Thursday, November 8, 2007

Spoken Arabic Step-By-Step by John Kirkbright

Spoken Arabic is not one book but two books—Books 1 and 2 (82 and 100 pages respectively) and three CDs that accompany the twenty lessons.

These resources were first published in 1993 but such has been their popularity that the books have gone through ten printings and the 2006 and 2007 model is the edition that comes with the DVDs.

The author, John Kirkbright has lived in the Arab world for more than forty years of which the last thirty have been in the Arabian Gulf. These resources come out of Kirkbright’s experience in creating self-study books for companies and banks and then they have been honed through his leadership of many staff courses in Gulf Arabic for companies such as the Al Futtaim Group, Shell and Emirates Bank.

The distinctive things that distinguish this resource include the following:
* It is for beginners but getting to grips with the twenty lessons will enable students to hold basic conversations with Gulf State Arabic speakers.
* It is about spoken Arabic. Students don’t through these resources get to grips with learning the alphabet and writing the script.
* The vocabulary is intentionally limited as are many of the grammatical intricacies. This is designed so as not to complicate and bog down the beginner. Lists of words do come in the Appendix and they are grouped according to themes.
* It is ‘step-by-step’ and the guide chooses the first few steps carefully and slowly, so as to encourage learners and not to leave them daunted and giving up.
* The course is written for people with no formal language training in language and grammatical terms. As Kirkbright says in the preface, this resource is for “The man [and woman] in the street.”
* Alternatives are given to show how words in Gulf Arabic differ from standard Arabic and to highlight variants throughout the Gulf and Saudi Arabia.
* There is a goodly amount of revision and summaries so as to consolidate and avoid overload
* The CDs are a valuable addition. Each lesson starts with some rousing Arabic music to get you in the mood and on task. There is a predictable four step rhythm in the approach to learning. Kirkbright gives the cue in English. The student is then given time and space to say the word or phrase in Arabic. The model answer is given by a person from the Arabian Peninsula and then it is your turn to say it again after the speaker.
* There are different speakers on the audio—men and women and speakers from different parts of the Gulf. This is a great advantage.

Kirkbright says, “It may seem strange that a non-Arab should write a course in spoken Arabic. On reflection, however, the pitfalls and difficulties of a language are not always apparent to native speakers of that language.” (Bk I p4-5)

This is a popular and useful resource because it is written by an effective Arabic speaker who knows how to assist beginners in taking those first, tentative steps. The sub-title, ‘step-by-step’ is the essential key to this book. But this is also the Arab approach to good education and to all of life. As they say in these parts, "Grapes are eaten one by one", which is a colourful way of saying ‘step-by-step’, ‘one step at a time’ or in the original:

أَكْل العِنَب حَبَّة حَبَّة Transliterated: Akl il-3inab Habba Habba

(Proverb taken from, Primrose Arander & Ashkhain Skipwith, Apricots Tomorrow , London: Stacey International, 1997.

John Kirkbright, Spoken Arabic Step-by-Step (Dubai: Motivate Publishing, 1993, 2007).

This resource book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 185.00.

Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Spoken Arabic Step-by-Step.

A related article entitled ‘Learning Arabic in the UAE and the Gulf’ has been posted on Experiencing the Emirates.