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  • Writer's pictureJenny Hunt

How To Learn Arabic Whilst Working

26th August 2015

Guest post from Neal Taylor, a developer at the award-winning ArabicOnline, about how to learn Arabic whilst you are working.

So you’re working in the Middle-East and you cannot speak the local language yet?

  • It’s too difficult!

  • Haven’t got time.

  • I can’t find anyone to speak to ...

  • They speak too quick ...

  • Which dialect?

  • What’s the point!

Does that sound familiar? For a comprehensive list of why not to do something, refer to the book, “How to make yourself miserable.” Within this publication, there is also a list of Mozart’s achievements by the age of twelve for you to mull over and the ideal room layout for achieving nothing.

But seriously, learning a language requires commitment and an investment of time and effort. Sure, it should be an enjoyable and motivating experience, but like any pursuit, when the going gets tough … what do you do?

If you have a busy schedule it is often too easy, in your time out, to opt for something ‘to take your mind of things’ like the watching reality TV or the shopping channel.

Then again - and I do sympathise - there are many of you who have gone to night school, sat there quietly week in, week out, and, out of frustration, gave up. I was speaking recently to a South African who did a six week course of Arabic and said the only thing he learnt was the letter “nuun”.

ن - The letter nuun.

After an experience like that, you might well conclude that your suspicions were correct. You can expand that list of regrets and the other list of why not to do things.

My intention in this short article isn’t to convince you to learn Arabic, nor lay out how to learn it. My intention is simply to cast away some of those excuses, to reassure you that it can be done and relate a few positive experiences.

I have also been learning Arabic in my own time - during a busy schedule. From a motivational point of view, here are a few of the most important points that have helped me. But, just before we begin, I’ll point out that the biggest challenge with Arabic is not actually the language itself. The biggest challenge, for many people, is starting.


You need a goal. Everything in life begins with a vision. Think about what kind of level you would like to attain; or imagine yourself using the language. For many people, small talk in everyday situations is enough. Others may wish to read the newspaper or incorporate the language into work. The turning point for me was watching some American friends speaking and bantering with some Omanis in fluent Arabic. I was impressed and I wished I could join in. I thought to myself, next time I will.


Although I put forward a strong case that Arabic isn’t a difficult language to learn (and it isn’t), I do believe that, in the early stages, Arabic does require more patience compared to learning other European languages. The key point is: when you create a goal, don’t make it time-constrained. The time limit is not the goal. This will only add an extra layer of pressure and the result is counter-productive. This applies, in fact, to all goals. So stay committed, stay patient and the rest will follow.


As humans, we are animals of habit and, used positively, a routine can support you. This is something I learnt from sport and integrated into my language learning. For training, I would always know where I would be at particular times of the week. Nothing, for example, could stop me going to Sunday morning training. So, too, a routine can either be a weekly lesson or particular time slot dedicated to your new hobby. You will then, almost subconsciously ‘work towards it’ in the days before hand. I always enjoyed learning Arabic at a particular cafe and a Wednesday evening Skype lesson (for conversation practice). And here’s a tip: Don’t feel in the mood? Flick through a few pages of a wildlife magazine like National Geographic. This will help you to get into the right state of mind - by arousing curiosity and evoking wonder - the ideal state of mind to start learning.

As mentioned, these are a few tips that helped me. You are welcome to think about where your strengths are and use them to your advantage. If you have also had some positive learning experiences, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Neal Taylor is one of the developers of the award-winning ArabicOnline.

Image courtesy of ArabicOnline.


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