Learning Arabic at KAUST

By | January 21, 2012
Arabic Alphabet

Photo courtesy oceandesetoiles on Flickr

When we first moved to Saudi, one of the things I was most excited about was learning Arabic. I had some friends in university with me who had taken it, and found it very rewarding. Plus, I was moving to Saudi Arabia — how could I live in a country and NOT speak the language?

Only one problem: KAUST operates in English. Don’t get me wrong here, I totally support that decision by the university administrators and we never would have been able to move here if there was an Arabic-language requirement for my husband’s job. But, living in an English-language community is not really conducive to learning Arabic, and there are surprisingly few opportunities here to learn Arabic here on campus.

There is a nice woman who holds regular Arabic classes for free at the community library. I gave that class a shot for a few weeks, but found it to be very difficult to follow and I gave up (If you’re considering taking this class, please don’t let me put you off, though!! I think everyone should give it a try.)

Then, we had the Winter Enrichment Program. WEP is a yearly program held at the university designed to bring together brilliant minds from around the world to present on interesting topics at KAUST. Some events are related to the mission of the university, some are for the kids, some are just general interest. I went to a brilliant talk on the history of Jeddah and a Science Show with Dr. Bunhead from Brainiac for instance. I also signed up for a beginner’s Arabic class taught in 45 minute increments over 5 days.

I thought this class was so great! The teacher, Muhammed, was funny, smart, and a very experienced teacher. We had an easy to follow curriculum, clear goals for the class, and resources on the WEP Acadox site. We learned numbers, letters, days of the week, and some words and phrases. As he said “Arabic is a rich language”. It’s not difficult, but it does take a big effort to get over the hurdle of understanding the alphabet and writing words.

I was so impressed by how far we got in the class in just 5 days! It really inspired me to re-start my quest for learning Arabic.

So, my next big step is to decide: HOW? Sadly, the class I liked was only a special feature for WEP, and I will not be able to attend regularly (Muhammed – if you’re reading this, please consider teaching us regularly!). I didn’t find the other class on campus worked too well for me (though perhaps I need to give it another shot?). What are my other options? Perhaps I can do Rosetta Stone? This is a very expensive program, but I’ve learned practically everything I know from my computer, so perhaps that’s the best solution?

Have you learned Arabic at KAUST or in some self-taught way? What’s your advice for beginners? How do you suggest learning? And, what did you struggle with as you learned?