Learning Arabic seems to be a challenge for reverts. The goal for most new students is speaking. We are excited in the beginning but soon we lose interest. We find learning Arabic difficult, and follow the path of the masses by settling on memorizing a few surrahs from the Quran without knowing the meaning of what we say. The mistake both teachers and learners make early is not acknowledging Arabic sciences.
Arabic is unique with a system that give great meaning to words. Meanings in words and phrases are only learned with certain sciences. Many of us have been discouraged from studying the sciences of Arabic which explain words, phrases and sentences. Repeatedly Arabic teachers and Arabic school curriculum encouraged us to learn words, many many many words, then we struggle to put them into sentences. This process is learning Arabic like English, we are way off the path set buy the early scholars to learn Arabic by learning a little Arabic science first.
Let me build my case a little more. What I’m trying to say is we have been learning Arabic like English, that’s a major problem for the one who wants to read and recite the Quran with understanding, it’s not the best approach for learning to speak Arabic too. Here’s the problem. You remember those English spelling test? The teacher focused on our vocabulary, words with their one meaning, and spelling. Next, after we had many words memorized we built sentences using grammar. I said earlier that’s how Arabic is taught now a days. Many words are memorized then we try to make sentences with abstract pieces of grammar not fully understanding what we said in detail. Learning Arabic like this doesn’t work for most of us in the West. I have been in several foreign countries for extended periods of time and used the local language quickly – being in the environment is a daily lesson. You don’t hear Classical Arabic in Los Angeles. You see being in the environment of the language is a daily learning experience, you pick up what words go together from locals, the immersion experience is priceless one we don’t get in the West.
A superior language has a superior method to learn it, what happen to it? First, the goal is to talk. Remember in this case it’s about vocabulary first then building sentences. The Arabic sciences are abandoned when we learn Arabic the English way. Second, Muslim lands have adopted other languages (foreign and local Arabic) which took hearts and mind away from learning meanings and the sciences which teach them. It’s not uncommon to be in an Arabic speaking country speaking fusha to a native then the listener laughs or they can’t understand what you say. Arabic for the media and more recent forms are more commonly used. Imagine using old English from Shakespeare, I would laugh, but classic Arabic serves a greater purpose than old English. Third, the West sometimes use the word unusual to discredit or describe the system Arabic use to convey great meaning. Their books attempt to explain the great meaning system but it’s remarkably confusing if you know the system the Arab grammarians designed and the principles. They don’t have the Arab principles, they continue to westernize the whole method of learning and teaching the great meaning system. The fourth reason is the Arabic student in Arabic speaking countries seeking knowledge. He wants to learn in Arabic so he takes the western approach to get his vocabulary, grammar, listening and speaking skills. The response to the question “I want to learn the deen with shaykh such and such how can I get started” is do you know Arabic? Go to Egypt to learn Arabic first then sit with the shaykh. I’m not going to argue against this fourth reason. But I will mention when these students return to the west we follow their path. On their advise we learn many words no science and use the books that follow this trend. They promote Learning Arabic like English and we the student struggle to learn.
So without further delay to understand the great meaning system you need to learn about vowels, non base letter connotations, and base endings these need greatest attention at the start of your learning. That’s the great meaning system at the word level – vowels, extra letters and ending attached to a base word. Yay, you now have have science called sarf (vowels, extra letters and ending) alhamdulillah! Look at those words in parentheses collectively they can give you many meanings in addition to the base word. For example استنصروا the base word is نصر (help) it only has one meaning. The ست give connotation, the وا give information about the subject, three pieces of info. I didn’t type vowels but the vowel pattern would give more info, and there’s even more I could mention.
Sarf is the study of words mostly verbs and a small percent of nouns. It teaches you how to build meanings with patterns (vowels and extra letters) and endings. Add a وا to help (نصر) you get – they, men, past tense – they helped نصروا ;they, women, helped in the past tense but with the vowel pattern:نَصَرْنَ.
There are thirteen ways I can build the verb نصر in the past by changing the end of the verb. Each ending has a different meaning. Arabic has singular, dual, plural, gender male and female and first, second, third person. The thirteenth endings are best learned with a table. All this information is about the subject of the verb which always follows the verb. One benefit of knowing the endings is eliminating them to find the base word. There’s also letters you need to know ي ان ت at the front of verbs. Same process remove them to know the three letter verb then look it up in an Arabic dictionary like Hans Wehr. So sarf help you know how to use an Arabic dictionary.
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