How Long Does It Take To Learn Arabic – When you first start learning Arabic, there is a question you probably ask yourself: “How long does it take to learn Arabic?”
I will try to give an answer here. But with a post like this, I have to get something first. There is really only one honest answer to this question: it depends.
How Long Does It Take To Learn Arabic
These situations are very different and will dictate how long it takes to learn Arabic. Keep this in mind as you read this post.
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In this post, I will focus on Egyptian Arabic since it is the most spoken and popular dialect to learn. But don’t worry – the main points we cover here are relevant regardless of the Arabic dialect you’re learning.
Let’s start with a general estimate of how long it will take you to learn standard Arabic. While this is essentially a different language from Egyptian Arabic (which we’ll get to), it’s a great foundation to have.
According to the Foreign Service Institute (where American diplomats go to take language courses), your native English speaker needs about 2,200 hours to reach an advanced level of Arabic. 2,200 hours!
FSI says it’s something like 1.5 years of full-time language courses, or somewhere around seven years if you can only do it part-time. It is a very long time.
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Besides, we don’t even talk about “native level”, we talk about “advanced”. To reach native fluency takes even more. Fortunately, Egyptian Arabic students often find it easier to learn than standard.
This does not mean “easy”, of course. Only less difficult. Let’s look at other factors that could affect the overall learning time for Egyptian Arabic in particular
This question can be divided between your mother tongue and other languages that you have learned as a non-native. This is one of the most important factors to think about.
The first thing to consider is your native language. Because Arabic is a Semitic language, it has many similarities with languages such as Hebrew and Aramaic. Native speakers of Farsi and Kurdish would also have an easier time getting started since these languages share the same alphabet.
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However, there is no such luck if you are a native English speaker. The same with any of the Romance languages. If you are a native speaker of one of these languages, you will have difficulty with Egyptian Arabic. That’s because Egyptian Arabic will probably be full of many “firsts” for you as a student.
The pronunciation, some grammatical components and reading from right to left are all a bit difficult to get used to. That being said, the languages you learn as a non-native can definitely come in handy.
If you first learned Farsi, for example, it would be very useful. And of course a standard Arabic background (fus7a) would also help a bit. You do not need to be a native speaker of other languages to facilitate the transition to Arabic.
However, when starting out with Egyptian Arabic, some experience in learning Standard Arabic helps less than you might expect. The dialect is too different. In general, however, your language will have a big impact on how quickly you can learn Egyptian Arabic. No surprises here.
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Arabic in general is not easy. If you’re interested in learning, this is probably something you already know. Let’s talk about some factors that make Egyptian Arabic particularly difficult.
As already mentioned, these include (but are not limited to) pronunciation, grammar and reading. First, Arabic pronunciation is notoriously difficult.
Depending on the languages you already speak, there are sounds in Arabic that you probably have never made in your entire life. A few of these include ayn ع , ‘ayn غ and 7aw ح. Learning how to pronounce these letters (and pronounce them correctly in more complicated words) takes some time.
Arabic grammar can also be a bit difficult. For example, Arabic plural nouns are often written very differently from singular nouns, and the negation of verbs with مش is sometimes a guessing game.
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And what about reading Arabic? Since Arabic is from right to left, even just the act of reading the words will be different. And if it’s your first language that’s right-to-left, that can be intimidating.
These are all the characteristics of Egyptian Arabic that make it more difficult than, say, Spanish. That said, they are also features of the language that can be learned. And if you learn it well, it shouldn’t take long. Especially reading!
What is your goal? This is a huge question, and if you are thinking of learning Egyptian Arabic, it helps to spend some time with it. Because chances are your goal is something like “learn Egyptian Arabic”. But this is not specific enough. In fact, it is so vague as to be practically useless.
You’ve probably heard it before, but setting a “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) goal is helpful here. Don’t just say you want to “learn Egyptian Arabic”, be SMART. An example could be: I want to have a 15-minute iTalki conversation in Egyptian Arabic in the next six months.
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Obviously, the goal you set in this initial phase will have big implications for how long it takes to “learn” Egyptian Arabic.
A 15-minute conversation on a relatively easy topic could certainly happen in six months if you had the time to study. Read a book of Egyptian poetry with 100% comprehension? It will probably take (at least) a few years.
Your motivation is the most important factor when learning a new language. Because nothing else you do really matters if you’re not motivated. This goes back to my previous question: why do you want to learn Egyptian Arabic?
Trust me. At some point, with a language like Egyptian Arabic (which I’ve seen is usually more difficult for native English and Romanian speakers), you’re going to get frustrated.
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And if you’re not willing to push past that frustration and keep your eyes on your main (and hopefully SMART) goal? You are going to leave. This is why consistent motivation is key.
Of course, this motivation can look different for everyone, and some people naturally could (and want to) spend several hours a day learning Egyptian Arabic. Some people, meanwhile, are perfectly happy with 15 minutes a few times a week. And that’s okay!
Note that this, like anything else, will limit how quickly you can reach your Egyptian Arabic goal. Because, let’s face it: the time you can devote to learning Egyptian Arabic is a great indicator of how quickly you will learn it.
Being honest with yourself about how motivated you are to learn Egyptian Arabic can avoid this difficult frustration. And let’s not forget – everyone has a life outside of language learning!
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To go back to my answer from the beginning, it depends. No surprises here. If you learned anything from this post, it should be this.
To recap, here are the main influencing factors: your mother tongue, languages you have studied in the past, unique Arabic difficulty factors, your SMART goal and your individual motivation.
The answer to how long Egyptian Arabic takes to learn, like most languages, will be different for everyone. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have a rough idea. Let’s say you want to learn Egyptian Arabic so that you can comfortably converse with native speakers on everyday topics.
And let’s say you are a native English speaker and have never studied Arabic or similar languages. Let’s also assume that you can spare about an hour a day. Based on this, I estimated that learning Egyptian Arabic would take about three years.
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This time frame will obviously be different for everyone. You can definitely learn faster if you want! That said, I think three years is a tough goal, but it’s reasonable to aim for.
Learning Egyptian Arabic can be difficult and requires constant effort and good study habits, but it is definitely within your reach.
And no matter what your reason for learning Egyptian Arabic is, it will be worth the effort!
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