It sounds cliché when I type it out but after a few days of trying Pimsleur and Duolingo I thought it may be beneficial for me to journal what the experience was like. I had used Duolingo before, originally to brush up on French which I had first taken in High School and then later forgot most of what I learned. More recently I was interested in a possible opportunity that may be helpful if I understood and could speak some Arabic.
My first challenge was finding an app outside of a proper classroom or paid instructional environment that taught practical listening comprehension. I read elsewhere that Egyptian Arabic was a good dialect to study, although I would also like to know Levantine Arabic. Neither are in Duolingo, but Pimsleur’s Egyptian Arabic course was well reviewed. I chose Pimsleur after trying the free lesson and deciding that a 30-day Level 1 lesson plan was a reasonable commitment.
For context, outside of High School French I have not had many chances to practice a second language with other students or a skilled instructor. In my work I have found myself on numerous occasions being one of the only people in a group who cannot speak multiple languages, and I feel this may limit my opportunities. This is my starting point, part of my motivation.
To begin, I really enjoy the lesson format from Pimsleur. Starting first with a natively spoken audio, then a listen and repeat exercise followed by the same new vocabulary in visual review works very well for me. It was important that the audio was an actual person and not software synthesis, as the nuance in how the letters sound is lost when a screen reader repeats it. I could tell right away that even with the audio by a native speaker I would have a big challenge learning many of the sounds not commonly present in English, specially without in-person feedback. I will have to accept this handicap for the time being.
After the fourth lesson, or about a week since I had taken the first free lesson, I felt like I could understand most of the introductory audio conversation even when the pacing and arrangement was switched up to accommodate new vocabulary words. I felt like it did a good job breaking down the importance of understanding the gendered contexts of words and phrases, at least to the degree of anticipating knowing the need to identify which would be correct in a given sentence, or spotting if two similar answers were provided and only one matched the subject.
As for Duolingo, I find it useful for learning the Modern Standard Arabic alphabet and seeing how the letters differ when written together. It helps with basic reading comprehension, at least for a beginner like me. To be fair, nothing I have seen yet in Duolingo would help me get over the learning curve to reading fluently with any degree of useful speed, nor to help with learning a spoken dialect.
I’ve kept a notepad of vocabulary words as I hear them to practice with, a habit I started with French. I’ve also made use of a text translator app on my phone to get practice typing words I learn in Arabic, so I start to recognize them and also to help me sound out words I don’t know.
I am trying to keep my expectations reasonable, as I know with learning French I felt like after a year of class in High School and a year of Duolingo I knew a lot of words but could speak very little in a practical situation. It would have been different if I spent regular time around a fluent speaker or had lived somewhere it was a commonly spoken language; I am confident I would have learned “survival” French pretty fast if I had.
In the meantime, between lessons I am searching for more audio via podcasts or songs that I can listen to that is also in Egyptian so get used to hearing it and see which words I can pick out. I’ll post again after a few more lessons and maybe include a few examples of ones I found and how it went.
Updates: Day 20 progress post and a Conclusion after 30 Days.