I consider myself to be a lifelong learner of Arabic. Some would think because I have translated rulings from the shayuk that I would consider myself proficient in the language. I don’t claim to be proficient in Arabic because language is something throughout a person’s lifetime that is developed, whether it be their home-language or a second language that they are trying to learn. A person cultivates language by consistently adding new words to their vocabularies, perfecting grammar, and active use of communication skills on a daily basis.
Tip #1: Identify a Goal
My journey with Arabic began when I first started studying it at the age of 18. I was living in New York at the time and one Ramadan decided I wanted to learn the language so that it could help me to better perfect my understanding of the Quran and deen al-Islam. As a result, I purchased a book to begin my studies. In my free time I’d read and complete exercises from the book, but soon realized learning Arabic was hard to do by myself so I found an Egyptian brother to tutor me on the weekends. This helped me for a while but then I realized I needed a more structured course of study in order to meet the goals I had established for myself.
Tip #2: Set a Plan
At the time, I was working for FedEx. I had learnt about an Arabic Institute in Fairfax, Virginia where I decided to enroll in classes. I lived in New York at the time and every now and then would take a greyhound to go and study. However, most of the time I would board an 18-wheeler FedEx Truck as a FedEx employee because I was able to drive it for free. I’d drive from New York to Newark Airport FedEx Truck to Washington, D.C FedEx Truck where I’d then transfer to board a metro the rest of the way to Virginia. I did so for a full year. I made it a priority to attend every weekend starting out with a family member, whom of which ended up dropping out after a month, though I continued. Every Saturday and Sunday I’d spend about 4-5 hours at the institute. I’d study during the week to complete additional assignments. Though I made this sacrifice every weekend I realized it also wasn’t enough.
I would like to also make it a point to mention that I’d make it an attempt to practice the language as much as I could. I would go to local corner stores owned or operated by Arabic speakers in Manhattan or Brooklyn just so I could use what I had learned in real-life situations. I assessed for myself that in order to learn Arabic at the level in which I wanted to achieve I couldn’t just take classes at this institute. I recognized that I had to practice the language every day in a way where I was emerged in the use of the language itself.
Tip # 3: Take Action Steps To Make Opportunities Happen
Now the year was about 1994-1995, and I was committed to becoming bilingual. One day I was at work when I realized there were packages leaving from New York to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, and other various Muslim speaking countries. I found the significance in this. It hadn’t dawned on me before that FedEx may have an international branch in an Arabic speaking country. So then I spoke to my supervisor about a possible transfer. He gave me the names and emails of different managers working in Arabic speaking locations. I wrote each an email inquiring about open positions and requested a transfer from Manhattan and 134th street to a FedEx location abroad.
It was not too long before I received an email back from this British FedEx manager in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He told me he had an available position for me if I could get myself to Riyadh. At that time there were deals where FedEx employees could get airplane tickets for $100. I put things in order and then bought a ticket to Saudi Arabia. After getting settled I went into work to meet the man who had hired me, and which I thought was about to be my new supervisor. To my surprise, he was waiting for me with his bags packed in order to hand over the keys to his job so that he could return to the United Kingdom. Here I was in a new country, with a new job, and surrounded by Arabic speakers 24/7.
Tip # 4: Be Flexible
I found a private Quran teacher which worked with me for 2 months but could not find a private Arabic teacher. Soon after I ended up transferring to Makkah. There, I also could only find a Quran teacher. I worked with them for 3 months until I moved once again to Jeddah where now I was able to find an Arabic teacher to work with 3-4 nights a week. I worked with this teacher for 4-5 months before applying to the Islamic University of Madinah. I got accepted into a program for the 1996-1997 school year. In order to apply for a new visa I went back to the states and returned to Saudi Arabia after my visa had become approved to begin formal studies.
Although, I wouldn’t have considered myself proficient once again in the Arabic language, I purposely failed my placement exam so I could start at the beginner’s level. I thought this was key in order start from scratch in my studies, review, and reinforce what I learned from prior years.
Tip # 5: Small Actions Lead to Bigger Actions
The best advice I can give anyone is that if you really want to learn and grasp Arabic you have to surround yourself with the language on a consistent basis every day. This is what I did. Having Shaykh Abdul Mushin al-Abbad hafidhullah as a teacher was a tremendous benefit to me. He was the first scholar I sat with in 1997, and I was fortunate to have studied with him six days a week up until I graduated in 2003. I would also sit with Shaykh Rabee ibn Hadee al-Madhkalee and Shaykh Ubayd al-Jaabiree once a week. This is where I encourage those who are serious in studying the language to find a good dedicated teacher. In my studies I was able to sit 4-5 hours a day in the University of Madinah, then later in the evening and at night be able to sit in the haram with scholars to listen, read, and become emerged in the Arabic language. Being afforded with this opportunity daily made a significant difference in my life. Then when I came back to Riyadh in 2007 from the UAE, I sat underneath Shaykh Salih al-Fawzaan al-Fawzaan.
I would also listen to a lot of cassette tapes by Shaykh Al-Abanee, Shaykh bin Baz, and Shaykh Uthaymeen rahimuAllah. As I would listen, I would transcribe what they said. This helped me develop my ear for the language also. I would use the Haynes Ware or Al Muheet Dictionaries in order to help me translate vocabulary. I would notice how Shakyh Uthaymeen spoke clear making the Arabic easier for me to understand, while Shakyh bin Baz wasn’t as audible. Shaykh al-Jabiree was also very clear in his articulation of words helping me to understand what he said for dictation.
I continued to put myself in different environments to support learning the language. I made a strategic effort to learn new words and write them down in a notepad that I carried around with me everywhere I’d go. I’d carry the notepad with me when I went to the grocery store or in a taxi. I’d pull it out in order to practice using words and phrases relative to purchasing food or trying to get to a specific place.
Tip # 6: Get a Good Teacher
Things that are essential to every Arabic language student is that you have to find a good teacher, as well as a good curriculum that starts with the basics such as vocabulary, sarf, and grammar. Some books that are very beneficial is the Madinah series, Noor al Qaida books, Riyadh Imam series, and Umm al Qoura books. Always make sure you have a complete series, and not just pieces of it. Having a set time allocated to studying and being consistent with that time is also key. It is important to help family members understand these conditions for meeting second language goals. Help family members understand the importance of this so that it becomes a serious, real thing, and they can also become part of the process.
Tip # 7: Environment is Key
It is critical that you put yourself in the environment that supports learning the language. This is a strategy that even non-Muslims use. For example, when the military wants a soldier to learn a language then they send them to the country where the language is spoken in order to learn it.
Shaykh Dr. Khalid bin Dhawe Adh-Dhafiri opened an institute in Kuwait called The Ibn Qayyim Centre for Legislative Academic Consultation in Kuwait where students can study the Arabic language. An example would be to enroll in a program as such, however, not to stop learning once you exit the Institute’s doors. You would need to continue practicing use of the language when you get a taxi or go out into the community. This is similar to what I’d do in Manhattan and the marketplaces in Brooklyn. I’d force myself to speak to brothers on Atlantic Avenue. Yes, I’d make mistakes when I was speaking, but that’s how I also learned. Learning through trial and error is the best way to learn when it comes to second language acquisition. I’d let brothers in the market places correct me because I saw how this gave me the opportunity to use the language in a real life context without being concerned with speaking Arabic perfectly and learning from my mistakes.
Tip # 8: Practice Everyday
I would like to conclude this Blog by encouraging students of Arabic to memorize the Quran, and books like the 40 Hadeeths of Imam An-Nawawi or the works of Shaykh Muhammad ibn Wahab entitled Usool Thalatha as explained by Shaykh Salih al Fawzaan al Fawzaan. Once you get good at memorizing them, then it is important to write them out in Arabic by memory without looking at any of the text. Check what you wrote and revise to become more accurate in your dictation until what you transcribe mirrors its original form. Use this strategy as much as possible for practice.
From the Editors:
Want more information about how to register and attend the (second) Legislative Arabic Course at The Ibn Qayyim Centre for Legislative Academic Consultation in Kuwait under the supervision of The Shaykh Dr. Khalid bin Dhawe Adh-Dhafiri? Visit the site for more information at http://markzibnqayyim.com/?page_id=59