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https://www.duolingo.com/Jsprwstr

Modern Standard Arabic is not enough

Jsprwstr
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As I understand it, Duolingo's plan with regards to Arabic right now is to only offer courses from and to Modern Standard Arabic (MSA).

I think this is a mistake.

Modern Standard Arabic, though being the 'official' form of Arabic to be used in formal settings such as news broadcasts, is not a living and breathing language. You can compare its position with that of Latin in Medieval Europe, or Sanskrit in certain periods of India's history. Sure, it's a lingua franca of sorts, but only among the highly educated.

(I think this exposes another problem: courses from MSA will not be all too useful to Arabic speakers who haven't received a high degree of education already.)

Look at it this way: say Duolingo was active in Medieval Europe, would it be sensible to offer only Latin and none of its Romance offshoots?

I think it would be wise to try and come up with a way to involve at least a couple of Arabic dialects (say: Egyptian, Maghrebi, Levantine and Gulf) in Duolingo's language teaching. Not only will this make the site accessible to a far larger pool of Arabic speakers, it will also allow us non-Arabic speakers to learn to speak living languages, rather than only the artificial construct that is MSA.

I hope the Duo team will consider my proposal: I know constructing language courses is arduous work, but I think tapping into the modern Arabic dialects could offer a great advantage.

P.S.: Perhaps it wouldn't even be necessary to offer these courses in Arabic script; as I understand it, native speakers already widely use an adaptation of the Roman alphabet to write each other text messages and the like.

4 years ago

20 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/GunnyTunes

Hi Jsprwstr,

You raise a very good point regarding MSA. Like Myra pointed out, the current English from Arabic course accepts MSA and Egyptian arabic answers.

The problem as I see it though is that the arabic dialects can be drastically different from the MSA and other dialects, to the extent that some sentences might not make sense in comparison.

In addition, the spoken dialects are without defined grammar rules, and there is no one solid way of spelling the words or explaining a particular choice of words other than the fact that "it just is so". A particular sentence can be stated in so many ways, and those depend on simple things such as your family's origins, the area you live in, the school you went to, etc...

I do not think that the MSA vs Latin comparison here holds as the MSA is actually in use, and is indeed a common ground for all arabic speaking people, since most of the newspapers, novels, news, documentaries, etc... are in MSA. A more fair comparison would be the german dialects vs. standard german, the main focus of Duolingo's german course is standard german, not the schwäbisch dialect, or austrian or swiss german for example.

This is partially why the Egyptian dialect answers are accepted in the current course, due to its familiarity within the rest of the arab countries due to the popularity of Egyptian media, movies, and series. But this still suffers from the same lack of foundational grammar rules.

I understand your concern with MSA courses requiring a bit of higher education, I have actually dug out my old MSA grammar books for the current course as I got a bit rusty on the MSA writing part. :)

I would love for the courses to be more accessible, but I have no idea how.

EDIT: I also forgot to mention that for the reverse courses (Arabic from English/German/etc...) currently only MSA text-to-speech systems exist (and they're not that good). There aren't any for the dialects as far as I know.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/OlderThanRome
OlderThanRome
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This is a fascinating issue... okay, so most Arabic speakers speak the dialect but are used to reading MSA and hearing it on television? What would you think when a foreigner who has just arrived in the country started actually speaking MSA with you? Would that be weird? And what would you think if they spoke Egyptian Arabic instead and didn't know any MSA?

Forgive my curiosity--I'm asking this because in Germany it would be extremely weird to meet a foreigner who speaks the dialect and hasn't spent decades in the country, and even more weird if they didn't know Standard German. But of course, many Germans do not speak any dialect and grow up speaking Standard German with a hint of an accent.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/GunnyTunes

Thank you for your curiosity. :)

Yes, almost all of the news and newspapers are in MSA. Al-Jazeera for example is entirely in MSA.

If a foreigner would speak in MSA, people would understand him or her, but they will be quite amused and awkward nonetheless. The issue is that we take more MSA input (as in news, newspapers, novels) than we output (as in conversations). So using the MSA outside its "official" scope makes for awkward conversations on our part, as it takes some time to go from the dialect to the standard. In Egypt there are a lot of southeast asians studying, and they mostly speak in MSA and some of them pick up the dialect later. I believe that once you know the MSA, you can trace the differences to the dialect of interest.

I actually know a couple of foreigners in Egypt that have family here, and they can speak the Egyptian dialect to some extent, with some mistakes of course but definitely understandable. I believe they picked it up from their Egyptian part of the family.

We're different from Germany in the sense that there is this disconnect between the read language (often MSA) and the spoken one (the dialects). As a result we do not speak the MSA, only write it.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/ParkeNYU

The situation with MSA seems to mirror that of Literary Chinese (used until 1919, as distinct from Classical Chinese). No one actually spoke Literary Chinese (aside from reciting it), but everyone (educated) read and wrote it, regardless of topolect. Even the Japanese, Koreans, and Vietnamese did for a time.

2 months ago

https://www.duolingo.com/saschambaer
saschambaer
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Personally, the whole issue reminds me of some country I happen to call home.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/myra
myra
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Good question :) The course focuses on MSA (especially in the interface), but the course builders are native speakers of Egyptian Arabic, so there will naturally be a flavor of that. We try to accept the most common dialects in translation challenges.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Puddleglum
Puddleglum
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MSA is most likely only the beginning. Because Arabic is so diverse, I imagine that courses for specific main dialects will be added after MSA.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jsprwstr
Jsprwstr
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Let's hope so! :)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Veekhr
Veekhr
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The diglossia problem is one that all Arabic students will encounter eventually if they study the language for long. There are many approaches to teaching Arabic, and unfortunately the MSA-only approach is the most accepted for now. Dialects are often considered a low form of the language, and I still think that if Arabic speakers are using this program to learn English, there is probably an expectation that they will use the language of education to learn English, which is MSA. I know that when I was learning Arabic, my pronunciation of numbers was close enough to the Levantine dialect that my Iraqi teacher said I was learning bad habits from other teachers. Using textspeak (Roman alphabet) to write Arabic messages is also considered similarly incorrect, though it happens all the time in message boards.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/rspreng

As I understand it Duo offers only languages that garner enough support in the form of people willing to contribute to the development of the course. I do not think that Duo selects a language first and then decides to implement it. I think it implements after resources have been gathered. And there are people asking for Latin here very week. ;)

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/thenino85

I would drop every other language I'm doing right now to learn Latin. Probably hard for them to find native speakers, though...

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/annika_a
annika_a
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I would assume, with 20,000+ applications for the Incubator, that there are resources to create a whole lot of languages already. Of course Duolingo has to make an active choice of which courses to create and in what order.

Mostly the people requesting courses on the discussions board are not people actually fluent in the languages they are requesting, so requests on here probably don't correlate with the resources available in any way.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jsprwstr
Jsprwstr
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Latin would be brilliant, of course. ONLY Latin, that'd be a problem. Similarly, I think MSA should definitely be taught. It's just the impression I get, that MSA is the ONLY form of Arabic that's going to be bothered with, that worries me.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Salxandra
Salxandra
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Where did you get the impression that ONLY MSA would be taught?

I've only seen Duolingo officially say that the overall goal is to support as many languages as possible. I've seen statements that indicate that they will phase things in slowly as they feel it is very important to do things properly, but I've never ever seen any indication that they would not support a specific language.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jsprwstr
Jsprwstr
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Well, maybe I was overly paranoid. I certainly hope so!

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/at2004
at2004
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Actually only English for Arabic speakers was added to the incubator. It will take some months until the reverse course will be added.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Jsprwstr
Jsprwstr
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Yes, I know. But that course will be from MSA.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/cr48laptop

I agree. I'm an Arabic speaker (specifically Egyptian Arabic), but my reading and writing skills are at a preschool level and I look forward to learning Arabic on Duolingo. Yes, MSA is used in Arabic-speaking countries, but not many people will understand you if you speak to them in MSA. I learned a bit of MSA a while back and it's very different from Egyptian Arabic. Hopefully MSA will provide a stepping stone to the different dialects. I think building courses for the different dialects would be necessary. The Arabic dialects are mutually intelligible, but it's difficult to understand a Maghrebi speaker if one is an Egyptian speaker. However, I disagree with not learning the Arabic script. Sure, native speakers do use Latin letters to phonetically write in Arabic, but that's very informal and normally used on social media sites and texting or when Arabic input methods are unavailable. The Arabic script isn't even very difficult. It looks difficult, but it took me two weeks to learn it, and while it does take me a while to read a word (again, preschool level), I can read nonetheless.

4 years ago

https://www.duolingo.com/TwigPixie
TwigPixie
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I'm learning Egyptian Arabic at the moment. I like the way Duolingo works and would like to continue learning it when the Duolingo course arrives. Would I find MSA very different? Would it be possible to have both MSA and Egyptian? I keep hearing different things but if I've understood it correctly, if I learn Egyptian Arabic then most people will be able to understand me?

1 year ago

https://www.duolingo.com/Ciara89915

I am not even seeing Modern Standard Arabic as an option. I would prefer dialects, but I really just need to renew my Arabic knowledge.

2 years ago