Progress on Learning a New Language

A 20th day update to my first post documenting my experience using Pimsleur and Duolingo to study Arabic, with the Pimsleur course being specific to Egyptian Arabic. My expectations for how quickly I would learn are shaped in part by my experience learning French in High School and later via Duolingo, each time for about a year. Not counting the in-classroom time with a teacher decades ago, no other period of learning did I have regular practice with another fluent speaker. It wasn’t a surprise to me that while my vocabulary was relatively broad, I could speak very little French and understand even less in practice. So, I started out knowing Arabic would be at least as difficult and kept a positive attitude.

Pimsleur, by lesson 20, had done a good job building on the example conversations using the vocabulary taught in the previous lessons. I feel that at each new lesson I would be able to understand most of the next lesson’s listening exercises, which does help build confidence at least within the Pimsleur courses. It is effective also at teaching how to listen for important contextual cues, like question words, specific verbs like eating, drinking, and words you might use while shopping.

Outside of Pimsleur is where I started to learn tougher lessons, the first being that it was still too soon for me to be able to listen to even simple conversations in a YouTube video spoken in Egyptian Arabic. I found my word recognition was slight at best at this point, and not well enough to guess context in a genuine spoken conversation on the street. One example series I had tuned into was built as a “beginners” Egyptian Arabic video where they asked people on the street about their days. I will need to revisit this again when I have learned a lot more.

I did find while on YouTube that there are a few creators who do really good vocabulary videos that were helpful, like Linguamid’s channel. TikTok also has dozens of accounts dedicated to very short practical language lessons, some as short as a single word, like the “that’s easy, Habibi” guy.

Another learning curve I discovered is that translation resources aren’t always available. I feel like it is hit or miss if I can find Egyptian at all in an app when trying to translate or set localization. One of the more complete online dictionaries for Egyptian Arabic has mobile apps but they only work for older builds of iOS and Android, so one has to use the desktop browser mode to access it.

Duolingo today only supports MSA, not Egyptian, but is excellent for teaching a complete beginner to read and guess the sound of Arabic letters. Pimsleur does this but with much less depth, in a visual format of listen and see how the letters sound. Duolingo’s format is better in this specific context although I can see it will get a lot more complicated once the lessons shift away from learning the alphabet to MSA in complete sentences. For now, the brief examples like “big jacket” and “amazing house” are easy enough I don’t feel like I am confusing myself and it does help improve the speed of word recognition. I also feel like Duolingo does a good job teaching you how to guess how a word might be pronounced, and to spot slight differences between short and long vowel sounds.

Next, I searched for music artists who sing in Egyptian Arabic or a mix of Enlish and Arabic and found a few. So far my word recognition here is about the same as listening to YouTube – ie, mish kwayes awi. However, it does help me pick out words or phrases I want to learn as I find songs I like. I hope before long to know all the words to a few of them.

Finally, I found some lists I had for both French and Latin America artists and I reflected on how much I recognized in those songs; the latter in Spanish which I had never studied but had lived around folks who were fluent. I think that long exposure to artists who rap in mixed English and Spanish taught me more words than I give myself credit for. I feel the same way about listening to a song in French, in which I can usually pick out quite a few words especially when the song includes statements about self or question words.

Learning something new feels like unused parts of my brain are rejuvenated. I know that before long, the hard work begins but for now I am enjoying how it feels to step outside my comfort zone and discover things I never knew before.

Next update after I complete the Level 1 Pimsleur course, which is 30 days in total.

Till then~

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