Egyptian Arabic Week 1 Summary

olly berlinSo here I am, at the end of my first week of learning Arabic.

To say that it went by quickly would be an understatement!

My first thoughts are that I wasted the week. It’s funny how we have a tendency to focus on the negatives when it comes to our own accomplishments!

Instead, I’m going to focus on the positives.

Here’s what I did this week:

  • Learnt some phrases in Arabic, made them into a short self-introduction, and recorded it (video below).
  • Used an online Egyptian Arabic dictionary to generate a list of vocabulary about myself (video below).
  • Started my first flashcard deck by copying a selection of words and phrases across and starting to learn them (video below).
  • Wrote out an extended introduction on iTalki using this new vocabulary and had it (extensively) corrected.
  • Arranged a 30-minute speaking session with a native speaker on day 5 (but teacher didn’t turn up!)
  • Listened to Pimsleur Egyptian Arabic 1-4 in the car everyday.

Tools used

Video 1

Speaking on day 1

Video 2

Preparing a self-introduction and getting it corrected

Summary of the week

The entire aim of this week, as I outlined here, was to make a start learning Arabic and have a first conversation with a native speaker.

I certainly made a start, and I would have had a conversation with a native speaker on day 5… if they had turned up! πŸ™‚

Anyway, I was able to practise a few phrases with some colleagues in the office, so I still got to speak a bit!

So, mission accomplished – I learn a few bits and pieces and spoke Arabic! πŸ™‚

Getting started is something that lots of people procrastinate over, so the fact that I’ve taken action and done something is good. Now’s the time to put this week behind me and look at how to improve things for next week.

What did I learn?

I’ve been looking up words and phrases in Arabic and exporting them to flashcards, as shown in video 2 above.

I’m finding it very difficult to learn this vocabulary. The reason? Well, it’s a new language. My brain’s adjusting. That’s OK.

But there’s another issue. Everything is out of context at this stage – I’m essentially trying to learn things that I’ve plucked out of the dictionary.

Now, I don’t think this is too big a problem, because after all, it’s only week 1. But, it’s probably the biggest thing on my mind at this stage – I’ve not really seen or heard any language in context, making it all very piecemeal.

So picking out vocabulary from various websites and trying to learn them with flashcards has been a little unproductive.

The Pimsleur course, however, has been really useful. I won’t get into the details of Pimsleur yet (I’ll write a full review later), but suffice it to say that it’s essentially a phrasebook approach (entirely in audio) that teaches you useful phrases with a lot of repitition.

Although you don’t cover a great deal of different material with Pimsleur (this will probably end up being its main disadvantage), the stuff that you do cover is well-chosen, useful and effective.


Arabic Grammar

I can already see from learning a few phrases that Arabic grammar is really complicated! (I already knew that, to be honest, but this has just confirmed it!)

My reaction to this is that is two-fold:

  1. I’m not going to worry too much about studying the grammar and certainly not about making mistakes
  2. It’s essential that I stop this piecemeal approach to learning and start to see as much language in context as possible. (At this level, that equals short texts and dialogues.) The reason? Even if the grammar doesn’t make sense to me, the context will tell the story and my brain will start to make sense of it behind the scenes.

If the grammar is proving to be hard, just keep everything in context, carry on, and you’ll be fine. [TWEET]

Lack of foundation

So, overall, what I’m feeling right now is a big lack of foundation.

There’s too much I don’t know – no, too much I simply don’t have a clue about – at this stage, and so it’s time to hit the books.

I need to follow a structured beginner’s course of some kind in order to cover the basics. I don’t have one, but I’ll have to track one down.

The main benefits of this will be:

  1. to give me some context for learning – dialogues are memorable
  2. to allow me to start learning vocabulary that’s taken from that context, rather than isolated words.

The plan

The plan for the coming week is:

  • start working with a textbook of some kind in order to start getting regular input and exposure to language in context
  • continue with vocabulary SRS flashcards
  • have 2-3 sessions with a native speaker (and hope they turn up)
  • continue with Pimsleur Egyptian Arabic whilst driving (there are at least 20-30 minutes of useable time per day spent in the car)


Summary of the week

So, to summarise everything above, two important things have happened this week:

  • I got started!
  • I had a few “sort of conversations” with native speakers

In that sense, not bad for week 1!

Linguistically, I feel that my learning has been limited to “phrasebook Arabic”, and I feel uncomfortable with such a shaky foundation.

To balance this out, I’m going to start working with a textbook to develop a more rounded knowledge of Egyptian Arabic.

So, what do you think?Β What would you have done differently in your first week? Like this post on Facebook, and then leave me a comment below!Β 

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  • Anca

    Thanks for taking the time to write up a detailed update, Olly! Definitely not bad for week one and you do have a plan for the ones to come so it looks promising.
    While I’m not a fan of the “speak from day 1[…up to 5]” approach I’ll be following your progress and maybe get proven wrong. πŸ™‚
    I do wonder: had you speaking partner shown up how would you have spent that half hour? I mean, at this stage in your Arabic journey, I imagine you run out of things to say in Arabic quite fast so how do you “use” your speaking partner?

    • Brad Stokes

      I guess that’s the time where you get into a bit of tprs learning. monkey see/monkey do/say in the very early stages of learning can be incredibly powerful. I know the feeling of missing out for a tutoring no show though, it is always disappointing. I do all my lessons through Skype and there is an empty feeling when they don’t show. Still I think giving yourself a base to work from sounds like the way to go. It saves a little time on direction initially I would think.

      • Hey Brad. Yes, it took a bit of wind out of my sails. But to be honest, it’s not a disaster not to speak in the first week. It will happen soon enough (which reminds me I need to schedule something!), and the learning continues in the meantime!

        • Brad Stokes

          I don’t think it’s a disaster at all. I think you’ve taken away some positives from the week. So no harm, no foul. Good luck with the upcoming week.

    • Hi Anca! Great question, and I’ll be sure to write about it in detail when it happens. I would start off by trying out the stuff I know, which, as you say, would be over quite quickly! After that point, it depends how proactive the other person is. If they suggest a load of things for me to say, then great. If they don’t, then I would start to ask them (using English if necessary) things I couldn’t get from a textbook, specifically: “how do you start conversations with your friends/what do you say” and build up a little dialogue, which I could write down and practise.

  • Amy

    Marhaban Olly, super excited to be reading about your Arabic challenge as I’ve just started learning the language myself, so it’s a real kick-in-the-pants to get a move on! One free resource I’ve found useful for level-appropriate listening practice is an mp3 series of phrase book recordings by “50 Languages”. Really good stuff for picking out words in context. Good luck with week two, looking forward to it πŸ™‚

    • Hi Amy, thanks! Do you have a link for that?

      • Amy

        Have a look here:
        It’s available for a range of dialects including Egyptian. Probably a bit old fashioned and clunky, but it’s the only free audio I’ve found that doesn’t come with excessive introductions so it’s a good 6+ hours of listening in the car πŸ™‚

  • Sucks that your teacher didn’t show but that’s typical Egyptian punctuality right there! Your first cultural experience and you haven’t even arrived yet. πŸ˜‰

    Might have also had something to do with the constant power blackouts we’re having in Egypt.

    Keep up with the good work, mate!

    • I’m kind of used to the whole no-show thing already in Doha… but I’m sure blackouts don’t help at all!

      I’ll have to shake off some of that English obsession with punctuality before heading to Cairo πŸ™‚

  • Mareike Wendler

    Hej Olly, I don’t think your first week was too bad. You probably did a lot more than many other people who’d have started learning a new language. There is one thing I’d have done differently. I always look for new words and write sentences (at the beginning I’d look every single word up and try to get them in the right order). After that I let them get corrected at lang-8 and write them on my flashcards. Looking forward to your next summary/article. Keep up the good work, think positive and everything will turn out great :).
    Cheers from Germany

    • Hi Mareike! Funny you should say that… I did actually do what you said! Saving the video for next week though πŸ™‚

  • Wow impressive first week. Really enjoy seeing your schedule and weekly plans.

    • Thanks Shannon. I’ll try to keep it up!

      • Best of luck! I look forward to watching you progress. Very inspiring.

  • Tika

    Have you tried to go to a market and talk to the people? Some say it’s an effective way to learn everyday language.

    • Hi Tika, I’ll certainly give it a go when I arrive in Cairo. I imagine I’ll learn how to haggle quite quickly! πŸ™‚

  • Will

    Great demos as usual. Passed this on to my cousin who wants to learn Dari.

    • Great, thanks Will! I hope he/she finds it useful!

  • sheela


    Great demos about learn arabic through skype. Actually i did this lesson from Very useful.