Arabic Conversation

How do I improve my Arabic speaking skills?

Elements of Speaking proficiency

Before going over the steps to improve your Arabic speaking skills, let us first identify the elements or criteria that make you good , average or bad speaker of a language.

  • Vocabulary:

It is about using the right words with the necessary accuracy to express our ideas to the listeners.

  • Structure:

A speaker needs to use correct grammar and syntax and maintain a cohesive speech with logical flow of ideas.

  • Pronunciation

Speaker needs to speak clearly to be understood by the listener. Mispronounced words can result in changed meaning. Accents do not count here.

  • Fluency

The speaker needs to speak at a reasonably smooth pace without frequently pausing to look for  words. Students should not confuse fluency with speaking proficiency. A speaker can show fluency but oftentimes it is at the expense of grammar and pronunciation.

Now that we got it out of the way, let us go over the recommended steps to improve your Arabic speaking proficiency. Note that most of the bulk of these seven steps revolve around improving the four elements of speaking proficiency that are mentioned above:

Have the right attitude!

  • Be positive about your learning effort and accept the fact that you are a student. Never let anything demotivate you. 
  • Be disciplined and curious .
  • Be uninhibited. If you are shy or introverted, make an effort to come out of your shell. Put yourself in a vulnerable position where you have to speak Arabic. Take your learning experience as a game and don’t take yourself too seriously. It is not as bad as you may think. Take it from me. I am an extremely introverted person, who, thanks to his multilingual skills, managed to speak in front of crowds in the hundreds. 
  • Be bold. When the teacher asks for a volunteer to come upfront to speak , raise your hand without hesitation. 

Set specific objectives.

You will need to know how by how much you want to improve your Arabic speaking by a certain date. Set specific, realistic and pertinent goals.

For instance, say “in three months I should be able to speak Arabic well enough to talk about myself and family. In four months, I need to be able to talk to my class about my favorite hobby, photography.”

For long term objectives, say,  “In two years, I’d like to be able to speak Arabic fluently enough to obtain a job with the State Department or my country’s foreign ministry.”

Setting objectives helps you define your learning track. The path to learning Modern Standard Arabic is more difficult than a regional dialect. Conversely, mastering MSA is more rewarding personally and career-wise. Consequently, speaking proficiency in MSA requires a different strategy and more effort.

Listen to Arabic content.

Basic on linguistic theory, as a learner of Arabic , beginner or advanced, you need enough input (reading and listening) to be able to generate language output( Writing and speaking). 

Doing plenty of listening first is very important. Incorporate listening to Arabic content into your daily routine as you are commuting to school or work or during your daily walk. 

Listening to Arabic, particularly for beginners,  can be frustrating at first because you will likely not understand most of what you hear. However, your brain is doing its own thing in the background and processing the input for you and picking up sound patterns. With time, your ear will get trained and you will start noticing it is getting better at turning sounds into meaning.

As you start making progress, pay attention to the educated native speaker’s intonation and tone so you can try to mimic that when you make your Arabic speaking attempts. 

Here is a list of top quality Arabic podcasts that I researched and analyzed before I shared them here as suitable for advanced beginners to early immediate learners of Arabic.

Make sure you listen to the appropriate content for your speaking level and target language. If you are an absolute beginner of MSA, make sure you listen to training materials in MSA. A more advanced learner should listen to newscasts or  interviews in MSA. 

If you are learning a dialect, you can find plenty of TV series and talk shows in the target dialect on YouTube, for example.

Regardless of the type of content, try to pick up common phrases and words and use them when you speak as long as you know what they mean.

Now you can speak!

Speak Confidence

Now that you  have been exposed to some language input for a few weeks you must have at least picked up a few words that you can use. 

  • Start small and make small wins that could only boost your confidence and help you pick up momentum. For instance, for introductory level Arabic you can start by attempting to speak on the following topics in this order:
    • start by greetings, introducing yourself, and basic conversation,
    • talk about your family, 
    • about your city, 
    • about your daily routine, 
    • then, about your childhood and so on and so forth.
  • It will be ideal if you can find an in-person or online practice partner. If you don’t, you can speak to yourself, your pet or your phone recorder. Practice the above topics for a couple of weeks and until you can obtain some feedback from a qualified native speaker. Many Arabic learners use online platforms like iTalki to practice their Arabic speaking skills with native speakers from the Arab world. You can find native speakers of all Arabic dialects in addition to Modern Standard Arabic . One tip is to maximize your conversational time during the tutoring sessions and leave other aspects of the language that you can learn on your own.
  • Try to maintain a normal rate of speech, not too fast or too slow, and make sure your words are intelligible.

Expand your vocabulary !

Add more vocabulary to your speech and continue to practice the above topics by:

  • Researching the vocabulary that will allow you to speak about yourself, your family and hobbies. If you like photography, you want to be able to speak about your passion for التصوير (photography) and الكاميرا (camera) without groping for words incessantly. 

Not only you will improve your speaking skills, but you will also be able to build rapport and gain new friends.

  • Formality and hierarchy are very important in the Arab culture. So, try to learn and use the correct honorary titles and names to navigate interaction with the different age groups and the two genders.
  • Master conjunctions and linking words because they will allow you to transition between the different ideas and increase your fluency. ( ثم – بعد ذلك – بالتالي – رغم ذلك ) etc..
  • Read out loud content at your level. This will help you acquire new words and get used to hearing yourself speaking Arabic.

Improve your Arabic grammar!

Your successful attempts of reaching good Arabic fluency and a wide repertoire of words could be useless  if you do not maintain the appropriate level of Arabic rules and grammar. You could be as eloquent as you could, but if you address a man in the feminine form, it will be a blatant mistake. 

Similarly, you want to keep your conjugation skills as sharp as possible to include the gender nouns, adjectives and the corresponding verb forms, etc..

Modern Standard Arabic Grammar: A Learner’s Guide is an excellent resource for studying Arabic grammar. It teaches practical Arabic grammar in a progressive and logical manner.

Therefore, it is important to continuously seek to obtain good command of grammatical rules and syntax.

Join an Arabic language community!

The last step is to join a positive and supportive community where you can practice your speaking skills. It will keep you motivated, engaged and challenged enough so that you can grow your speaking skills.

Start with your closest environment. Try to find and join Arabic conversation groups at your work, nearest library or community center. You can find nearby groups on the social website Meetup. 

You can also find an affordable native Arabic tutors online on platforms like iTalki or Wyzant and make sure you use your sessions with the tutor strictly for speaking or reading out loud practice. For other aspects of Arabic learning, you can study it on your own.

Arabic learners communities online provide another space where you can exchange information and practice your skills with others who are on the same learning journey as you. Look up sites like Reddit and Quora. 

Conclusion:

It is important to remember that learning a language , and particularly Arabic, is a marathon, not a sprint. It is not about doing things fast; it is getting things done right by  setting objectives, being consistent and remaining disciplined. 

Do not be afraid of making mistakes as you speak. Hit reset and repeat. Have fun learning and mastering the skill. 

Stay motivated. Remember that your Arabic skills will give you the chance to gain knowledge and cultural insights you would never acquire otherwise. It will also open career opportunities that will take you places you never dreamt of.

Keep at it and grow your Arabic speaking moustache 😉

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