Introducing: Learn Egyptian Arabic Project

learn egyptian arabicA few months ago, I learnt that I would be moving to Cairo.

Although I was really keen to learn Arabic, I decided to wait a while before starting… I wanted to reach the 1-year mark in Cantonese first.

But now the time has come.

So I'm moving to Cairo, and I'm going to learn Egyptian Arabic.

But this time, it's not about me. It's about you.

My aim, my vision, for I Will Teach You A Language is to give you insanely practical ideas for learning foreign languages. I want it to be a blog where you can find clear, no-nonsense steps that you can take to learn a language.

Not the “right way” (we know that doesn't exist), but at least “one way”.

So that's what you're going to get with this project.

Documenting the entire process

learn japanese vocabulary SRSI'm learning Egyptian Arabic from scratch, and I'm going to document the entire process, as best I can. I'm going to do it in a way that gives you total insight into everything that goes into the learning process.

You might find some of it to be too much detail for you. Apologies in advance if that's the case! But don't worry – I'll keep writing about other topics too!

But on this project, here's what I'll give you:

If you're learning Arabic yourself, or if you're just interested to follow along,  make sure you subscribe to my mailing list, to make sure you don't miss anything:

Since I'll be making a lot of videos, you should also subscribe to my YouTube channel: [do_widget “YouTube subscribe button”]

So yes – you're going to get it all.

But here's the thing.

I'm a busy guy, and maintaining the blog whilst holding down a full-time job and learning languages is difficult at the best of times.

So these updates aren't going to be pretty. They're not going to be beautifully crafted blog posts or polished videos.


It's going to be raw, mostly unedited stuff straight from the heart. I'm going to write posts and make videos quite often, possibly multiple times a week.

I'm taking up a new job when I arrive in Cairo, which is going to be quite intense, involving long hours and a lot of travel (work – not pleasure!). To be honest, the “keep it raw” approach to these posts is the only way I'll be able to keep it up on a regular basis, whilst also managing to give you an accurate and thorough account of the whole language learning process… without burning out!

How much Arabic do I already know?

I'm not starting entirely from scratch. Pretty close, but not entirely.

As you probably know, Doha (where I'm currently living) is an Arabic speaking country, but English is widely used by most people, including me. 🙂

I took a short course last year (which my work was kind enough to pay for), in which I learnt a few things:

But, there are a few important things to say here.

Firstly, I haven't done anything with Arabic for over a year, so I've pretty much forgotten everything. Secondly, what I learnt was Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). Thirdly, I've never actually spoken Arabic outside class.

MSA, as I understand it, is “standard” only in the sense that it's used in newspapers and spoken in formal occasions such as on the news. MSA is not spoken by any Arabic communities anywhere. Each Arabic-speaking country has its own dialect, which is entirely separate from MSA.

What I'll be learning in Cairo is Egyptian Arabic.

I think it's fair to say that having a basic knowledge of MSA will give me a small headstart. We'll see. But, from what I understand from my research so far is that the Egyptian dialect is, to all intents and purposes, an entirely separate language.

There will be much more on this in my interview with an Arabic expert – look out for it tomorrow!

Outline of my plan

I'm moving to Cairo on 6th September, which gives me the whole month of August to do some preparation!

I have two goals for this project – one short-term and one medium-term. I don't place too much stock in these (plans change), but this is my current thinking:

  1. Learn as much as possible in August, focusing on basic spoken ability, so that I can avoid “defaulting” to English when I arrive in Cairo in September.
  2. I will know I'm on track if I'm able to hold a basic conversation with a native speaker, entirely in Arabic, by the end of 2014.
  3. I aim to be conversationally fluent within 1 year – August 2015. My definition of conversational fluency is as follows:

To be able to hold an extended conversation with a native Arabic speaker on familiar topics, without the other person having to unduly slow down or paraphrase for my benefit to the point where the conversation is no longer natural or enjoyable.

That's my definition of conversational fluency, and, based on previous experiences, when I reach that point in a language is when I would first have a real feeling of “success”.

Speak in a week

As I just mentioned, I feel like I have a golden opportunity to start speaking Arabic this month, so that I'm able to arrive in Cairo and avoid English from the start.

There's a big expat bubble in Cairo, just like everywhere else in the Middle East, and, to be honest, I'm scared of falling into it. For this reason, I'm placing a lot of importance on speaking from the start.

Coincidentally, just at the time I was starting to think about the best way to approach speaking right from the start, Benny Lewis from told me about his new video course – Speak in a Week – which is designed to do just that!

So, my mission for the first week of learning Arabic (starting 1st August), is to take Benny's 5-day course, and get speaking!

In fact, day 1 of the course has you prepare a short speech using only “phrasebook language”, and record a video of yourself! Here, then, is my very first Egyptian Arabic video…on day 1!

Coming up!

As I mentioned earlier, my entire aim for this project is to bring you along with me for the whole learning process, to show you not only how I study, but how I make my planning and study decisions.

So, over the next few days I will be releasing a new blog post every day covering different aspects of the project and about Egyptian Arabic.

We have some great things coming up:

Update – Interview with me in Cairo

A few months after writing this post I moved to Cairo, and was interviewed about how I learn languages.

Here's the video…

If you'd like to share this post on Facebook, that would also help me to reach more people and help motivate them to take up a new language!

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