One-Week Arabic Challenge

Arabic text. I have no idea what this says.
Arabic text. I have no idea what this says.

I’ve decided to learn Arabic in a week. The entire language. Plus the alphabet. Not really.

But it’s no secret that I’m a language nut. I want to be able to speak 17 languages.

Why Arabic?

Most Saturdays my wife and I make the drive from Bentonville to Fayetteville to buy fresh produce at the farmer’s market. That’s in Arkansas, for any non-local readers. We love the Fayetteville market. Fresh local veggies sold by the farmers themselves, live music from local musicians. Good people. It’s just a great vibe overall.

One of Fayetteville’s maybe not-so-well-kept secrets is the Petra Café. The proprietor is from Jordan, an Arab country, and just a couple days ago we had some fun discussing Jordan and the Arabic language.

The Challenge

I decided to challenge myself to learn as much as I could in one week and to come back next week and see how much we would be able to communicate, just in Arabic. I know almost nothing of Arabic, or any semitic language, so it’s all pretty new to me.

I’m posting this publicly so that I’ll have to go through with it. Next week I’ll be posting a video or audio file of my attempt to speak Arabic with a native speaker this coming Saturday. Sink or swim, succeed or fail, something will be posted. I’m not going to tell my Jordanian friend about the project, until after it’s done. My wife has agreed to secretly record our conversation.

It’s pretty exciting to think that I will be able to communicate in Arabic. My first conversation in any language is always exciting. Not long, but fun anyway. They’re usually no longer than a few polite exchanges.

It might seem difficult, learning to even communicate in a language that I don’t know at all within a week. But I have a secret weapon for quickly getting up to speed on most any major language… .

My Secret Weapon

Anytime someone asks me about language resources, I always point them to the Pimsleur Method audio courses, because they’re so good. It’s actually the best thing to use if you want to start speaking immediately and be understood in your target language. I’ve used it with success when learning both French and Dutch.

This week I will be investing around 30 minutes per day listening to the Pimsleur Eastern Arabic course. That’s mostly all I’ll be doing, maybe going over each lesson twice a day if I feel that I need the practice. I’ve picked up a couple books on how to write the Arabic alphabet, so I may go over those a little.

The Result?

To Be Continued…

The results are in! Check out the results of my Arabic challenge if you’re interested.

Photo by “Dr. Case”

Spanish learning resources

I wrote this a couple of years back. Some of the information (esp. chronological) no longer applies. -2012Jan02

El idioma español seems to be gaining quite a bit of popularity (at least within my social circle) nowadays. These are the resources I have used to learn Spanish:

Coffee Break Spanish – An intended-to-be-weekly free podcast from Scotland. Instructor Mark is an experienced Spanish teacher, and Kara is a student that learns along with the listeners.

Spanish Verb Conjugator at – Type in a Spanish infinitive and this spits out a handy conjugation table, which includes subjunctive mood. The site actually has more than just the conjugator.

Yahoo Babel Fish Translation – Useful tool for translating a word/phrase. I don’t recommend this for whole sentences/paragraphs.

Spanish for Gringos Level 2 by William C. Harvey M.S. – This is the best Spanish learning book I have picked up, hands down. The book is chock full of adjectives/nouns. Also includes quite a few infinitives and more advanced conjugations, as well as a bit on the subjunctive mood.
ISBN: 978-0812097436 Spanish for Gringos Level 2 by William C. Harvey M.S.

Rosetta Stone Version 3 – Latin American Spanish
This is actually the least used yet most expensive resource I’ve listed. Just never used this that much, I felt it was a bit slow. But would probably be great for people with a bit of either patience or time.

Univisión, Galavisión
These are the 2 Spanish-language TV channels I get. I mainly watch “Al Diablo con los Guapos”, “Fuego en la Sangre” (both telenovelas – like Spanish soap operas) y las noticias (the news).

Mägo de Oz – A Celtic folk-rock band from Madrid. Going to the band’s website ( and looking up song lyrics has helped expand my vocabulary.

people – My friends from Latin America have helped me to learn a lot over the months. This is probably the best resource I’ve had, truth be told.

Language Skills

Chicks dig dudes with mad skills

Chicks dig dudes with mad skills. Today I’ll cover one of the most important types of skills to have this day & age: language skills. Language skills are some of the most valuable skills in existence, and their value ranks just a little bit below ninja skills and right around technical skills.

The ability to speak another language or several is one of the most beneficial and rewarding talents available to us today. Especially today, in this increasingly connected world. It’s much easier to travel than ever before, and also much easier to learn a new language. Of course, the best way to learn a new language is to travel to a place which speaks that language, hands down. If someone really wants to learn a language, I believe he/she can do so, and learn that language fluently, in a matter of months. Not years, months.

Note: If you equate “fluent” ability with “native” ability, you need to go back and check your etymology. “Fluent” comes from the word “fluid”, as in “to flow”. To be able to speak without having to stop for breaks to think of words and phrases, where the conversation just flows, this is what I mean by speaking “fluently”.

Anyone who really wants to learn a language can do it, and it’s not that hard these days. Here’s my simple 2-step method for learning a new language.

  1. Do some pre-country prep work.
  2. Go to your country of choice and start speaking.

That’s it.

I’ll break it down:

Pre-Country Prep Work

a) studying the country you want to visit
-> This is easy. Skim the Wikipedia article for that country. Also check out the WikiVoyage article for the same. This will give you a better feel for the country & people.

b) Studying the language. Learning the absolute basic phrases that you need to get around.
-> Here’s where the work comes in. Get some help. There are tons of free resources out there., Coffee Break French and Coffee Break Spanish are all free. Pimsleur is probably the best for short-term and to learn the accent, but it’s expensive. Rosetta Stone will teach you both audio and also how to read/write/spell (very important). If you don’t have the cash for those, you might be able to get them from our friends in Sweden*. Also, Benny has some great tips at Fluent in 3 Months. Jennifer has a great site with a lot of info on several languages, which really helped me a lot when I was learning Spanish. How to Learn Any Language is another good one, both inspirational and has resources. Point is, there’s a lot out there, and it’s not hard to find if you really want it.

In-Country Actual Work

This is where the magic happens. Go to the country. Start speaking. You will be embarrassed to start speaking at first, that’s normal. Just get over it. Just start speaking {in that language}. You will learn so much in your first 2-3 weeks of speaking that language, and by the end of a couple of weeks, people will start to tell you that your {French, Spanish, whatever} has improved so much since you first came. This will give you a huge boost of inspiration you to keep speaking and learning more & more.

You’re halfway to fluency already! No joke, it really is that simple. Note that I didn’t say easy, just simple. Most people make it way more complicated, and make a lot of excuses as to why they just can’t learn a language. I don’t even like the word “can’t“. (Also, I find that people who make frequent use of that word tend to lead boring and unexceptional lives. Stay away from those people.)

Practice your language every opportunity you get. Hostel reception staff, bartenders, store clerks, waiters, people at the bus stop, baristas at the café, etc. I’m serious, try to think of ways to ask questions to people and such. You won’t always understand their responses, but that’s ok. You can sort of figure it out just with body language and gestures.

Within 3 – 4 weeks in-country, if you have been diligent about this, you will be doing all these things in your target language. You will be able to get around with ease. Maybe you will need to ask for directions somewhere, but that’s ok. You are confident that you now have the skills to ask for directions and many more things because you’ve been doing it for the last few weeks. You will be able to go to any country that speaks your target language and get around. This is a huge confidence booster.

You Will Be Fluent

I am 100% serious, the only thing stopping you from becoming fluent in a langauge once you’re in-country is your own fear of looking stupid. Don’t expect the world to speak English, and in fact, avoid English when you can and you will be fluent in your new language within a few months. I promise. Or your money back (unless you actually paid me money, in which case you won’t be getting any of that back).

You know, I might be able to package this info into an e-book and sell it for $37! Not really. But Benny has one you can buy, and it’s pretty good from what I hear.

* I am just suggesting options for language learning. I don’t advocate piracy in any way, shape or form. Except this one.