Saturday, November 22, 2008

Teach Yourself Gulf Arabic

Great Interest
A frequently Googled question in the UAE and Gulf region seeks information about resources and courses to help people learn Arabic. Such interest highlights the relevance of this resource, ‘Teach Yourself Gulf Arabic’.

Gulf Arabic
This book teaches ‘Gulf Arabic’, the spoken Arabic dialect of Gulf countries—Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the UAE and Oman. It is also close to the dialect of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq.

This is not a book that teaches standard or literary Arabic which is covered in the same series of books in the companion volume entitled, ‘Teach Yourself Arabic’.

The recognition that there is a Gulf Arabic can dampen the enthusiasm of newcomers to the Gulf especially when they are told that the Arabic they learn in these parts will not be well understood in other parts of the Arabic-speaking world. However, the difference may well compare to the various strains and idioms that one hears when travelling through the diverse English-speaking world.

The authors of this resource, Jack Smart and Frances Altorfer, point out that there is also present in Gulf countries a ‘pidgin’ Arabic which is used mainly in conversation between Arabs and expatriate workers.

This book is divided into 14 chapters or units bearing these everyday titles:

1. How to say Hello!
2. Where is…?
3. The telephone number is…
4. What time is it?
5. How much is this?
6. Are you hungry?
7. The family.
8. In the hotel.
9. Interests and holidays.
10. The history of the Arabs
11. Health.
12. Official procedures e.g. changing money, sending mail etc.
13 Where to?
14. In the house.

Each unit contains dialogues, some questions to check comprehension, a repetition of key words and phrases, notes which explain how the language works in a conversation and some useful cultural tips about the life of Arabs in the Gulf.

The book comes with audio assistance, grammar exercises and a key to confirm whether the exercises have been answered correctly.

The chief words are presented in each chapter in both Arabic script and transliteration. A simple account of the Arabic alphabet is given to help readers read road signs and shop names.

This 220-page course book comes with a useful section to aid in pronunciation especially in making the sounds that don’t appear in English but in some other languages and those difficult sounds that are unique to Arabic.

The vocabulary, like the chapter headings, helpfully relates to the basic necessities and actions of everyday life.

I have observed in another review that many Arabic dictionaries do not include a section from English words to Arabic. This book, however, contains 23 pages of words from English to Arabic as well as a similar number in the other direction.

In a strict sense this resource is not a ‘Teach Yourself’ book, for the audio on CD records the voices of men and women who pronounce the words and phrases and soon seem to be like personal tutors.

The instructions say that “listening is the first step to learning a language; [so] don’t be disheartened if you don’t always understand every word—picking out the gist of what is said is the key.”

If anything the audio moves too fast and without sufficient repetition but thankfully the CD players or iTunes you will use have a backwards button and going over the lessons again is essential for mastery.

The audio component is particularly useful for demonstrating the regional differences in pronunciation from countries such as Oman or Iraq.

The two CDs in this resource illustrate the substantial nature of this course.

At first glance one might think the book is too detailed and dense but further delving indicates that it is most user-friendly. This is illustrated by such things as a sprinkling of Arabic proverbs throughout the book e.g. “The daughter of a duck is a good swimmer (which is a variation of the English proverb, ‘Like father, like son’). The book contains many pictures that break up the text e.g. a sign of a McDonald’s restaurant is included as an exercise with students being asked to pick out the long vowels. A third example of creativity is the number of short statements about Arabic culture e.g. One article deals with perfumes in the Gulf Arabic home, some common resins and woods that are burned and the various uses of the incense burner which is common in Gulf homes and shops.

Aim of ‘Teach Yourself Gulf Arabic’
This resource covers the basics for anyone who wants to learn greetings and the numbers which one hears in any Gulf airport when airline flights are announced. But ‘Teach Yourself Gulf Arabic’ might lure people into going deeper and if so, it provides the tools for those who wish to advance to a higher standard of knowledge and competence in communication in a range of situations.

Jack Smart and Frances Altorfer, Teach Yourself Gulf Arabic (London: Hodder Education, 1999, 2003)

This book is available from Magrudy’s Bookshops in the UAE at a cost of Dh 225.00.

Dr Geoff Pound

Image: Front cover of Teach Yourself Gulf Arabic which contains a 220-page course book and 2 audio CDs.