Published 20th April 2017

Even though learning English can be problematic for speakers of any first language, some languages offer some respite due to the similarity between the two languages. With these languages, it is possible to understand a few words or have good pronunciation because there are connections between your language and English. With other languages, there are no similarities between the two languages.

Arabic is one such language. With the fact that there are approximately 300 million Arabic speakers in the world and with English becoming more and more popular to learn, there is a good chance that at some point in your teaching career you will find yourself teaching Arabic speakers.

When you do, bear in mind these 3 common problems for Arabic learners of English.

First of all, the alphabet. English uses the Latin alphabet and is written (and read) from left to right. Arabic uses Arabic script and is written right to left. Plus it doesn’t differentiate between upper- and lower-case letters. For Arabic speakers, then, learning English is not just learning new words but learning to read and write all over again.

In terms of grammar, there are numerous constructions in English which don’t exist in Arabic. The most important of these is the verb ‘to be’. It exists in Arabic but is used far less frequently than in English, with the result that many Arabic speakers will often leave it out in their language production.

Pronunciation can also be an issue. If you listen to somebody speaking Arabic you will realise how different the sounds are to those we use in English. For example, there is no /p/ and /v/ sound in Arabic so Arabic speakers will often pronounce these sounds as /b/ and /f/ respectively. Consonant clusters with a vowel in the middle also seem to be particularly problematic, as well as silent letters, as these don’t exist in Arabic.

When dealing with learners of English, it is important to make yourself as familiar as possible with their first language. Doing this will help you anticipate particular problems they may have learning English and so help you prepare lessons which will take this into account.