Skip to content

November 26, 2010

Post-Ramadan Teensie-Weensie Tip #5: Start learning Arabic (if you haven’t already) – Part 3

by Umm Muawiyah

Assalamu Alaikum.

[Here’s Part 1 and Part 2.]

5) Try to use your strongest language to learn Arabic.

Okay, there are two key words here: “use” and “strongest”.

Let’s take the second word first.

a) What is a person’s strongest language?

It’s what is known as the “native language”. And just for your information, according to many people, that is exactly the same thing as one’s mother tongue.

People seem to think that the language that you speak at home with your parents is your native language. It doesn’t have to be.

If you’re confused as to what your native language is (and I’ve met many people who are), ask yourself this simple question: What language do you think in?

People generally think in just one language.

[By the way, judging by some of the conversations that I’ve had, it seems that the language that you think in can change, if you use another language for a long time. For example, a German sister pointed out to me how she had started to think in English because she used it far more than she used German.]

Okay, so why should we use one’s strongest language? Well, I’m assuming that everyone thinks like me. See, if someone asked me to translate from French to Arabic, then I wouldn’t be able to do it without first translating from French to English and then from English to Arabic. From what I understand, this is the case with most people.

Also, there is the little issue of “getting lost in translation”. You lose so much by going from one language to another. Imagine what would happen if you went through more than one language!

Now someone might say “Eh? Doesn’t everyone use their native language when learning a new one?”

Erm no, which is why I felt the need to write all the above.

I remember a conversation that I had with a sister (whose strongest language was English) last year. She told me that she was taking tafseer classes. I assumed it was in English until she mentioned that it was in Urdu.

“Do you know Urdu?” I asked quite surprised (as I had no idea that she did).

Her response? “Umm…not so much but I’m learning.”

And guess what? She’s not the only one that does this. Since then, I’ve met many sisters who do the same thing (i.e. study Arabic in Urdu whilst English is their native language.)

[I’ve noticed that this “learn tafseer in Urdu” seems to be a big fad amongst many (English speaking) Indian and Pakistani sisters for some reason.]

I’m sorry but it doesn’t make sense to me. If one wants to learn Arabic and one is an English speaker, then why improve your Urdu in order to learn Arabic??? Why not just go directly from English to Arabic?

Now, someone might say “Well, there are more resources in Urdu” or “Urdu is closer to Arabic then English is”.

Yes, I agree on both counts. However, both points are irrelevant because:

1) There are lots of resources in English too, and these are enough to help a person learn Arabic.

2) This is useful for a person whose native language in Urdu, not for a person who does not know much Urdu and then tries to improve it in order to learn Arabic.

This isn’t the only example of course. I’ve seen Chinese sisters using English books to learn the Arabic alphabet, despite there existing a nice book teaching this in Mandarin. And there are many more examples.

My point is that one should use one’s strongest language in order to learn a new language, especially if a) it has many words similar to Arabic (attention Urdu, Farsi, Spanish, Swahili, Turkish speakers!) or 2) there are many resources in that language for learning Arabic (attention English and French speakers!)

And this should continue when reading larger books as well.

For example, a Russian speaker might read the English translation of Sahih Al-Bukhari. Why? There’s a translation available in Russian so why not use that?

Another example would be an Indonesian speaker desperately trying to search for an explanation of Sahih Al-Bukhari in English. Why? The best explanation of Sahih Al-Bukhari (Fathul Bari) hasn’t been translated into English but it has been translated into Indonesian*.

[*Okay, this is what I recall. If it hasn’t been translated into Indonesian, that means it was translated into Malay. I keep confusing Indonesians and Malaysians. [I also keep confusing Indians and Pakistanis. That turned out to be a disaster. They sounded quite miffed and I ended up being glared at.]

If there are not many resources in one’s native language, then and only then should a person consider learning in their next best language.

[Note to those who know any European languages: There’s a nice book authored by V. Abdur Rahim (of the Madinah Arabic Books fame) called “Europe Speaks Arabic”. Very nice indeed. It’s written in a simple, conversational style and discusses many European words which have an Arabic origin like “zero” and “Trafalgar”.]

b) Try to learn Arabic directly and use as few intermediaries as possible.

I said “use” your strongest language to learn Arabic i.e. use it but don’t overuse it.

A classic example of “overuse” would be books that teach Arabic grammar using English terms.

For example, when I first started learning Arabic grammar, I came across the following words: nominative, acquisitive, genitive and jussive.

I had NO clue what they meant and I’m pretty sure that most of you don’t either. So why should we learn them at all? Why not learn the Arabic words directly rather than learning a new English word before learning the Arabic word?

So, try not to overuse your language.

Note to those who have difficulty reading in Arabic: Please don’t get dependent on using the transliteration (or phonetics). You need to get to a point where you STOP using it and start reading Arabic without difficulty.

To be continued….

[How many more parts? Lots, insha-Allah.]

PS. As always, my apologies if the article sounds haphazard. Any constructive criticism will be appreciated, insha-Allah. I don’t want this blog to be filled with cheerleaders…

Comments are closed.