July 19, 2004

Learning Arabic at the DLI

According to About.com (via Amritas):

DLI [Defense Language Institute – DB] teaches Modern Standard Arabic, a refined form of the language that is spoken throughout the Middle East, Campbell said. Learning MSA gives students the foundation upon which they can then build their skills in the various regional and national dialects of the language.

As one who has learned a spoken Arabic dialect (note I said learned, not knows – I took a one semester class in the Jerusalem dialect of spoken Arabic, not more than one hour a day of instruction), I have to disagree with this approach. If the purpose is to learn a spoken dialect, the easiest way to do it is to learn it directly. Learning MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) you spend most of the time on its incredibly complex grammar. But the local dialects have lost most of its complexity. I found that after one semester of a not-so-serious course, I could understand quite a lot of the Arabic spoken around me. I was quite surprised at this – at the time I theorized that having no written form, day-to-day speech was therefore simpler.

The dialect situation is also not so bad. Most Arabs speak one of two sets of mutually intelligible dialects, usually called Western and Eastern. Western includes the dialects of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. Eastern includes Egypt, the Levant, and Iraq. I don’t know about the situation on the Arabian Peninsula, but I’m sure that a small number of well-chosen dialects would cover the whole area.

If your goal is to “build their skills in the various regional and national dialects of the language”, it shouldn’t be too hard to do so directly.

Posted by David Boxenhorn at July 19, 2004 04:18 PM
Comments & Trackbacks

I spent 5 months at DLI and left as a fluent Spanish speaker. Their system works. From Day One, we were not allowed to speak English. It is an amazing program.

Posted by: Mike at July 23, 2004 02:28 AM Permalink


I have no doubt that it’s an amazing program, I’d like to hear more about it! But you probably didn’t come out being able to speak Portuguese, and if you were learning Latin it would have been even more difficult.

Posted by: David Boxenhorn at July 23, 2004 08:18 AM Permalink

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