Friday, May 27, 2005

Syria is the Best for Arabic Studies

I receive many emails asking about studying Arabic in Syria. People ask about various programs and learning opportunities. I tell them that they need to determine their goals before I can reply in a helpful manner. In this post I will try to anticipate some potential concerns and questions. Here are some of the questions I would recommend answering before I can be of real assistance:

1) How much Arabic have you studied? How much progress are you expecting to achieve in Syria?

2) Where did you study Arabic? What books did you use? What has your experience been with these books?

3) Did you study only MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) or have you also studied a dialect? If yes, which dialect? Do you want to learn a dialect?

4) Do you already speak a dialect and you simply want to learn the grammar of MSA?

5) What kind of a program are you looking for?

Here are some answers I might give to these questions:

1) If you have no previous exposure to Arabic, it would likely be better for you to stay at home and study Arabic at an institute of higher education before coming here. It will be better for you to have a decent base of MSA knowledge to really get much out of a trip here. If you simply show up with no Arabic, you will likely experience a slow learning curve. You won’t be able to communicate. Had you had some contact with the language the learning curve would likely be faster. What I mean is that you would get more quality learning out of the amount of time you spend here if you already come with some knowledge. You can learn the basics of MSA at home in your native country in about the same amount of time, or only slightly longer, than here. On the other hand, if you come with some Arabic knowledge you will likely be able to learn much faster and progress more quickly in Syria than you could have in the same amount of time at home.

2) Depending on where you studied and what books you used I am able to better understand your background and which programs might be of interest to you. I am familiar with most Arabic textbooks used in the United States.

3) If you haven’t studied a dialect and you don’t want to learn one, shame on you. You will never be admitted into the culture to the same degree as someone who speaks the local dialect. Moreover, may not be given a very high score of fluency in the ACTFL proficiency, or other, exams. If you have studied another dialect, such as Egyptian, it should only take you about three weeks to switch dialects. If you are slower at language learning, it may take you longer than that. If you want to learn the Syrian dialect, good for you. Unfortunately however, Damascus University is not currently offering dialect courses (except for in a few private courses). IFEAD, Amideast, and the British Council all offer dialect instruction. Amideast seems to be the best deal. IFEAD is a full-blown yearlong program, though in the summer they have a more open enrollment. I will hopefully write more about these individual programs soon. The best resource for learning the dialect independently is available for free online at – complete with pdf files and mp3s.

4) If this is the case, Damascus University is the place for you. The normal programs for foreigners are heavy (overly so, in my opinion) on the grammar.

5) Check out my links. I have researched multiple programs in Syria and will hopefully soon get around to writing about them individually.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Syria / Turkey Border

Jeremy on the Syrian side of the Syria/Turkey border. May 2005.

Learning and Teaching Arabic

And thus my blog is born. I have been thinking for some time about how to best begin this project. I am in a curious situation. I am both a student and a teacher of Arabic. I taught Arabic 101 and 102 several times at the college level. I am now continuing my own study of Arabic in Damascus, Syria. I began studying Arabic at the end of 1999 having no idea what the attacks of 2001 would bring for speakers of Arabic. I was fortunate enough to have received funding from Fulbright to come and study here for one year.

I believe that Syria is the best place to learn Arabic in the world. Let me qualify this statement with the following: I think that studying in Syria would be much more beneficial for students who have previously had 2 or 3 years of study in their native country (assuming this is a possibility). However, if you have the money and the time to spend 3 or 4 years here starting from scratch – ahlaan wisahlaan. I imagine that most students have only one or two years to initially dedicate to learning Arabic abroad.

People speak Arabic in Syria! I love the other Arab countries but Syria offers the best prices for living, the best opportunities for speaking and integrating into society, the best dialect (opinion) and a very hospitable people.

I did an MA in Second Language Acquisition and Arabic. This August I will continue my studies as a PhD student in SLAT (Second Language Acquisition and Teaching). I am interested in how people learn and teach. I want to be active in Arabic language teaching and learning in the United States and the world.

I hope that this blog will be of use to students and teachers of Arabic. More soon…