“Thirty Day” Pimsleur and Duolingo review

Following the 30-day program for Pimsleur’s Egyptian Arabic level 1 and Duolingo’s MSA course, here are some concluding thoughts. This is a third entry to a series of prior posts beginning here.

Pimsleur’s level 1 program is a well-presented introduction to the language that would be valuable for anyone who planned on travelling to Egypt or who wanted to begin speaking the language with a close friend or relative. It is ideal for someone who will have an opportunity to practice with another person who is either fluent or also learning at the same time. With that said, it is just a 30-day program and at this time does not have a level 2 or level 3 course available. (Eastern Arabic and Farsi have levels 1-3). The words and phrases are a good start for basic introductions, getting simple directions, dining out, discussing travel, shopping and talking about your spouse or children. I found however that when I tried to apply what I learned by listening to beginner videos on YouTube, my comprehension was still insufficient to follow. You’d be on your own for independent study. A good next step would be a private tutor or a proper classroom environment if available.

I do feel that for the cost the Pimsleur course was a good investment. I feel that the vocabulary I have retained is useful and I have a good foundation to continue learning with. I don’t feel ready to speak the language beyond simple phrases covered in the course, yet.

Duolingo is a completely different experience. I would not try to compare them directly, and not just because Duolingo does not offer Arabic in any dialect other than MSA. Duolingo is fantastic for teaching a complete beginner the alphabet and helping to learn to recognize how the letters are written in context and placement within a word. It’s game-like structure is ideal for a visual learner. The software pronunciation of the words isn’t great for learning how to speak the language but it isn’t terrible either. I enjoy Duolingo even though I feel like the number of words I’ve learned so far is very, very slight and not helpful for having a conversation, at least yet.

I plan on sticking with Duolingo and continuing to review the Pimsleur course materials throughout the year to reinforce what I have learned and maybe with some additional private coaching I will feel more confident for a trip or volunteer opportunity down the line.

Thank you for reading and Ma’assalamah

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~

A Language Learning Journey

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.

Till then~

Updates: Day 20 progress post and a Conclusion after 30 Days.

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