7 Hacks for Studying Arabic (or any Foreign Language) on Your Own.

I am often asked if it is possible to learn Arabic, or any foreign language, online. And it is always followed by the next question: How can I learn Arabic language online?

While it is very convenient, online learning comes with its challenges as it shifts the burden towards the learner who has to demonstrate a great deal of self-discipline and initiative.

Therefore, you’ll need to have enough motivation and discipline. Also, independent language learning requires selecting the right learning tools and strategies.

Below are the seven practical steps that will help guide your learning effort. Determine where you are  at every of these seven steps and be meticulous in your approach.

At the bottom of this post you will find  the guiding theory in the field of linguistics behind these steps.

1-Establish learning objectives:

You will  need to start by taking a language diagnostic  test before starting your course(s). This will allow you to determine your proficiency level and assess your training needs.

Set your learning objectives and expectations based on the identified  learning gaps. Of course, if you are starting from scratch, you won’t need to worry about taking a language diagnostic test before the course.

Later at the end of this process, you will need to test to measure your progress on whether you reached your learning objectives, which need to be specific and realistic.

For instance, at the end of this course, I will be able to identify all the Arabic letters and vowel combinations; I will be able to read and identify days of the week, colors, and family members in Arabic? etc..

You will also need to understand your own motivation behind learning the language. Is it to obtain a good grade and meet a college elective requirement or is it to learn how to communicate with the Arab guests who frequent the 5-star hotel where you work?

Usually problem-solving motivation is the best ideal incentive behind learning.

2-Adopt appropriate strategies to achieve those goals

Part of taking control of your learning is to actively take measures and develop learning strategies and tools that will bolster your learning besides what is offered by your online language videos and instructors.

For instance, get a notepad and take handwritten notes that you can revise and polish later.

Research has proven that handwriting your notes helps with information retention better than taking notes on a digital device. Another strategy entails joining an online community of learning  Arabic.

This would provide space where you can ask questions and answer your peers. This exchange enhances the learning experience and provides a sense of community.

Start to listen to an Arabic TV broadcast or podcast to prepare your ear and brain to identify the Arabic sounds.

The best way to not only test your knowledge but also retain it is to try to teach what you learned on a regular basis. Teach yourself what you learned by speaking  into your phone camera or recorder to assess your pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar as you go. 

3-Control the physical and social environment.

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7 Hacks for Studying Arabic (or any Foreign Language) on Your Own. 2

Each of us now has at least one mobile device with a constant flow of information as we are continuously pinged by friends and family.

During your online session, you will have to isolate yourself from the outside world and focus your attention on your learning. Put a “Do not disturb” sign,  use your headphones and mute your social media accounts.

Do not try to multitask — it is detrimental. 

4-Manage your time.

We are all busy and are always playing catch-up with our daily life. However, make it a habit to study your Arabic material on a daily basis, even if it is only for 15 minutes.

Practice, practice, practice! Be consistent and regular; for example,  15 minutes of Arabic every day is better than only one session of 2 hours a week.  

We are only humans, and setbacks will happen for various reasons. Do not be discouraged. Hit the reset button and continue to build a new streak.

Use your daily commute to listen to your teaching audio/videos. If you are at the intermediate level, use that time to read Arabic language news or listen to news streams from Arabic channels like Aljazeera or AlArabiya.

Use the internet to create an immersive language environment.

5-Self-evaluate .

Take seriously the tests and quizzes offered at the platform you are learning from and give them your best shot. You do not have to stop at that.

Find online quizzes and tests to gauge your reading and listening comprehension for your appropriate learning level. You can also take a proficiency test from a third party to measure your progress and make sure you ask for feedback to identify weaknesses. 

See also : Test Your Arabic Reading Comprehension

6-Measure your results.

Now that you have conducted your post-course knowledge/skill assessment, you will need to gauge the results of your self-evaluation by measuring them against the learning objectives you set in step 1.

Were all your learning objectives met? Was it 50 percent success rate or less ? In what areas you did best or worst (pronunciation, reading comprehension or grammar)?

7-Revise steps one and two as needed and rinse and repeat.

You will have to decide on your strategy based on your success rate , as determined in step six. If you obtained above 70 percent success rate in all modalities (reading/listening/speaking), you are doing great and should continue with the learning strategies you have been using.

If you scored between 50 and 70 percent, you are doing OK, but you may need to make minor to moderate tweaking of your learning strategies (learning autonomy) or your self-regulation (motivation and self-discipline).

Any score below 50 percent means you will need to improve your attitude toward the learning (step 1) and/or modify your learning tools and strategies (step 2). 

These seven steps constitute an ongoing cycle in your independent learning of Arabic. You will need to rinse and repeat.

The linguistic theory  behind the seven steps

We are all lucky to be living in an era of abundant online resources where we can pick and choose the right place that fits our budget, schedule and personal goals.

We may use online tools and platforms  to either complement formal class instruction or completely replace it. Research* in the fields of psycho and applied linguistics identified two critical concepts that play a major role in determining the success of foreign language students in general, and online students in particular.

They are called these ideal traits in learners  self-regulation — managing priorities, time and attitude– and learning autonomy — taking charge of one’s own learning.

The reason they apply more to online language learners is because they have to study independently and therefore keep themselves motivated and disciplined.

Language students will need to exhibit the same levels or more of  their self-regulation and learning autonomy as they set out in the real world to mix with native speakers , read foreign newspapers, and watch foreign films. Self-regulation covers the affective aspect of the learn such as attitude, motivation and self awareness. Learning autonomy is concerned with the actual technical steps of the learning process.

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Zimmerman, B. J. (2000). Attaining self-regulation: A social cognitive perspective. In M. Boekaerts, P. R. Pintrich, & M. Zeidner (Eds.), Handbook of self-regulation (p. 13–39). Academic Press. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-012109890-2/50031-7

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