Arabic, as it is perceived in the Arab world, is split between the various colloquial (*aamia*) and the standard form (*fusha*). However, in the English-speaking world a further distinction is made with the standard form, i.e. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and classical Arabic. The focus of this website is MSA, which is the written language of the Arab world, and to some extent the Classical, which is not used except in older texts. Colloquial will only be mentioned briefly. General study tips shall be given, but the advice is more relevant for the year abroad.1
Arabic is the majority language of most of the countries in the Middle East (ME), from Syria (in the north) to furthest south in Yemen and from Iraq (to the East) to furthest west in Morocco. There are also minority Arab populations in the surrounding countries such as Turkey and Iran who speak Arabic.
At the street and family level the spoken language, more often than not, is colloquial and each country of the ME has its own distinctive unofficial colloquial. However, what enables each of these countries to understand each other is MSA. Having said that, most Arabic films are in colloquial and since the Egyptian film industry is significantly popular throughout the ME the Egyptian colloquial is also commonly understood between the Arab peoples. For this reason, if the objective is to speak (and not read and write) then Egyptian colloquial is the most practical choice (even though some Arab people mock how far they perceive it to be from the MSA). Ultimately, the colloquial you choose should be the one that is spoken by those friends you see most of all.
Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the language of formal written communication and media in the Arab world. Its grammar is based on classical Arabic and its vocabulary is derived from it.
MSA is used by the news corporation Al-Jazeera and BBC Arabic and countries (including Russia and China) whose governments have an interest in the ME also broadcast a news channel to the Arab world using MSA.
The extent of MSA's use varies from country to country. It is used during conferences and at work; however, quite often colloquial Arabic will also be used (especially at work). It can be the official language in education, but again, in practice colloquial and foreign languages such as English or French is quite often used. In Syria, I'm told, it is strictly adhered to in the universities whereas in Jordan it is suppose to be used, but quite often this guideline is ignored and colloquial and English have become more prominent.
There is an opinion that if one wishes to learn Arabic then MSA is a good place to start.2 Classical Arabic is a more powerful version of Arabic, whereas MSA is slightly simpler and more used in everyday life, which makes it more accessible.
With learning colloquial some say MSA would provide the essential foundation/skeleton. Personally, I think if one starts learning Arabic outside an Arabic environment (e.g. UK) then MSA is a good place to start. Mostly because you probably wont have anybody to practice your colloquial with (on a regular basis).
However, if one learns in an Arabic environment for a long period of time (six months or more) then best to start with colloquial and stick with that if that is one's objective. But if MSA is the objective then after a couple of weeks learning (one month maximum) and trying to practice speaking colloquial, switch back to MSA and forget learning the colloquial (once you start speaking - it becomes a habit difficult to drop. You have been warned). The point here is to learn colloquial through practice so that one can understand the people (and then reply in MSA).
While you are abroad you will not forget the colloquial, as you will hear it all the time in the streets. So once you have the basis of colloquial you can (independently of classes) start to develop an understanding of the language on the street, but always reply in MSA. Before setting out to a Arab country it would be very useful to learn some basic grammar for MSA (as there is no formal grammar for colloquial).
The key with studying Arabic abroad is to realise that time is tight (even if you have a year ahead of you) and to never speak English. However, the Arabic people (almost everywhere) generally speak their own colloquial and will not or find it difficult to speak purely MSA when they come across a foreigner. Rather, they may use the meeting as an opportunity to practice their English (something they learnt for years at school). This is not a problem as long as you try to reply in Arabic (in countries like Jordan people will generally help you, whereas in some other countries people might laugh). Try using common words and phrases and slowly (step-by-step) turn all the words in your speech into Arabic.
It helps if you are able to find people committed to listening to you speak Arabic and correcting your mistakes. If you can get this going at least once a week then you are on your way to fluency - one day. In return you can listen to them speak to you in English. Back in your home country such people may not be so easily available - so use them while you can.
Also, Jordan is quite popular with students from Turkey. This can be an opportunity to practice your MSA as most of them are not fluent in English although some of them will want to practice any English they do know (just as some Arabs do).
If you become friends with them then do a deal. Agree that you will all communicate in MSA and then after the end of term you will teach them English and they can teach you Turkish. One problem you may come across is that when there are more than two Turks in a gathering then quite often the conversation will turn Turkish :(
There is no remedy for this except to not spend too much time socialising and head for the library as soon as you are done with eating or drinking tea. Turks can be very hospitable, even more than Arabs, but you need to remain disciplined.
Alternatively, if you are also planning to learn Turkish some day then before setting out to Jordan, you might consider spending a month in Turkey to get the ball rolling. This way you can learn Arabic and improve your Turkish, at the same time in Jordan :)
Another tip is to think in Arabic and if that is not possible then try to speak to oneself in Arabic (remember, speaking to oneself is not madness, it is when you hear a voice replying to you - that is madness).
You have to force your brain to think in Arabic until your head hurts!
Classical Arabic has existed for perhaps 2000 years. About 1500 or more years ago the Arabs developed poetry to a very high standard, but better than that is the language in the Quran. Even to this day it holds a high place in Arabic literature circles. Much of the grammar and vocabulary in classical Arabic is still used in MSA.
Due to the strength of the Classical it is advisable to start with MSA and then switch to Classical, but some students prefer to start with Classical. Really depends on your interests and end objectives. Classical is very specific whereas MSA is more general and blends in with both classical and colloquial. And you will sound cleverer if you can speak colloquial with some MSA.
So how long does it take? Of-course this depends on size of class, quality of teaching and how much time you put in on a daily basis. Assuming full-time study, I would say that fluency in a colloquial takes one year, MSA three years and Classical five years.
However, most people are not able to commit to more than six months of full-time study. The compromise then is to learn the grammar in your home country and plan to spend six months in an Arabic environment. It is important that, during the six months, there are no breaks from the Arabic environment lest you forget half of what you have learnt and return to square one. The six months are a momentum build so that at the end of it some level of fluency (in speaking) can be attained.
When you return to your home country it is important to continue studying part-time or practicing (perhaps via Skype) and, in this way, you can continue to progress in the language.
Furthermore, if you can not manage full-time study at all, then you might be looking at ten years of part-time study, with the addition of shorter periods of immersion in an Arabic-speaking environment. Similar results might also be achieved by classes that use Arabic as the medium of instruction (in your home country).
Regardless of whether you decide on part-time or full-time study, to learn the Arabic language one really needs to plan for the long term, in terms of time and finance. It is therefore important to be clear on what one hopes to achieve (i.e. be able to do with Arabic skills) and then find out how much study time is required, for that level, and calculate how much it will cost.
This website will initially contain information relating to Jordan. In the future, I hope to expand its coverage.
International Institute (formally the Language Centre).
Close to the main and north gates, University of Jordan, University Street (or I think officially known as Queen Rania Street nowadays), Jubeiha, (North-West Amman).
http://ii-tasol.ju.edu.jo/default.html (new site)
http://ujlc.ju.edu.jo/ (old site)
On facebook too.
If you go for normal classes then the 3/4 month fall (winter) and spring semester (term) is 750 JDs plus 20 dollars (never asked why) and the up to two month (somewhat intense or condensed) Summer semester is 500 JDs plus 20 dollars.
Recommended, but it depends on your teachers. But because there are two teachers sharing the class/level it is never too bad. Also, I would say that the fall and spring semesters are better than the summer semester (unless you go for level 6/7).
The courses are generally more focussed towards learning vocabulary and practicing speech, but it depends on your teacher. The class size can get too large, but sometimes they split the class in half. I had a few favourite teachers including Dr. Qotaba, who spoke pure modern standard Arabic all the time and came in and on time to every class.
Modern Arabic Language International Centre.
By the north gate of UJ (3rd floor of the white building).
Khalid Al Gudah <K::@algudah.com> (this is the director and also one of the teachers).
This is private tuition. It is rougthly 15 JDs or less per hour. I think you have to book in blocks of 20 hours.
Arabic Community College.
(On a hill near the south-gate/hospital of the University). It costs 400 JDs per semester/term and for an additional 50 JDs they will process your visa for you.
A couple of former students of UJ claim that it is more organised and the same quality as the University.
Located in an office block (down the road from the University).
22 Queen Rania Street, Suite 300 Amman, Jordan
Talal Abu-Ghazaleh Knowledge Society (TAG)
(This has moved to another location, perhaps near Mecca mall).
This is not an Arabic institute but is a flexible learning centre ideal for group study. Located on one of the floors inside a building called Khalifah, which is opposite the front of the university, close to the MacDonalds and next door to a money exchange. The building also houses American coffee shops, Subway (the sandwich store franchise) and a couple of banks (non-retail I think).
University of Zarka (in Zarka town).
Cheaper than UJ and accommodation is a lot cheaper too. I'm told a decent studio costs less than 200 JDs a month. It's fine, as long you don't mind the non-existence of cinemas and western fast-food joints.
University of Yarmook (in Irbid).
No information, except that I expect it to be cheaper. Also, the north of Jordan is generally a lot greener.
Should visit them all and then decide. They are all different sizes and not all have the same facilities.
Closer to home is the School of Oriental and African Studies. The Certificate in Arabic course gives a strong foundation in grammar, but the course is very intense and not for the faint hearted. Prior knowledge of basic grammar will help (see books section), but more importantly attendence to all the course lectures and seminars, as well as a commitment to all the homeworks and studying six hours a day.
The SOAS language centre provides evening courses (and weekend) for colloquial. MSA is also available, but not the same quality as the Certificate in Arabic. Masters/PHD students teach these courses and they do a better job with colloquial than with teaching MSA.
This is different from the Certificate in Arabic course, which is taught by doctors in Arabic who have experience in teaching. Effectively, it is the first year of the BA in Arabic.
Another option worth considering is getting a work-placement abroad. Or if your company can re-locate you to a ME office.
A graduate joined a law firm that gave him the option to do his six-month training in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
A problem for some students is finding suitable accommodation. Indeed, the wrong accommodation becomes a distraction and means that you do not make the most of your time in an Arabic environment.
All sorts of accommodation exist in Amman. Around the university a decent furnished studio will generally cost between 200 and 300 JDs a month.
There are halls of residence near the University for girls only (and significantly cheaper too).
If you find an area you like and walk around you will see signs on buildings (avoid signs on lamp-posts, etc, they are usually at some distance from the accommodation being advertised).
Some people call up advertisements in a newspaper. I never tried.
Another way is if you like the look of a block of flats then enquire with the care-taker/guard (*haaris*). He usually lives in the basement.
Outside of summer, Jordan can get very cold especially when you are in-doors. Some places like Sakan Nafaa have their own heating, which does the job, whereas other places will be cold unless you buy a GAS heater.
As well as good places there are also a lot of shabby, run-down and cow-boy built places around the university - so beware.
Another thing, do not believe a landlord when he says he will buy you something or fix something. He will probably get round to it just before you leave. Of-course not all land-lords are the same.
Alternatively, if you are in the country for one or two months you might want to consider a hotel that offers discounts for longer stays.
Amman International (4* may be)
110 USDs a night.
About 60 GBPs.
On a hill close to the university.
Golden Sands (3*)
Close to the main gate of the university.
About 45 GBPs
about 11 GBPs.
On a hill (*jabal weibda*, near *jabal amman*) between the city centre and the university.
With this one you may need to ask to pay more for a better room (e.g double rooms are significantly better than the single ones).
Unfortunately, restaurants are not great in Amman and you are better off sticking to the university canteen or cooking at home. There are many grocery shops and bakeries, whose quality you can generally trust.
In western Amman there are three western-style large shopping centres with cinemas (City, Mecca and Baraka malls). There are a few other cinemas in Amman too. Hussain gardens is also close by - worth visiting.
There are smaller malls all around western Amman. In Amman mall there is a good selection of electronic dictionaries. And if you get bored, in Majdee mall, on University road before Sweileh, there is a cheap dodgems (bumper cars) on the top floor.
If you want to practice your Arabic then the place to shop is *jabal al-Hussain*. Here you will find clothes shops and mini-malls.
Of-course you can also try the city-centre (downtown), but without local knowledge of prices it may be difficult and you may need to haggle with prices.
As for east Amman I have no knowledge except that everything might be cheaper.
If you like cycling, there is Bedouin Bikes (formally Tareef cycling club), who do a trip every weekend and provide all equipment, training and food. You can find them on facebook.
For something different, try Mountain Breeze country club:
http://www.jordanadventure.com/ (and on facebook).
There are Gyms all over Amman. Western Amman is significantly more expensive. Gets cheaper in Sweileh, down the main road from the university. The cheapest GYM, but not the best, is near the north-gate of the university and is called Body Life (but tell them you can't afford the proteins and other supplements they try to sell you).
Arabic Practical Dictionary: Arabic-English/English-Arabic (Hippocrene Practical Dictionary)
Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic: Arabic-English
Hans Wehr, J. Milton Cowan
M. Ba'albaki (Author), Rohi Ba'albaki (Author)
Widely available in Middle East and cheap. Short edition (fine for beginners, up to level 2 in UJ) and large edition (almost everything you need) available in the bookshops around UJ.
Instead of buying the large edition, consider an electronic dictionary at Amman mall (for about 230 JDs) or the University Bookshop in Sharja, UAE.
Any Arabic-Arabic dictionary will have all the words with all their plurals.
201 Arabic Verbs (201 verbs series) [Paperback]
Raymond P. Scheindlin
Specialised Arabic equivalents also exist, but you wont find them in any bookshop around the University of Jordan. See what you like in the library and then take a trip to Abdali. At least one of the shops there should have something close to what you are looking for.
Also, the lonely planet guidebook to Jordan or the title 'Jordan Jubilee' is recommended.
In terms of cost, Jordan comes second to UAE. In comparison, Lebanon is expensive too and Egypt and Syria can work out to almost half the cost.
Jordan university comes under west Amman, which is the more expensive part of Amman. If you decide on Amman then for a studio I would set aside 250 dinars per month. Even if you choose a dorm, better to be on the safe side - I once met a girl who liked her dorm and another who did not).
If you are not travelling alone then sharing with others is another (cheaper) option. On the other hand, sharing with locals or students on your course can bring on other problems and for a six month period there is no time for experimenting. If you can find a good studio for less than 200 JDs a month then there is hardly any saving lost when compared to sharing.
Near the university (except for the western cafes/restaurants, etc), food is generally similarly priced as in the USA (for comparison). The university restaurant (open mid-day) is half price compared to outside.
Buses are cheap (like USA) but taxis cost like UK buses (double cost).
Get a local sim card (*zain* is expensive and orange and *umnia* is cheaper and still good). *umnia* is more common with local students. There is not much in terms of public pay phones (perhaps nothing).
For twelve months, overall, you are looking at around 7000 JDs minimum.
However, 8000 or 9000 would be better (as then it would be easier to focus on studies and to enjoy your stay).
Cartoons in MSA.
Jordanian radio in MSA.
News in MSA.
Arabic transliteration keyboard
Hope this helps.
Written by Malik, UK.
© Last edited: 04-JUN-2011
References1. 'year abroad' - phrase used to mean the second or third year of a language degree that is spent abroad. I am using the term more loosely here.
Follow this link for an article on living abroad.
2. J. Wightwick, M. Gaafar, Mastering Arabic, (Palgrave, 1990), p.xiii. O. Wright in Modern Standard Arabic Course: Part 1, (SOAS, 2007), p.191 suggests an over-lap in morphology and syntax between modern standard and classical Arabic.
Disclaimer: All information on this site is provided 'as is' and no responsibility will be accepted for any loss, injury or inconvenience of anyone resulting from this information. Furthermore, the author of this site is not responsible for the content of external links.