A rough guide to Arabic for ESL teachers

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Arabic is a Semitic language that is spoken by over 220 million speakers.

Although there are many dialects, only Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is universally used throughout the Arab world. Novice ESL teachers who hope to teach in the Arab world should familiarize themselves with a few aspects of the Arabic language (MSA) if they hope to teach Arabic speakers more effectively. Here are a few points worth remembering.

1. Arabic is significantly different from Latin based languages: its script is cursive; no distinction is made between upper and lower case letters; reading and writing proceed in horizontal lines from right to left, but numbers are written and read from left to right, and the back of an Arabic book would be considered to be the front by non-Arabic speakers, i.e. reading matter is read back to front.

2. Being a consonantic language, the vowels may be omitted in writing.

3. Arabic, like Hebrew, employs the abjad system of writing: in this system of writing, each written symbol represents a consonant – the reader is expected to supply the necessary vowels.

4. As with Russian, Arabic does not admit of either the verb ‘to be’ (in the present tense) nor the auxiliary verb ‘do’. This may result in errors such as ‘She very beautiful’, ‘Where you go?’

5. Arabic does not admit of modal verbs, and this may result in errors such as ‘Do I must go now?’ ‘He doesn’t can do it’.

6. Arabic ESL learners (AESLLs) experience difficulty in the use of the present simple vis-à-vis the present continuous.

7. AESLLs also experience difficulty in the use of the perfect tenses, and this may result in errors such as ‘He started his lunch’, ‘She lives here for five months’ when what should have been written is ‘He has/had started his lunch’ and ‘She has/had live here for five months’, respectively.

8. Arabic does not admit of a definite article, and this may result in errors such as ‘I have car’, and ‘He kick ball’.

9. AESLLs experience problems with the genitive case, and this may result in errors such as ‘Dog the boy’ instead of ‘The boy’s dog’.

10.  The noun precedes the adjective.

11. Arabic retains the pronoun in the relative clause, and this may result in errors such as ‘Where are the books which he gave them to you yesterday?’  ‘Anne, who she is a good worker, works in Paris’.

12. English phonology is a very serious problem for AESLLs: they have difficulty in pronouncing consonants, the ‘th’ phoneme, certain consonant clusters, stress patterns, and elision.

13. AESLLs’ pronunciation is characterized by an aversion to elision and the use of glottal stops prior to initial vowels.

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