Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Crossing the Rubicon

It looks as if everything has pretty much fallen into place for my February departure to study in Yemen for what I am expecting to be about twelve months in length.

This week I begin the process of getting from Seattle, Washington to Sana’a, Yemen. I decided to attend the Center for Arabic and Eastern Studies (CALES - http://www.y.net.ye/cales/).

To be honest, my first choice was the Yemen Language Center (YLC - http://www.ylcint.com/) but since I couldn’t get any email response from YLC, I decided to attend CALES, which responded to every email I sent.

My immediate preparations for departure are as follows:

Wire a $200 deposit to CALES (To “arrange for your accommodations, for the first month”)

Meet with a travel agent regarding a flight itinerary

Send my visa paperwork off to the Embassy of the Republic of Yemen in Washington, D.C. (http://www.yemenembassy.org/)

Hopefully I’ll get this portion done by the end of the week.

Note: Although on their website CALES indicates that they can assist in obtaining a visa, I was told that it was faster and cheaper to do this on my own (shrug). CALES recommended I apply for a tourist visa and after I arrive in Yemen they will assist me in getting a student visa. You can obtain the visa application form along with all the information you need on the embassy’s website that I’ve linked above.

Now, I don’t know about anybody else, but I have found the lack of authoritative information on studying in the ME to be very frustrating. So, if anybody is interested, I shall be blogging my progress from start to finish. Of course, this will be for study in Yemen, particularly at CALES (although I’ll try and find out information on other academies in Sana’a). For information on studying abroad in Syria, I recommend you go to Jeremy Palmer’s blog at: http://arabicacquisition.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Arabic Alphabet Song

I realize that many if not all of you that come to this site may be well into your study of Arabic, but this is so cute I couldn't help myself, so here it is - the link to the Arabic alphabet song:


Friday, December 16, 2005

Online Arabic Listening Materials

I’ve posted a new website on my link section - Aswaat Arabiyya (http://langqtss.library.emory.edu/arabic_listening/index.html).

I was quite happy to happen upon this site and I think you’ll find it of use too. Here’s a quick blurb about the site taken from their homepage:

“Aswaat Arabiyya provides listening materials and accompanying activities that are intended for the various levels of proficiency from Novice to Superior. These listening materials have been selected from television stations throughout the Arab world and they treat a wide variety of topics and listening genres.”

It appears to be sponsored/created by the Emory College Language Center and is free of charge. It works pretty much as advertised although not everything works perfectly. I don’t know how often or even if the content updates, but perhaps we would stand a better chance of it updating if we emailed them our appreciation for the effort that was put into creating the site.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Typing in Arabic Script Using MS Office and Windows XP

For anybody that ever thought it would be neat/fun/useful to be able to type in Arabic script - the following link will explain how to do so:


I was able to follow the directions without any problems and it works very well. I also saved a copy of the instructions in MS Word format in case the link ever goes away. Please feel free to email me if you would like me to send you a copy.

A Review of Arabic Study Materials, Part 3

Welcome to the third installment of my review of Arabic study materials. Today’s review is another language vocabulary program – Vocab Clinic’s - Modern Standard Arabic (www.vocabclinic.com), $59.00, available by download or CD-Rom.

Although this is not a flashcard based program like Transparent Language’s - Before You Know It Deluxe, it is a vocabulary program. Vocab Clinic has helpfully grouped the words according to category. The categories differ enough from BYKI to enough of a degree that one will find it useful to purchase both programs. Like BYKI, Vocab Clinic allows you to download a demo version of its program. It’s a very limited version of it, but sufficient for ascertaining whether you feel it is a program for you.

Vocab Clinic’s - Modern Standard Arabic includes the spelling in Arabic and transliteration. They also give the past/present form and the singular/plural form. The feminine spelling is included where applicable. All given spellings include the pronunciation by a native speaker of Arabic.

The program also comes with the ability to print select words from within a category or the entire list of words in a category in English to Arabic script or English to Transliterated Arabic. At first glance I thought it was kind of pointless, but after exploring that function I warmed up to it.

I actually like to utilize this program in a very low-tech way – I review the words in the program to hear them spoken and then I copy the words over to blank flashcards. I do this because I can review the flashcards practically anywhere I happen to be when I find myself with a little free time. The words are spelled in the program with the necessary short vowels and I can copy of any notes I feel necessary from the language use section.

What I like about Vocab Clinic’s - Modern Standard Arabic is that it includes language notes on the use of the words and it has an extensive selection of words in each category.

What I don’t like about Vocab Clinic’s - Modern Standard Arabic is that there seems to be a two-installation limit on the software. I haven’t actually tested this yet as I am going to be purchasing a new laptop shortly and want to use the second installation on it, but it did seem to be rather clear that there was a limit in place.

Some may find it of interest that Vocab Clinic also offers what appears to be the same program but for Egyptian Colloquial Arabic, and supposedly, a Modern Standard Arabic Verb Clinic is in the works.

Although I am concerned about the possible (probable?) installation limit, I would have to say that Vocab Clinic’s - Modern Standard Arabic is definitely worth the money. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Review of Arabic Study Materials, Part 2

It was with much excitement that I made my (online) purchase of Vis-Ed’s Arabic Vocabulary Cards ($13.95).

I'm a big fan of using flashcards to build one’s vocabulary. With a strong vocabulary and the ability to conjugate the verbs of your target language, one is well on the path to fluency. Flashcards give one the chance to do both at the same time, while being portable enough to take with you anywhere. They give one a visual component of seeing the word and the aural component of hearing the word (if you say it to yourself and you should if you’re trying to learn it). It is this type of active learning that makes flashcards so effective. But there are flashcards and then there are flashcards…

Unfortunately per Vis-Ed, “It should be noted that as in most printed Arabic materials, the short vowels are omitted.” What in the world was Vis-Ed thinking when they made the decision not to include the small vowels? With that single decision, Vis-Ed ruined what should have been a very important weapon in a student's study arsenal.

Without the short vowels, pronunciation of the words is, for all intents and purposes, impossible. There is nothing on the outside of the box or on the online description that warns the potential buyer of this oversight. I suppose that one could always look the words up in an English – Arabic dictionary and write in the short vowels but that is rather pathetic. One would be better served to buy blank flashcards from the local bookstore and create their own flashcards (which is also a good idea).

In summation, flashcards = good. Vis’Ed’s flashcard implementation = bad.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Review of Arabic Study Materials, Part 1

Anybody that has decided to study Arabic might well wonder why finding good Arabic study materials takes an almost Herculean effort nearly four years after the language was thrust into the forefront of the American consciousness.

When I first decided to study Arabic after a 12 year hiatus, I assumed that finding good study materials would be as easy as walking into the nearest Barnes & Noble and heading for the foreign language section - but no. I was still upbeat as I knew that my city library would be bursting with Arabic learning materials. Nothing could be further from the truth here in Seattle, Washington and I imagine it must be even more difficult in a small city.

Online retailers provide a number of choices but there really is no way to tell what you’re getting until the purchase has been made. I wanted to begin posting reviews of different resources I’ve come across to help potential learners of the Arabic language begin their journey as smoothly as possible!

Because I have a strong foundation from my study of Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, my reviews won’t focus on the absolute beginner. I do, however, recommend the Alif Baa with DVDs primer. This is one book written specifically for those beginning to learn Arabic and will give you a firm grasp of the basics that are needed to begin your study of the language.

First up for review is Transparent Language’s, Before You Know It Deluxe (BYKI), $59.95, available by download or CD-Rom. This is one of my favorite programs for building vocabulary. The program comes with 75 word lists that are organized by theme (office, body parts, adjectives, verbs, etc.). The words on the list are presented, in Arabic, on virtual flashcards that you flip to reveal the translation. This can be done in the following different learning modes:

  • Review It – Review your cards without being scored.
  • Recognize It – See the information from one side of your card (Arabic) and think or say the information from side two (English).
  • Know It – See the information from one side of your card (Arabic) and then type the information from side two (English).
  • Produce It – See the information from side two of your cards (English) and think or say the information from side one (Arabic)
  • Own It – See the information from side two of your card (English) and type the information from side one (Arabic)

Each word is spoken, in Arabic, as it is presented and can be made to replay the pronunciation by clicking on the appropriate button. The program keeps track of your successes and failures during each learning mode and when you have successfully completed the list you are given the option to continue practicing or to review a new list. If you need to stop in the middle of studying the list in question, BYKI will remember your responses for that list and you can pick up where you left off at a later time.

In addition to the above mentioned “Flashcard” mode, BYKI comes with an “Activities” tab that offers Multiple Choice in either of the above mentioned Recognize it and Know It modes. The Activities tab also offers a Pronunciation mode to let you compare your pronunciation to a native speaker’s and a Dictation selection to spell the Arabic word that you hear (Done by use of a virtual Arabic keyboard).

BYKI also has an “Alphabet Exploder” tab that will let you choose an individual Arabic letter and pronounce it for you and also show you how it is written in the Isolated, Initial, Medial, and Final position.

Perhaps one of the more interesting features is the ability to create your own lists or add words to the existing lists (utilizing the virtual Arabic keyboard or in transliterated form) and associating that word with a sound recording of the pronunciation and/or image. You can also share the lists you create with your friends.

There is no limit that I’ve found to the number of times the program can be installed. BYKI also allows multiple user profiles. Transparent Language will let you download, for free, a “lite” version of the program that contains only about seven of the lists, but otherwise offers full functionality, giving you a chance to decide if this is the program for you before you actually buy it.

I personally cannot fault BYKI Deluxe on any level. I would have preferred if some of the words came with some context as to their use but to be fair, this is more nitpicking on my part and not really criticism of the product.