Friday, October 26, 2012

The Muslim Advantage

Some of my Arabic classmates are fluent native speakers.  Nearly all of the rest are Muslim and read the Koran regularly - in Arabic.
Level One group
It's like learning the ABC's in a room full of English professors.
Here's why we're in the same class:
1) The Arabic of the Koran and the Arabic of the street are not the same thing
2) There are roughly 17 billion (might be exaggerating a little) Arabic dialects
3) Dialects are not taught in school; they are learned at home
4) Arabic of the Koran is not taught at home, it's learned at school
4) Non Arabic speaking Muslims can and do read the Koran in Arabic - without knowing or learning the language
According to (, there are 1.3 billion Muslims in the world.  That's 1/5th of the globe's population!  In other words, all Muslims are not Arab.  All Muslims do not speak Arabic.  However, as Muslims believe the Koran contains the actual words of Allah (not merely "inspired") most prefer to read the Holy Book in its original language.
Similar to the American "whole word approach" - where students learn to read by recognizing words instead of focusing on individual letters and sounds - non-Arabic speakers read the Koran in a sort of look, listen, repeat manner, one section/surah/block at a time.  Afterwards they're told what they read.
Many Muslims - non Arabs and young children too! - memorize the entire Koran this way.
(WATCH THIS AMAZING MOVIE which follows three 10-year olds through a Koran memorization competition:
The Arabic of the Koran is called fusHa.  It has form, structure, rhythm, grammar, rules…and vowels. FusHa is a written language while (generally) dialects are spoken and not written.  FusHa is the Arabic utilized in textbooks, movies and news programs. It's not spoken on a day to day basis.  Consider these two responses to "Time for dinner!":
FusHa: "Yes, I will attend the family meal, my Mother."
Missouri Backlander: "Comin'!"
Merchants laugh when attempts are made to negotiate in fusHa.  Street vendors often don't understand.  Everyone else (in Doha, anyway) responds in English.
Although fusHa is a language all its own, Arabic speakers/reciters have an advantage over non-Arabic speakers/reciters in Arabic class: their tongue can form the sounds, some of which do not exist in English (or other languages). Native speakers own an often similar vocabulary.  They understand untranslatable words and phrases.  They "feel" the language faster.
But when it comes to grammar?  We're equally confused.
Random page from my Level Three book
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