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  1. Wealth
March 14, 2013

Tips for Prince Charles for Learning Arabic

By Spear's

As someone who has been learning Arabic for fifteen months now, I have some (not wholly helpful) tips for HRH

News arrives that Prince Charles, on a tour of the Middle East right now, has been learning Arabic for six months. It hasn’t been going well.

According to the Daily Mail, he told guests at a reception in Qatar that the language ‘goes in one ear and out the other’. Apparently he has been learning so he can read the Koran in the original, an admirable aim.

As someone who has been learning Arabic for fifteen months now, I have some (not wholly helpful) tips for HRH.

1) Be younger: the older you are, the harder it is to do the sort of rote learning of grammar and vocabulary you need.

This is true for any language, but especially for a non-Indo-European one: at least when learning Spanish or even Romanian, words share roots with English; very few Arabic words have entered English (usefully, ‘alcohol’ is one of them).

The complex aspect of Arabic grammar known as the Forms (basically fiddly things to do with vowels to make verbs mean different things) is highly economical, but commensurately difficult to remember.

2) Get your tongue around it: there are lots of very difficult sounds in Arabic, some of which I still struggle to say and even to hear when someone else says.

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Take ayn, a sound which doesn’t exist in English. Produced from the back of the throat, it feels a bit like strangulation, but you’ll never be able to pronounce half of Arabic properly if you can’t say it.

Another stinker is qoph, which is the one most people would think of as typifying Arabic – the harsh k from the back of the throat.

(In fairness, lots of Arabs find it hard too: Egyptians tend not to pronounce it.)

3) Learn what you can do with the roots:
most words in Arabic have a three letter root (eg d – r – s is the root of most things to do with learning). By adding letters and vowels at certain points, you can change the meaning.

Darasa means ‘he learnt’ while tadrusu means ‘he learns’ and tudaris ‘he teaches’.

Words that start with an m and have particular vowels may be a profession (moudaris – teacher). Words with an m and a different set of vowels may be the place where that activity takes part (madrasa – school).

Adding a y to the end of nouns turns them into an adjective (moudarisy – to do with school).

If you can grasp lots of these different types of variation, you can start building a big vocabulary efficiently.

And then there are the normal tips for those learning languages:

4) Practise: if the Duchess of Cornwall had been taking classes with him, they could have conversations outside of class to reinforce their grammar and vocab. Alternatively, HRH should make sure he has someone fluent in Arabic on his staff. If he has a sweet tooth, he could do worse than try and order baklava on the Edgware Road.

5) Watch Al-Jazeera (the original, not English) and read the headlines on BBC Arabic. Absorb as much from the media as you can.

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