On Learning Languages

I have a lot of trouble seeing things through with the exception of about 3 things: my work, reading, and learning languages. So while my interests may come and go, ever since I was around 11 years old when I first started learning French in middle school, acquiring languages has been a relatively long-standing interest of mine. As such, I have collected a lot of methods for keeping that interest alive (even through the grammar bits!) that I would like to share with you today.

     1. Listen to music and memorize the lyrics to some of your favorite songs in the language you are learning.

I’ve found that this helps me learn and mimic the pronunciation and cadence of a language without sounding like a machine as most of those language learning programs do. Plus, you will be able to memorize the vocabulary much easily when its in a song.

2. Listen to language learning podcasts, watch youtube videos and movies with subtitles in the language.

I work and have many obligations outside of work that don’t provide me with much free time to sit and memorize vocabulary and grammar from a book (not that I’d want to even if I did) so I make language learning as enjoyable and interesting as possible. Granted, at the beginning stages of learning a language, you will need a book to learn from, however if you’re past that stage and have a grasp of the grammar and some vocabulary under your belt, start listening to the language in contexts that interest you. This makes the whole process much easier and fun, plus it’s cool see how much of the youtube comments you can understand!

3. Purchase and read from a dual language book.

These are great for visual learners. They are complete books or short stories with the foreign language on one side of the page and the English translation on the other side of the page. You are basically reading the book in the foreign language but have the English translation to help you out if you get stuck. This makes it easier to enjoy engaging in the language without having to search for the definitions!

4. Start to journal in the language.

I keep a (almost) daily journal and I alternate between different languages throughout the days of the week. This is great because you can start to acquire the vocabulary that allows you to express yourself in the language without feeling embarrassed if you make a mistake. You can start very basic (Today, I was happy.) and eventually through continued learning you’ll find yourself being able to write a pretty respectable journal entry.

5. Stay exposed to the language everyday — even if its for a few minutes.

Trying to keep all that goes into acquiring a new language in your head can be a tricky endeavor, especially when you don’t have anyone to speak with or are residing in your native country. It is crucial for me to spend some time everyday interacting with the language I am either learning or retaining.

So there are my 5 tips for learning and retaining languages. If any of you are learning a language or keeping up with one, please do let me know what works for you. I’m always interested to find new ways to interact with foreign languages!





Book Review: Mastering Arabic 1, Second Edition

I have been studying Arabic from the book, “Mastering Arabic 1”, by Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar, and this morning I just completed the final lesson. I thought a review could be useful to someone planning on learning Arabic from this book so here are my thoughts. I have organized my opinions into pros and cons for ease of reading.


  • Relatively simple to follow for those planning on self-studying: The pace of learning from lesson to lesson is appropriate and while there are certain areas that I wish the book had spent more time on (more exposure to the different verb types and more grammar lessons) these are my personal areas of improvement, and they don’t correlate to any lapse in explanation or content within the book.
  • CDs and pictures: There are 2 CDs the come with the book which are extremely useful as you are learning to pronounce the language. They also help to develop your ability to understand the spoken language instead of just reading and writing, which was one of my goals. The pictures break up the text from becoming one grammar lesson after another and provide visual stimulation to those who learn well from visual aids.
  • Varied and interesting lessons: Many of the lessons in this book are actually fun to complete. They cleverly mix memorization and grammar with recordings, comic strips, diary entries, etc. There was a lot of thought put into these lessons and it shows,
  • Provides a solid foundation of beginning to early intermediate level of Arabic: The lessons are fast-paced but easy to follow. You may have to spend longer on one lesson than another to fully memorize and easily apply the information within, but after only 20 lessons you will be able to speak/read/write in present, future and past tense, count, tell time, possessives, negatives, and create plurals.


  • Spelling and grammatical errors: There were a few typos that I was able to find in the exercises as well as in the answers to exercises. This was confusing and frustrating at times because I incorrectly thought I had misunderstood something when in fact, after verifying with a native Arabic speaker, the book was incorrect. If you have someone who can verify these errors for you it may just be a minor inconvenience, but if you do not have access to such a resource, this could be very confusing,
  • “Dictionary Work”: This is a certain type of exercise that is featured in several lessons that involves the use of a dictionary. The aim of this exercise is to help the student learn to use an Arabic dictionary and also learn the plural, conjugation of verbs, meaning of words, etc. by filling in a chart. Firstly, I do not own an Arabic dictionary and I don’t intend to purchase one because of the number of free dictionaries online that look up the word for me, Also, filling in a chart is a very dull and unexciting method of learning the very dull and unexciting subject that is grammar. There are a number of great lessons in this book that can easily replace all of these “dictionary work” ones, and I hope the authors do in future editions.

Overall, I would recommend this book if you are a first-time Arabic learner. It is appropriate for self-study, but having an native Arabic speaker would be useful for clarification for some typos. The lessons are well-thought out and varied and the CDs and visual aids help keep things interesting. While, the book is fast-paced and covers a lot of different subjects in a short space of time (I finished this book in 3 months), just make sure to keep up with the lessons at your own pace as some areas will need to more self-study beyond the lessons in the book. No one language book can fit the needs of every individual, so additional study beyond the book is and will be necessary for me to feel 100% comfortable with all of the material that was covered in the book. I will be continuing my studies in Arabic and I am searching for another book to increase my vocabulary, comprehension and writing skills. If any of you have suggestions for my next step, please let me know!