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English Copywriter in Paris: The highs and lows of language learning

After years of mastering French and Spanish, both at school and in the big wide world, it’s now time for me to get back to the books.

I thought I was finished with learning complicated grammar rules, difficult-to-pronounce sounds and culturally charged expressions.

But, being with a Franco-Tunisian born and brought up in Tunis, it was impossible to refuse of challenge of taking on the Arabic alphabet.

image of Tunisian desert

It’s been tough so far. For someone with a visual memory, the unfamiliar dots and dashes are hard to distinguish and, more importantly, lock away for later.  And, it’s certainly completely changed by approach to learning languages, following a few failed attempts with different classes and methods.

Here are a couple of tips to any would-be linguistics

1.)  Listen to your new language without trying to understand it – just try to recognise and register the unfamiliar sounds and the overall intonation. Is monotonous or does it sound like singing? It tough not to try and find meaning amid all the swirling sounds, but that’s for later on!

2.)  Stock up on some very limited vocabulary – learn how to say hello, goodbye, mum, dad, girl, boy etc. Don’t go overboard, as you’ll have plenty of time to enrich your vocab, 10 or 20 keys words should do. You can often find the correct pronunciation on Youtube or other language websites.  Remember, it’s a major ego boost knowing how to pronounce just a couple of phrase in your new lingo.

3.)  Start learning the basic rules to create a framework – make sure you learn a few basic rules e.g. is there a masculine and feminine? Do sentence follow the subject+ verb+ object formula? Knowing roughly how the language works is a great foundation for all your later learning. If you need to take on a new alphabet, now is the time to start!

Illustrated Arabic alphabet - learning Arabic

4.)  Consolidate everything you have learnt so far – this involves practising and ploughing on with grammar and your vocab list. This stage is long and painful, so it’s probably a good idea not to go it alone. I would recommend classes, at least at the beginning or if the language is very different from your own. This way you’re sure to learn the right pronunciations and you’ll also have more chances to practise speaking. Too expensive? Too far away? There are plenty of online language courses to test out too.

5.)  Put your skills to the test – it’s all very well studying a language, but the real aim of the game is to communicate. This means putting your pride aside, accepting that you’ll slip up lot (and make everyone laugh) and find people to practise with. This could involve going on holiday to a destination where you language is spoken or finding a native who lives nearby (or online).

This all takes time and is, at times, very frustrating (and rewarding).  For me, speaking good Arabic is still a long, long way off, but I’ll keep you posted on my progress!!

Do you have any language learning tips or experiences to share? Let us know!

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