Friday, June 03, 2005

Studying Arabic at Damascus University in the Arabic Language Center

February 10, 2006 Update:
The Language Institute at Damascus University is up. Check my links. Go to
arabicacquisition.blogspot.com
to leave this archive and see my links.

Some of the teachers from Damascus University are being trained outside of Syria by some of the best Arabic teachers in the world. I can only imagine that Damascus University will eventually become a consistently great place to learn Arabic. This will happen gradually to be sure, but hopefully before long.

Jeremy


I frequently get emails asking for information concerning studying Arabic in Damascus - particularly at Damascus University (DU). Although I am in a private program (AFIC) at DU, my classroom is on the same floor as all the classrooms in which students come from all over the world to learn Arabic. I know almost all of the Syrian teachers who work at DU. I have seen many of them teach. I am somewhat familiar with the curriculum. I have many a friend studying in the normal programs for learning Arabic at DU. Here is what I would say about learning Arabic at Damascus University.

DU Staff

Damascus University has a large pool of graduate students who teach Arabic. In fact, the entire teaching staff in the Arabic for foreigners program is made up of MA and PhD students who are usually studying Arabic literature. Don’t let the fact that they are students keep you from coming – many of them are great. More important is that there is a strong communal desire to improve upon teaching techniques and methodology amongst this group.

Pedagogical Training

The second annual (and international) conference for teachers of Arabic was recently held at DU. My fellow students and I presented a skit-video on DVD we made. It was well received. The Syrian Minister of Higher Education and the President of DU were in attendance. Professors from all over the world came to the conference – though mostly from Europe and the Middle East. The big names in American Arabic pedagogy have not yet joined in. They may soon. Mahmoud Al-Batal, also known as Mr. Arabic Pedagogy, recently commented to me that the teachers at DU seem very hungry for training and practice. I agree. Whenever Arabic pedagogical specialists come to DU, the administration tries to accommodate them and give them an opportunity to share their know-how with the staff.

Curriculum

Arabic is the language of all instruction and interaction. Such the case must be with students from all over the world. Each level, or class, has about 15 – 20 students in it.

This is one of the more unfortunate aspects of DU - the curriculum is heavy on grammar. An extensive amount of class time is spent discussing grammar and diagramming sentences. This is old-school pedagogy. Many of the teachers (and especially students!) are frustrated with this approach. Even the administration is aware of this problem. Unfortunately, no one seems to know what to do about it. Making major changes is something that just doesn’t happen around here. If you want to learn and practice Fusha (MSA) grammar, this may be the place for you. Most students, however, probably want a more functional curriculum. This is a work in progress at DU, but not yet in full bloom. I have heard from some students that the situation has considerably improved since early 2000 at the Arabic Language Center. Fortunately, there is now some listening and reading in the curriculum. There are some great teachers, two of whom will be going to a training seminar in the US this year. What an excellent opportunity for them. They will hopefully return able to train and share what they learned with the administration and other teachers.

Textbook

The textbook is all in Arabic and it is grammar-oriented. It does not follow any type of communicative approach. It is in Arabic because there are students from all over the world using it. The text could be better, but there aren’t many good quality Arabic-only texts out there to begin with. Bring Al-Kitaab 1, 2, or 3 with you – depending on your level – for extra practice.

The Syrian Dialect

Ammiya is not a part of the normal curriculum in the Arabic language center at DU. This is only offered in the private programs. A few of the teachers, however, teach the dialect outside of DU and do a good job at it. You can pay them for private tutoring for anywhere from 10 – 20 dollars per hour. A cheaper option would be to arrange language exchanges with Syrian students studying English. This can be extremely helpful in learning the dialect and about the culture in general. A previous post in my blog lists options for learning the dialect in Damascus.

Things to consider about the Arabic Language Center at DU

1) Do you mind studying Arabic with people from all over the world? Their learning styles may be quite different from your own – though this may be helpful to some.
2) Do you mind the heavy emphasis on grammar?
3) If you are looking for the best-trained teachers abroad – go to CASA in Egypt…but your Arabic has to be pretty darn good to get in. I prefer Syria for many reasons.
4) Are you a good learner who will be able to make use of the textbook and class time, or do you need to be prodded?
5) Are you prepared to endure the possibility that you might not get all the best teachers?

Again, I wouldn’t recommend coming here to learn Arabic from scratch. I would suggest a good 2 years in your country at a reputable Arabic teaching establishment before coming here in order to get the most out of your time. The learning curve is much better for people who have had some past exposure. Learn the alphabet and basics at home. Come here to learn to communicate, read and live Arabic.

70 Comments:

At 01:44, Blogger Joshua Landis said...

Jeremy, this is an excellent post. Your blog is a real service to everyone interested in learning Arabic in Syria.

Many thanks from
Joshua Landis and the entire board of the Syrian Studies Association.

I have added a link to the SSA webpage on learning Arabic in Damascus:
http://www.ou.edu/ssa/learn.htm

 
At 07:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do not forget the Mahad for foreigners in Mezze; I have had excellent teachers there although the content of the books needs improving.

 
At 17:54, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeremy,

I am a Harvard graduate with 8months experience in Fez, Morocco at ALIF (complemented by instruction at Harvard) and have completed Al Kitaab I and II. Which of the centers in Syria might be most appropriate for me? The Ma'had or the Unv. of Damascus?

 
At 13:57, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

Dear Anonymous Harvard Grad,

Alkitaab III is great. There is a section at the end of the book that contains all of the useful phrases and expressions from book II and III.

The best info I currently have about the Mahad is at the following website.

http://www.ou.edu/ssa/learn.htm#Mahad

I hope to make it there myself soon to do some obsrevations. My guess is that the University is more organized. Depending upon your level and goals - you might consider IFEAD. I was going to go there until I was accepted at a private program at DAM.

Good Luck!
Jeremy

 
At 10:14, Anonymous Suf Suf Shirara said...

Jeremy, I study with you at the University of Damascus and I think you are cute. But you're married. Shucks!!
You're secret admirer.

 
At 11:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me the dates of this year (2005) Arabic courses at Damascus University? I am trying to figure out when the course is over in December so I can book a flight.
Thanks!

 
At 13:07, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello everyone,
am i correct in thinking one only registers for a course either at the uni of damascus or mahad once one has arrived in syria?
thank you very much!

 
At 03:55, Anonymous Ingrid said...

Hello Jeremy,

do you know if the University of Damascus has yet finished its web site on Arabic courses? I could not find it.
I will go on a trip in the region for a few months, starting early october; I'd like to start by taking a 1 mnth course in Arabic in Damas. Do you know if this is possible?
Thanks a lot for your info,

Ingrid

 
At 22:44, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Jeremy:

I am a college student proficient in English and I know how to read (aloud) Arabic and understand a small amount of grammar. I was hoping to study Arabic in Syria for a good six months starting 1/06 or around then for the purpose of understanding the Quran. I barely know anyone who seems as familiar with the best way to go about things as you evidently are. I could try to brush up on basics using Thackston's text before I come.

What do you suggest I do? Is DU a good place to come? I want a rigorous program for that time frame--does such a program exist? How much might it cost me?

Thanks sooooo much for your help.

-Abdu

 
At 18:11, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

DU is good for what I wrote. I have heard that there are various Qur'anic institutes that might be more help. I'm sorry but I don't have contact info for this.

Jeremy

 
At 20:20, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello Jeremy,
I am a recent grad from UCLA. I was wondering if the website was up yet (I spent about an hour looking for it online). What living arrangements would you recommend for a single woman? Is converting money difficult in Syria?
Thanks,
Anonymous

 
At 22:24, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

yes the website is up. look at my post from August 17th. The link to it is there. Converting money is no problem. There are ATMs all over. As far as housing for women - I don't know. I would guess that there are many single foreign women who live in the old city. If you just walk down the streets you will see many foreigners whom you can ask. You might want to do a family stay. The best thing to do is show up and stay in a hotel for a few nights while you talk with locals AND foreign students (perhaps even of more use than that locals). The Harameen is a local favorite. The staff is great and they at least watch your stuff. Go to DU and ask the foreigners there.

Good luck,

Jeremy

 
At 15:49, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Palmer
I have a question for you. If one were to just fly to Syria and sign up for summer courses, what or how is the best way to go about that?
Sincerely
Student fascinated with Arabic

 
At 17:05, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

It completely depends on what you want to study. If you want to go for MSA - you could check Damascus University. If you want Colloquial - check my links, they offer colloquial classes.
Jeremy

 
At 08:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

dear anonymous ......
im joh im half german and half syrian i came to syria befor about 6 years to syrian and i have learnd arabic in syria noe im speak perfect arabic....so if you want you can contact me ... so if you want i can help you about somethink .

i hope you contact me
joh3333@hotmail.com

johannnes

 
At 20:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeremy, I've sent DU two emails inquiring about the Arabic language program but heard nothing back. Is it possible the administration do not speak enough English to respond to my email? If so, is there someone there I could contact who could give me answers - like what are the dates for the summer 2006 program?
Thanks,
from a Canadian

 
At 08:20, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

Try calling them. Email them again and again until you hear back. They speak English. Check their website for course dates. I am no longer in Syria - so I don't know! Sorry, and good luck!

Jeremy

 
At 06:11, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeremy,
I graduated arabic language in Serbia and Montenegro this year. Syrian government gave us two scholarships but I need invitation letter. So, do you have DU email, address and phone number? Thank you in advance

 
At 09:54, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

The DU website is listed on my blog.

Good luck,

Jeremy

 
At 05:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jeremy,

I intend to study Arabic at Damascus University in spring, according to their Website you have to do a local Aids test in a local test centre, is that safe or is it better (possible?) to bring your own gear?

although the question might appear unfounded I'd be thankful if you could respond,...thanks,

 
At 14:12, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

My wife and I did it without a problem but it isn't the cleanest clinic I have ever visited. I don't know if they would let you bring your own gear but i suppose you could try.

 
At 05:26, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello,

I am French and I would to learn arabic in Damascus but I don't know what to choose between the universty and the Ma'had?
I don't know if university organize annual courses?

Thank you for your information

 
At 21:21, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

I don't answer back to anonymous posts quickly. They are low priority. I am afraid I don't understand your question about the university or Mahad. Do you mean the Mahad at the university or IFEAD?

 
At 00:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry,

I asked what is the best school to learn arabic : the university or the Mahad?

And how can I inscribe me at the Mahad?

Thank you.

Sorry for my english.

 
At 10:15, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

I suggest studying in the University Arabic Language Center and not in the Ma'had. Here is their website:

www.arabicindamascus.edu.sy

Good luck,

Jeremy

 
At 07:38, Anonymous Anonymous said...

But I think that the university doesn't organise annual courses. Is it right?

 
At 15:30, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

I don't think they have a full year program, but you can continually sign up for courses.

 
At 17:19, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi jeremy -
i am currently an attorney and wish to attend univ of damascus for their one-month arabic program, to improve my arabic for future (hopefully) graduate studies. Two questions:
(1) do you think a 1-month prgrm is too short?
(2) i am worried about housing. apparently you have to stay with someone you know and then find housing on your own. any advice?

 
At 17:59, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

one month is better than nothing - but if you don't have any previous Arabic experience you should first learn the basics before going, especially if time is limited. You don't have to live with someone. You can rent your own apt. for various prices.

Jeremy

 
At 15:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hi - i do have prior arabic experience (i took one and a half years at school). but it seems like at UD you have to find housing on your own once you get there. where are you supposed to stay in the meantime?

 
At 15:49, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

There are plenty of cheap hotels all over. buy a guide book. try the Harameen.

Jeremy

 
At 18:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, of course - i forgot about the hotel option. thank you. another question - there is an e-mail address on the website - asp_sy@hotmail.com. but on the arabicindamascus.edu.sy site i found another email address for wael barakat - is he the one to direct questions to?

 
At 15:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jeremy -

I contacted someone at the Arabic Lang Center but apparently there is no pre-enrollment procedure. I have heard from others that this is the standard, but it gives me a little concern. Am I just to show up and register?

 
At 15:06, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

showing up and registering is the norm I believe. You should make sure you know when they want you to be there, because you have to do paper work before the classes start which takes at least one week - maybe more.

Jeremy

 
At 11:10, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jeremy,

I am working on finishing al-Kitaab II with a tutor. One of my professors said I should aim to be placed at Advanced Low at UD (he said it's not worth going if I am at any level below that). Do you think if I finish al-kitaab II before going to UD, I would probably be placed at the advanced level?

 
At 19:32, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeremy: When you say learn the basics at home, is it sufficient to go to UD after completing al Kitaab 1, or would you recommend getting to an even higher level before going to UD?

 
At 22:12, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

Sorry for the late responses. To answer the last 2 questions -

1) yes you would likely be placed in the advanced level having finished AK II.

2)I think finishing AK I is enough before going.

Good luck!
Jeremy

 
At 20:37, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jeremy--

Reading these comments has really, really helped. As far as housing, do you remember if there are relatively-cheap, relatively-close options? And did you say you recommend more than a week arrival before class begins? Does the language institute issue a U of Damascus transcript?

Many thanks.

 
At 02:56, Anonymous mahnoor said...

jeremy,
HELP!! I urgently need the e-mail id of the arbic institute at the uni of damascus. the one they have on their site bounces back!!! its asp_sy@hotmail.com

 
At 05:34, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

do a search on this blog and you will find it.

Jeremy

 
At 12:07, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

for anonymous of May 18 - sorry for the non reply. I have been swamped here in jordan. I don't like it when people send me questions without an email address or a name. transcript from DU? I don't know. housing - read my blog. yes arriving about a week early is a good idea for aids test and finding housing etc.

 
At 12:33, Anonymous Anonymous said...

for anyone who needs it, the appropriate University e-mail to send correspondence to is inquiries@arabicindamascus.edu.sy.

You might have to wait several days for a response.

 
At 01:24, Blogger Andra said...

Hi,Jeremy. I have read almost all of the comments on this blog and I realised that maybe you can help me..I am from Romania and I want to study Arabic at the DU. I applied for a scholarship and I am waiting for DU's response as the Scholarship Center in Romania already accepted me. The scholarship included 5 years of study at The Arabic Language Center for Foreigners (4+1 accomodation year). I searched on their website but I couldn't find the exact dates for starting the courses. In Romania, as in many other Universities, we have full university courses lasting 3 years. What about DU? Do they have the same, but 4 years and 1 year for accomodation? I found only courses..many courses based on many levels..When do these courses begin? In October? Also, I sent an e-mail to Ms. Rahaf Ajouka, at the Office of Registration & Students' Affairs, asking for some extra-info, but she didn't answer! Can you help me? Nobody from The Scholarship Center in Romania knows about these courses and, I repeat, I couldn't find the piece of information I needed on their website. What do you know about full courses in DU, at the Arabic Language Center for Foreigners?
Thank you,
Andra

 
At 04:44, Blogger Arif said...

Hello Mr. Jeremy
I hold Master Degree in English /Arabic Translation. Id like to improve my degree to hold PhD in English/Arabic Translation or English or Linguistics . Currently I am a lecturer at Mosul Technical Institute . Id like to study a full time as usual of three years , one year to study courses and two years write thesis .Could you please tell me who should I contact
Thank you
Saleem
University lecturer.
Mosul

 
At 15:44, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

Here is some info from a listserv called Arabic L. You could google this listserv to learn more about it:

To my knowledge the only university in the United States that offers
and actual Ph.D. in Translation Studies and that is Binghamton
University (SUNY Binghamton). The web page for the Translation
Research and Instruction Program is at: http://trip.binghamton.edu/

This blog is dead and I am not going to answer questions anymore on it. If you want to ask me something you can email me.

Jeremy

 
At 20:26, Blogger Jonathan R said...

Jeremy, I really appreciate your post. I'm am deeply interest in studying Arabic in at DU; however, I have some questions. Do I need to have prior Arabic training to get in? I have a book that I've been working from on my own, but I haven't had any formal training. Also, it seems as though there isn't any pre-registration from the DU Arabic Language School. Do I just show up in Damascus with my registration materials?
If you are unable to answer or can't take the time to answer some of these questions, I understand.
Thank you for all your information,
Jon

 
At 21:17, Blogger Jeremy Palmer said...

Hello,

I can no longer answer these questions accurately. I know that many changes
have taken place and it is probably best to contact the program itself.

My review is also probably no longer accurate. Things change quickly in Arabic programs these days.

jeremy

 
At 15:11, Blogger Peio said...

Hi!
I attended arabic summer courses there in Damscus university on July 08′. Like you, I decided to share my experience. So I created a website: http://etudier.a.damas.free.fr/en/index.html

Visit it, you will find photos that will remind you your trip in Syria!

 
At 09:38, Blogger Beatrice said...

Hello
I would like to recommend Hala Loulou (www.Halaloulou.com) as an excellent Arabic teacher. I had been studying Arabic for 2 years in London, without being able to express myself very well. Last September I went to Damascus and I took one month of private Arabic classes with Hala, who had been recommended to me by a friend. Her teaching was very clear and I really think that I learned a lot with her. Also, she has a very sweet personality and she is very patient, so the classes with her were fun. And Damascus is a fantastic city in which to learn Arabic!
All the best!
Beatrice

 
At 16:24, Blogger shifa said...

hi,
I am interested in studying at the University of Damascus program but I am finding some discrepencies as tot he length of theprogram. Is it only for one month? I read in several places that it is for two months. And cant access the website.
Thanks,
all the best

 
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