a week to work with Syrian refugee children. No one is going to kidnap you in the Dahiya – it would be bad PR, and the Party is very good at PR. In our first year here, our kids wen to school in the Dahiya. Most of the time, they went on the school bus, but we would often drive there to take them to school or to pick them up. And our favorite restaurant, al-Saha, is there, in fact more or less right behind the school. It’s actually a party stronghold – in a real sense, it’s built to look like a old Levantine fortress – and Party hangout. Its now got a really cool antique store, too. My wife used to buy her art supplies in Dahiya, because they are cheaper there. I’d often go with her, just to walk round. We’ve had many a pleasant stroll on the back streets of the Dahiya. And we used to go to a bimonthly discussion group that would alternate meetings between a bar in Gemmayze and a coffee shop in the Dahiya. One time before we went there, we dropped the kids off at the paintball place where the Party cadres would train, and they played war while we engaged in a discussion about city planning. Afterwards, we all had burgers as a place next door to the paintball place almost in the shadow of Fadlallah’s mosque. So, one could spend a lot of time safely speaking Arabic in the Dahiya. But one doesn’t need to go that far (not that its all that far, anyway). My favorite neighborhood is al-Basta which is just south of downtown. It’s a Party neighborhood, too. And typically Beiruti. It also has an antiques market. Anytime my wife goes there to get household things or art supplies or gold or clothes – it’s a big market area, I go, just to enjoy the bustle and the Arabic atmosphere. Now, if you’ll excuse me, the real appeal then, in either place is that foreign students of Arabic can hang out in a place festooned with posters of martyrs and Party luminaries, including the Secretary General, all the while feeling and being perfectly safe. There is much to be said for that sort of experience during study abroad. BTW, last May, my sister and her husband came for a visit and we took them to the al-Saha, and then to al-Junoub, with the roads lined with the yellow party flags – a thrill for our guests. I took a wrong turn near Sour and we ended up in Marj Uyoun and Bint Jbeil – beautiful countryside, so that was cool for our guests, too. And, of course, everyone we stopped to ask directions of was kind and courteous. No danger in the heart of the South.
BTW, look at Rami Khoury’s piece in yesterday’s Daily Star about why he likes living in Beirut.
The good points he lists about Beirut society are some of the same reasons our students so much enjoy their experience here, despite the cost of living, which, as you say, is high. BTW, it’s high in Amman, too. I think the second highest in the region. I always wonder how people can live in these poor states with high costs of living.
I may have said that I have a chapter coming out in Kassem Wahba’s updated Handbook in which I argue that Beirut is an ideal starter location.
BTW, IFPO must be a fine place to study. I have a Spanish PhD student just now, who, because she looks Spanish and Mediterranean, might be, and often is, mistaken for Lebanese. She did her MA there in Arabic, wrote her thesis in Arabic, and speaks Lebanese Arabic like a true daughter of the Mediterranean.
Thanks for this great comment and for your original input.
I really appreciate the details about Jordan.
Glad you brought up going to Dahiya and shared that you feel it’s safe.
I waver back and forth on what to think about the about the whole “security threat” issue, especially in terms of what to say to students, their parents and study abroad administrators thinking about study in the Middle East.
There is no doubt that Daesh’s tactics are psychologically effective. I was in Beirut in the fall of 2014, teaching a seminar where my name was advertised on a flyer that was passed all over Beirut, at the heart of the 24-7 wall to wall coverage of ISIS. Then a couple of months later I was in Paris on the day when Charlie Hebdo was attacked, staying at a hotel not far away. During that trip I ate at at least one of the restaurants that was attacked last November. That was pretty nerve racking.
On the other hand, when this is all put in perspective, 70 years ago, nearly all Americans , if not most people everywhere of student age, were exposed to extreme danger. A generation before that, even more. So in terms of historical scale and pure probabilities, we are absolutely safer today on the streets of most parts of the region, than ever before.
Interestingly, I recently decided to simply stop following all news related to the elections, ISIS, and the shallowest elements of the 24-7 media cycle that hypes all of these things up, cancelled my home tv and internet, delated twitter from my phone etc.
And I find it has a different, positive psychological effect too. I just didn’t see any value anymore since it was always the same negative focus, over and over. Nothing new being discussed.
Sounds somewhat similar to your philosophy in Beirut. Just be smart, don’t think about the stuff that is being hyped in the media, and go about business as usual!
Nathan, Exactly so. Anybody planning to study abroad in the Arab world should take a clear-eyed look at the risks and the benefits. And the benefits far outweigh the risks, both in terms of language proficiency gains – provided that students are proactive about their own learning and take the initiative for interacting with their host societies – in terms of broadening horizons and cognitive abilities, and in terms of eventual employment prospects.
I’ll give you an anecdote: more than twenty years ago, when I was about to move abroad to live and work in Egypt, I had to get photographed for the paperwork. When I went to the photographer at the university where I was competing the PhD and told him what I wanted and why, he looked at me as if he were sure I was going to my death and asked, “aren’t you afraid?” I wasn’t. At the time there were reports of attacks in Egypt. But at the same time, there were reports of German tourists being targeted and killed in Florida, and the German government had issued a travel advisory to its citizens wishing to travel to the US to visit Disney World.
For the entire time that I was in Egypt, the US government used to issue routine travel advisories to Americans living in Egypt. One of the things those advisories used to say is that we should vary our routes to and from work. We used to chuckle when reading those, because there are only a few realistic ways to get into the center of town. Of course we get the same announcements in Lebanon.
Governments tend to be overly cautious. So do school administrations. In fact university administrations are downright risk averse, even cowardly.
This does not mean that it’s all roses. Only a few days after I took up my position in Cairo, a bomb went off two blocks away, targeting the motorcade of the minister of interior. He was unscathed, but a few other people met their fates in the blast. All Egyptians. And over the years, several other incidents occurred, some of them quite close to where I happened to be. Once just as I was leaving al-Azhar neighborhood with some visitors, in which a young American man was killed. At the time I was more thankful that I managed to get out of the neighborhood in the car before the streets were closed off than I was at having avoided yet another incident.
In that particular event – situational awareness would have saved that poor young man. Some nut was trying to detonate a bomb and he went over to see what was happening.
I was nearby when some savages firebombed a busload of tourists disembarking at the Egyptian museum.
And I was in Cairo when the horrendous attack in Luxor occurred.
One time some fool of a bomb maker blew himself in his lab in an apartment in the area of town where I lived – an upscale neighborhood. A fitting end, that we wish many more of them would meet!
Any and all of those events were fearsome. But fearsome things happen everywhere. Another time, a building collapsed on its occupants right down the street from my apartment. In that particular event, some renovation work was being performed on the ground floor and the fools removed a load-bearing wall.
One always shudders at such things, and, if he happens to be nearby, he may, indeed, feel more than a twinge of fear. I’ll be honest with you when I say that a few years ago, I was genuinely nervous about the tenability of our situation in Lebanon. At the time, Daesh was right on the northern border, and they were getting material support from some of the more radical Sunni elements in Tripoli, and even from some members of the then government of the March 14 movement (much scorn was heaped upon them for claiming that it was only milk and blankets). But a major offensive cleared them away from the border, and the threat has eased considerably since then. Some of the fighters abandoning their positions actually fled into the north of Lebanon, where some of them remain, pretty much contained by the Lebanese security forces, which are doing an extraordinarily good job of tracking down groups and grouplets of militants. In fact, it was the success of the operations clearing those cutthroats away from the border that inspired the human bombers to strike in the Dahiya – and most of the incidents – really very few – have been in the Dahiya or in northern towns.
So, as I say, it isn’t heaven. But in Beirut and the main cities, including those in the Beqaa Valley, and the charming little mountain villages, you might not feel that anything in the world at all is amiss, except for the garbage crisis!
I’ve stopped watching American news almost entirely. That’s much easier to accomplish when living abroad. Another benefit of study (and living) abroad!!
And I’ve never had a twitter account.
By the way, just after the Luxor attacks my mother and stepfather came for a visit, and we took a boat trip up the Nile, something everyone should do, and it was pure heaven. The sites were all uncrowded, and we had the Temple of Abu Simbel to ourselves!
God Bless you David this is an honest opinion , no one could have better said it. Nehad Shawqi.
I second Nehad. Really appreciate this comment David. It’s one of the deepest comments I think I’v heard in 15 years or so since I first started being interested in the Middle East. I hope today’s students take note.
The situation is as the situation as, for better or worse. There’s no use sugar coating it. It’s exactly as you have describde it.
And I fully agree with your conclusion in paragraph one.
Nathan, thanks for an interesting article. I think the criteria you mention are worth considering when choosing a program to learn Arabic as a foreign language, especially given the safety/ security situation in many countries in the Middle East and North Africa right now.
Respectfully, I disagree with “scaleability” as a main criterion for choosing a program location. You do give caveats in several places where you discuss the “utility” or “scaleability” of various dialects, which I appreciate. But perhaps what you are getting at is that some dialects have more speakers, or that some dialects will be familiar to more speakers in a certain region. For instance, there are over 80 million people in Egypt, so though Egyptian dialects vary, one can safely assume that standard Cairene Egyptian Arabic will be comprehensible (enough) to tens of millions of speakers in Egypt. It will also be familiar to people who listen to Egyptian music and watch Egyptian movies and TV shows. So it would be a useful or “scaleable” dialect in Egypt and the Middle East, and a student of Arabic could potentially communicate with many people if they learned Cairene Arabic.
But what about North Africa? Someone who focuses on the Maghreb – or would be open to it – can learn darija without needing to justify its utility in Lebanon. The cross-over potential that you mentioned goes both ways: we cannot assume that lots of North Africans will understand and be able to converse in Egyptian or a Levantine dialect. Basically, I think it’s worth learning North African dialects per se, and I personally encouraged my Arabic students to consider studying in Morocco or Tunisia (and not just because of safety issues). Of course, situational awareness is essential no matter where you are.
Egyptian Arabic will be familiar and comprehensible to speakers of North African dialects for the same reasons that you list. Many are familiar with Egyptian music and television programs. About ten years ago or so, I visited Morocco, and once the people I would speak to realized that I was speaking Arabic (they expected Spanish or French), they understood me quite easily. It took about a week for me to begin understanding them.
But I am beginning to detect a generational divide in that respect, since satellite broadcasting became a pervasive presence in Arab television, with the older generations maintaining that they are familiar with Egyptian Arabic, meaning, of course, the Arabic of educated speakers from Cairo, from having grown up with Egyptian films etc. But the effect is now working both ways: anyone who watches television is now more familiar with, Tunisian Arabic, at least, and the dialects of the Arabian Gulf, simply because there is now more exposure over the airways than there had been even in the early days of satellite broadcasting – that being the mid 1990s.
Nevertheless, I quite agree that people who are interested in North Africa for whatever reason, should learn a local variety. Speaking simply as an Arabic dialectologist, I would like to see many more people specializing North African dialects – and Peninsular dialects for that matter. The more the better.
From the point of view of the “utility” or “scaleability”, I think that a student learning any dialect could use that as a basis for learning another, if the opportunity arose. I’ve always maintained that it mattered not which dialect that student study, but that they study a dialect.
Nathan–I truly wish this article was available when I was about embark on my Arabic study. You are providing a service to future Arabic language lovers.
Let me offer my clearly biased opinion. If conflict disappeared tomorrow (one can only dream!) Damascus, hands down, is the best place to study Arabic. I would argue the Damascene dialect is the cleanest and closest to Fusha. Unlike Cairo and Beirut, and even before 2011, there were limited Ex-pat communities, forcing the learner to speak with locals. Enrolling at Damascus University in Mezzeh was an ideal place for group instruction, whether for a novice or an advanced speaker. It is also a short walk from the main campus of the university in Baramkeh where a foreigner can walk right up and approach Syrians who were always eager to meet someone from abroad and interested in their local culture.
Cost was also another major benefit. There were numerous cheap options for living and everyday expenses were incredibly reasonable even in the more expensive neighborhoods. Obviously, all that has changed since the civil war.
Thanks for positing this!
It is a common theme in discourse about Arabic that some dialect or another closer to fushaa. This is, in fact, contrary to linguistic opinion, which maintains that each of the major dialects displays features that bring it more closely in line with the dictates of the medieval grammarians, and each displays features that distance it from those. I don’t think anyone has ever actually counted all of the points of agreement and divergence in any particular dialect. So I must say that the assertion that all are equally near to or distant from some ideal fushaa must remain impressionistic. In fact, however, for students of Arabic as a foreign language, the consideration is largely irrelevant. In fact no-one speaks fushaa as a native tongue, so students interested in the Arab world should be learning a dialect in order to get along at any level of professional competence. The part of the Arab world that they are interested in should dictate the choice.
This is in no way meant to belittle the Damascene dialect – which I love – or your own love and regard for it.
But as I have said earlier, in discussing such matters, we should adopt a clear-eyed, objective stance – as best we can.
Really appreciate the comment.
Indeed you may be “biased” but that doesn’t mean are wrong. You are so right about pre-war Damascus and what it offered. Perhaps it’s accurate to describe it as having all the good attributes of a “backwater” in terms of what a student of Arabic would need to get really good.
Nor am I totally pessimistic that Damascus can’t return to something ressembling what it once was. It will take several years of course, but Berlin and Germany in 1945 was 500x worse than the shape Syria is in today, and look at what happened there.
Thanks for your comment. You bring up an important point.
My point that I’m getting at is really a resource allocation question. Most students will have maybe 2 or 3 years of intensive or semi-intensive study “onsite” in the region, if that. How they choose how to spend that limited time resource is an important decision.
If they want to be a journalist, for example, who plans to go all over the region, won’t be committed to any single region, just “the Middle East” in general. Than I think the utility of Moroccan spoken is not going to be as high.
Or if they want to be a diplomat or a business person, aiming for a region-wide multi purpose, ability to communicate in Arabic in as many places as possible, and not knowing where those places are going to be ahead of time, than the utility of Moroccanm versus that of say, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon I would argue is less.
Of course, if they want to develop expertise on the Maghreb, that would be a smart decision, because I think it’s an undercovered region, than they should absolutely study the Moroccon or other North African Arabics exclusively.
I have a post coming this week, probably on Wednesdday, covering strategies for developing spoken Arabic and much of it is related to your comment, and I think you will find it useful in addressing your comment here. And hopefully of use to your students too.
If you really wanted a backwater, Yemen would have been the place to go. I used to hear rumors among students of Arabic as a second language that people actually continued to speak fushaa there. I think that those rumors were founded in the Yemeni dialects retention of the interdental consonants (as in haadha) and actual retention of those demonstratives themselves. Also in that some of the dialects retain the fushaa manners of interrogation and negation (maa haadha – la and laysa, etc). But a closer look at those dialects would show that while those features may indeed be retentions of an older form of Arabic, the dialects are still dialects and not fushaa. What is more, other Yemeni dialects retain forms equally as old as those of fushaa – or rather its parent – which that variety either never had or lost in the codification of the language as a language of state in the early Islamic era – by which, when we are speaking of codification of Arabic, would be the first, say 700 years of Arab/Islamic civilization. A lot can happen to a language in 700 years!
I’d like to start by saying thank you for writing this excellent post. As a graduating political science student finishing their third year of Arabic trying to figure out how to continue studying arabic and also get started building a career, I find this post not only informative but also very encouraging. Learning Arabic can sometimes feel impossible, but this post is a good reminder that people can and do succeed in it.
Now for my question. I wanted to know if you have anything to say about Israel and Palestine as potential destinations to study arabic. Are there any quality structure programs in these locations? How would you asses these places in terms of your “five basic parameters”?
Once again, thank you for the post
Thanks for your comment. I am glad you found the post helpful and inspiring. The other post I just published on 20 strategies for becomming a high level Arabic speaker” offers more on tactical learning strategies that I hope you find equally encouraging:
Good question about Israel and Palestine. I didn’t include it only because I haven’t personally been in a position to verify things. I never studied Arabic there.
And it didn’t come up amongst the people I consulted for this post, I suspect due to the fact that most have stayed away from Israel and Palestine as a study location because of Visa issues related to their other travels in the region.
There is a inescapable “choose one or the other” effect that foreign students face in deciding where they want to study Arabic. If you go to locations A B or C, it’s going to be harder to study in Israel and Palestine, and vice versa.
So there is probably that “One or the other” effect at play.
That non-inclusion, therefore, wasn’t a statement about whether I thought it’s a good spot or not.
Purely from a studying Arabic perspective, there are alot of interesting dynamics there.
Here is my sense:
In 2 (good programs) I have heard of many people who have studied Arabic there, I think in the West Bank or Palestinian areas. I know there are many good programs. If you want to connect offline I can try and put you in touch.
On 4 – dialect scaleability, it’s going to be strong. It’s the central Middle East, so a student who studied there, theoretically, depending upon the success of their studying, would be in a good spot on this front.
On 3 – the social dynamic it’s going to depend on where you go. You’re going to want to go to places where people only or primarily speak Arabic. There are places that are great for that in Israel and Palestine. And then there are places that are not going to be great.
On 5 – safety – I think in some ways it’s going to be less safe, and in some ways more safe. In terms of the kind of threat associated with ISIS it seems it is probably safer than other places I discussed above. Whereas there is always the threat of violence related to the ongoing political issues related specifically to Israel and Palestine. I would generally put it on the Morocco level, as in pretty safe. But that could always change at any minute if there was another 2006 type war.
On cost — I can’t speak for cost. I think it will depend on where you go, but I am not sure.
Thank you for this post! Very helpful. I am a Canadian woman working, studying & living in Cairo since October 2014 & have rarely been “harassesd” (comments, looks & catcalls are everywhere) & have never felt unsafe here. I experienced far more harassment and security issues living in Toronto or Vancouver over the last decade. Many female friends & colleges concur. As you say…issues happen everywhere & situational awareness is a good habit. I also speak Japanese & have connections with many women in the Asian community here as well and they agree. Overall we have noticed that if you conduct yourself as a decent and respectable woman (in Egyptian eyes) members of the community will respect and protect you. So no male visitors in your home & no coming home after midnight & dressing professionally for example. I just meet male colleagues at cafés or stay at a hotel or a friend’s house if I want to stay out late. I learned to wear a head scarf when visiting Shoubra or Helwan or travelling on the highway to blend in and avoid drawing attention to my blonde self. In Heliopolis, Zamalak, Maadi, New Cairo & many other areas I wear what I like but avoid plunging necklines. I also keep my politics & my religion (Buddhist ) along with my many opinions to myself in general. However there are many opportunities to meet with other expats, colleagues or close Egyptian friends to vent them. My father and brothers were convinced I would be raped and killed within the first month here and yet here I am. I even associate with well known local feminists and feminist groups. I think it is wise to be selective of your news consumption, however I maintain a twitter account for local & expert curation of breaking news and a traffic app to know what areas to avoid & when, to avoid being stuck in the car for three hours (it’s happened) & for security to a lesser degree. One advantage you did not mention is the affordability and proximity of fabulous short or long vacations here on the Red Sea, or Mediterranean and the desert. Happy to chat with or connect to anyone with questions about Egypt.
Thanks so much for sharing this comment about what you’ve seen first hand.
It confirms the experience that so many of my non-Egyptian female friends and colleagues had in Egypt.
The media always presents one image, but as you point out, there is always more to the story.
Sounds like you have had a good professional experience too in Cairo, at a time when it is often seen as “unsafe”
BTW, I’m at a conference on teaching Arabic at a foreign language at Qatar University, where I’ve just run into some colleagues from Egypt, whom I haven’t seen in maybe ten years. They say that there are hardly any students going to study Arabic in Egypt; but they also say that there is nothing seriously amiss on the streets of Cairo.
Agreed dwilmsen – in fact I think some of the international journalists here in Egypt are actually disappointed. Expats and Egyptians alike however are enjoying the reduced prices and quiet ambiance of 5 star resorts and tourist attractions.
I would also like to add that some of my colleagues went through the program at the HIAS or Hedayet Institute for Arabic Studies (www.hedayetinstitute.com) where they have some intensive programs combining ECA and MSA that includes cultural activities like the AUC courses that are great conversation-building opportunities. I was very impressed with one Japanese friend who professed no affinity for languages whatsoever (other than English) and took the summer-intensive 7- week course (as required by his employer ) and seemed to be able to converse with ease with his Egyptian co-workers. HIAS also teach ME & Islamic studies. This course was significantly less expensive ($1600USD) than the AUC equivalent ($6613USD).
Al Azhar has some great online resources (http://studyarabicinegypt.com/resources/online-courses/)
I also have a private tutor (Ahmed Magdy) who is super easy going and good humoured, yet serious and works online: (https://docs.google.com/forms/d/15TqIYCjHsfHtIAE5qqoIBBKP8Eay8kHQhI2oR-v1_1s/viewform?c=0&w=1) for $10USD per class (80-100EGP)
I think these are great options to get people connected with native speakers if they are unable to travel or use it as a means to prepare or supplement for study overseas.
I am currently considering the HIAS course, however would like to investigate the list offered here a bit more first.
I’ve worked closely with Naqwa Hedayet in the past. She is a consummate teacher of Arabic.
Thank you – will give the summer intensive a go then 😉
سلمي لي على نجوى لمّا تشوفيها
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Thank you so much! I have been taking some Arabic classes here in London but have been looking for an intensive course this summer. All other articles on studying Arabic in the ME are very outdated with some suggesting Damascus. I had written off the Maghreb because I don’t think it will be of use to me personally.
I had Cairo in mind but being a liberal muslim woman raised in the West I wasn’t sure how much I’d like it culturally. For my friends and family it’s the place where people go to learn Quranic Arabic and study religion. But it is still in my opinion a very useful dialect and offers a great opportunity to practise.
Oman is supposed to offer a really good programme which you mentioned but I imagine it’s far too hot in the summer and doesn’t have the public transport/ liveability of places like Cairo.
Might be an unpopular opinion but I imagine Jordan to be a bit on the boring side socially. Which brings me to the place I’ve always wanted to go to, Beirut! I’m not super worried about safety but cost and opportunities to speak Arabic are a bit of a put off. But ultimately I think it will be Beirut for me.
Thanks so much for this much needed article!
Our students love Beirut. Costs can be kept under some control by enrolling at the Saifi Institute.
It also happens to be in one of my favorite neighborhoods: Gemmaizeh. Which was something of the night spot until recently. Now the nightlife has moved down the street to Mar Mikhael. The trendy spots move ever few years or so.
Otherwise, Beirut will be much cheaper than London – by 75%.
So, do come.
Thanks for your comment. Glad to hear you found this post more up to date than what else was out there. It sounds like you have a good balance of the pros and cons of each location. There is no perfect spot, each has good and bad angles. Beirut is a great spot to study Arabic.