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Studying Arabic in Beirut-What you need to know before taking the plunge

Here are some experts from a recent article by Ben Kalt that appeared in Now Lebanon. Read the full article here.

Before picking a place to study, you should know that Arabic is a hard language to acquire. The US Defense Department rates Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) as a “Category IV language” in terms of difficulty, the same as Chinese, meaning 64 weeks of intensive study (that is 30 hours a week) are required to become fluent in everyday conversation, whereas Spanish and German require 26 and 35 weeks respectively. In other words, learning Arabic requires a major investment of time and effort.

If that’s not discouraging enough, at universities, the only Arabic traditionally offered is MSA, or fohss-ha in Arabic. While across the Arab world, fohss-ha is the language of virtually all writing, media and formal speech, it is not used in everyday conversations. Rather, it is ahmeyyuh, or the colloquial Arabic dialect that varies by region, that rules all interactions.

ALPS instructor Rima Nawfal tells NOW Extra that “when I was a student, I was always looking at my watch during class.” So now, as a teacher, she tries to create the ‘learning space’ to allow students to speak freely and joke around in Arabic during class, because “personal relationships with students are very important.”

But if a modicum of Western familiarity, freedoms and fun – and the prerogative to bite off as much Arabic language and culture as you want to chew on any given day – is more your style, then Beirut might bring the best balance of comfort and challenge. As Cousland put it, “Comfort level is important… If you’re stressed about daily life [it affects] your learning and the whole experience…I mean, they have Oreo milk shakes here, what more do you need?”

But these very comforts and the sheer number of foreigners in Lebanon are a double-edged sword, as ALPS manager Joëlle Giappesi laments. “Too many [foreign students] stay in a Western bubble and live in shared flats with other foreigners in tourist areas [or] in dorms near the university, spending [their] leisure time in cafes and pubs speaking English,” she says.

Giappesi adds that she “love[s] when students ask for a homestay” but acknowledges that there is some reluctance among Lebanese to accept foreigners into their homes, though they’re becoming “more open to the idea little by little.”

In the end, whether or not Beirut is the place to study depends, overwhelmingly, on you – your preferences, resilience, attitude and language needs.


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1 Comment

  1. […] like it at all. Living in a foreign country and learning a new language takes a lot of energy, so it can be helpful to have a close and comfortable place to […]

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