Moderately detailed review by a native speaker
The course teaches you soooo many personal names, but reeeeally skimps on the grammar, and keeps repeating the same three nouns it teaches you like a million times in a row in stilted, unimaginative sentences that bore you out of your mind. Because they're afraid of tackling any verbal grammar at any point through the course. Compared to the Hebrew course, which was heavy on very practical vocabulary that relates to emotions and thoughts and personal experiences, and taught you to form complex sentences with conjunctions and pro-forms quite fairly on, this course really disappoints. On the plus side, by the end you'll definitely know how to say "translator" in Arabic, now that you've repeated it a million times. The Hebrew contributors knew the binyanim are the basis of Hebrew grammar, and they developed the course with this in mind. They didn't let the difference between Semitic grammar and English daunt them into patronizing the learner. They just took it slow, and taught you many verbs early on, because they knew the verbs were the basis of the grammar. The nouns come from the verbs. But with the Arabic course, they don't even pick common nouns you'll be likely to use, things you'll constantly use to speak about yourself and other people, nope, they focus on the names of countries and professions and objects. After telling people what country you're from, what do you do next then?
The Hebrew course was also genius in that they always tried to use the new words you learnt in the skills that came after them, so you were revising new information even as you learnt newer information. But the Arabic course teaches you some words, bores you with them through excessive successive repetition, then forgets all about them through the rest of the course. So you end up doing way too many exercises about the same word, but still not remembering it, because those exercises weren't spaced correctly.
And almost all the way through the tree, you get reading exercises after having to go through four skills about the alphabet in the beginning already. It's so boring to have to do a lesson or two of meaningless syllables with every skill you go through. It's Arabic, it's not Chinese, it's an abjad, the script really doesn't need all that attention. You'll learn the script from the actual words you're learning.
Then again, the TTS engine is atrocious, so maybe you won't learn to pronounce all that correctly after all. It's not the contributors' fault, although they make weird choices with the vowel diacritics, like spelling غَريب with a diacritic on the 3'ayn but not the raa2. If they hadn't put on any diacritics, the engine would have pronounced it correctly. But their inconsistency with denoting vowels confuses the engine sometimes. And where they could have actually used diacritics to help the engine pronounce grammatical endings correctly, they don't use them.
Again, the Hebrew course drawfs this course because they actually took the effort of recording the sentences themselves, and the human touch in the recordings is very clearly audible.
I wanted to make this a balanced review, because I know they must have put a lot of effort into it, which I do appreciate, but I honestly can't find anything that stands out about this course. This is, quite frankly, a below-average Duolingo course, even for a beta. Hell, even the titles of the skills are not descriptive enough and try too hard to be funny and quirky at the expense of clear labelling. Good luck figuring out "Are You?" is the lesson about professions when you want to revise. The couple of lesson notes that they bothered to make so far are equally cryptic and tone-deaf. I hope they plan to include more grammar and more lesson notes at a later stage, because otherwise, this is really more of a bad phrasebook than a course.
I know the course is in beta, but I doubt they're going to change its entire structure from the ground up, are they? They should have relied on a dictionary of the most frequent Arabic words and an actual survey of Arabic grammar, or something, not just gone by the feel of it. Much more pedagogical planning was needed. I'm hoping I'm wrong and the course can undergo a major overhaul.
I was already having basic conversations in Hebrew and surfing Israeli meme pages one third of the way through the Hebrew course, so teaching a Semitic language from English can definitely be done better, much better. I know you won't be able to say anything even after being done with this whole course as it currently stands; you'll just know things about the Arabic language, you'll remember a few of the few Arabic words they try to stuff into your head, but you won't speak Arabic in the slightest bit.
I agree with you in all points. The Hebrew course was a hundred times better and not boring at all. I have been waiting so long for the Arabic course, but in the end it is just a huge disappointment. I really hope they will improve the whole course and it will be fun to learn the language with Duolingo. Also, I don't see the need of teaching the letters at all. Take Hebrew for example, they jumped just right into the language with short and simple sentences.
Also, I don't see the need of teaching the letters at all. Take Hebrew for example, they jumped just right into the language with short and simple sentences.
This is what led to my discontinuing Hebrew; it was much too much at once. I like the way the letters are introduced in the Arabic course.
I think, however, that there should be an option for people who don't want to learn the letters (for example because they are already familiar with the Arabic script). If people like me could follow the nice & easy path and others, who want to have a more challenging approach, could leave them out, this should be a good balance.
When students are learning how to pronounce vowels and consonants, and their various combinations, in a new alphabet, it's good to have one and two syllable words with which to practice. You can't always find real words to accomplish that. I have a beginning Hebrew book that teaches adults reading which starts out like this course is doing, so that sounds and letter combinations can be learned quickly. You have already studied Arabic and you already know the Arabic alphabet, and you have probably heard it spoken a lot. This class is for absolute beginners as well as more advanced learners, who should be able to test out of the beginning lessons.
For now, I don't care -- I love the fact that at the moment I can frequently focus on distinguishing the letters without having to deal with meaning. I like the fact that meaning is introduced here and there (Bob is a doctor from Syria ...), but there are always these little just-distinguish exercises for my brain to relax a little.
I would expect that at higher skill levels, the mix would change (toward more words), but I'm at skill level 1 in most of the skills I've opened so far.
i had arabic class in high school, but not as much effort was dedicated for the letters as in this course.
i think that introduction to script is important and necessary, but it shouldn't take more than 3-4 skills in the beginning of the tree.
as far as i've seen, the letters introduction continues through the whole tree! is it really necessary?
when i started my arabic in the 7th grade, we had 8 lessons for the letters and nonsense syllables, but then we had real words and sentences.
much revision is needed in this course, and i'll be back to it whenever it will be made.
But with the Arabic course, they don't even pick common nouns you'll be likely to use
This is so true! They teach you how to say كراج and معطف before عمر and أصل. It's not structured at all. I think its because they worried so much about teaching abjad that they ignored all other aspects of the course. Yeah I mean I can't say عمري 16 سنة but at least I can say كراجك جديد يا رنيم.
But at the same time I feel bad critising it. Effort was clearly put in to it and the community pushed it out early I think.
I started the Arabic tree today. It is a good effort. But it is insufficient. I had attended some Arabic courses in a class and the most difficult part was to get used with the alphabet. The diacritics used for long and short vowels was a difficult part. Actually our ears are not used to listen to long and short vowels. So it is very difficult to write the orthography if you don't know the correct spelling of the word. This is a plus in this course. It took me 2-3 months to learn how to read words without using them. I don't know how to read some words until now. But as you wrote, Arabic is a Semetic language. So verbs is the most important part. Actually the most important issue to learn is to learn the 3-letters pattern. If you do Arabic is getting easier.
I don't think this tree is full. It is a truncated tree, you can master the alphabet and some words, but it is far from being a full tree, as it is the Spanish, the French and German ones, even the Greek tree or Italian which are BTW good trees .
I don't know about Hebrew, but I guess it would be useful to start it, because of the advantages you say it has, as the only Semetic language with a full tree so far. Thanks for your notices. I incline to agree. But it is the only one which teaches us the Arabic alphabet, which is used in so many languages, For that reason it is very useful. I recommend to start it if you want to read the mysterious Arabic scripts, even though it is really difficult as calligraphy is getting the scripts real pieces of art.
I think the course is generally too short. And it lacks an option for those who are already familiar with the script. I took the last shortcut with basic knowledge of the language and I managed to pass it, hoping to get to the the grammar and vocabulary parts, but I was left disappointed. Even the very last skill-sets mainly focus on the script instead of the language itself. This is just from the point of view of a person who is already familiar with the script, however.
I finished the Hebrew tree and I totally agree. The way they teach verbs, the clear pronunciation and the overall quality of the course had me super excited for the Arabic course.
I already know how to read Arabic, so I was expecting to jump right into the verbs and nouns. Or useful sentences at least...
After repeating the sentence "تامر من سوريا" seven times, I realized that the Arabic course isn't even half as good as the Hebrew course.
I appreciate Duolingos effort and the contributors as well, but after the completion of the Hebrew course, my expectations are too high.
Thank you for your thoughtful and in-depth review.
From someone who has learned 5 languages enough to have a conversation in each, I totally agree with what you say about the verbs; it is a very good point. I also agree with what you say about the use-amount of verbs, and your comparison of this course to the hebrew course is intelligent. Teaching practicle vocabulary to express regularly used feeling and idea is the way to go; and threading grammar into this is smart.
I have gotten to the benyamin part of the hebrew, and I can say I have found that course incredibly practical; different to some parts of the random-ish sounding out exercises later in the tree.
I think it is great the course is here, and I bet the course can help people to get started, but I think the thoughts you share are super valuable.
شكرا على تشارك افكارك الذكية
I haven't tried the Arabic course but I started the Hebrew one today and it's really well made - so far I'd say it has the best structure out of all the courses I've had a go at. It's a shame to hear that the Arabic one is disappointing in comparison as I was hoping to give that a go too at some point.
I went into the Arabic course already a bit familiar with the abjad and how it works, and still I find myself depending on the audio to pick the right words because as much as it goes over it again and again, it doesn't start with a fountain of showing the student the letters individual of others in their different forms. Even the info pages don't really cover this well. It can repeat as much as it likes but without a proper foundation, those of us who really, really need it will continue to struggle with reading comprehension and be frustrated as a result.
I thank you for pointing out the missing diacritics messing with the generated pronunciation because this has thrown me off so badly! I couldn't figure out why the audio seemed so... off, but inconsistent diacritics would explain it! And I'm new enough to actual words that I can't pick up on that kind of issue myself yet. :(
I really hope the course gets a lot of love and that they take peoples' reviews of it and our suggestions to heart in order to improve the learning experience. I have been waiting for duo to get Arabic for years and am thrilled to finally have it here, but I am worried I will become so frustrated with the way the lessons are structured and the audio and spelling issues that it may ruin the experience and put me off our all together...
Yes, the tree is way too slow. Not familiar with the writings, I appriceate they show me how a letter looks like in the beginning, end and in the middle of a sentence. But I think much of the teachings could have been done with real words. The “real” words they teach me so far in course 10 is names and countries that are very close to the English equivalent. I know how written Arabic looks like and can read it somewhat. Now the only thing left is to know Arabic words and sentences. This last thing is focused on a lot more in languages even with other alphabet than Latin. For example Russian alphabet is not a focus in that tree. The focus is building a word bank to be able to use the language. I’d rather communicate in Arabic than be able to read it out loud. And... not knowing what I read.
I am a very new beginner in Arabic, but have been learning with other apps (memrise, etc) for a little while, so I have some familiarity with the alphabet and some disconnected vocabulary. I like the course so far. Other apps have left me very confused as to the vowels, since most don't show the diacritics or explain what's going on with them. So far, I've enjoyed it. I can see the critique here for those with more knowledge of the language, but for someone like me, so far it's just what I needed. I hope they expand and adapt it, but I can't agree that the start of the course, at least, is boring or disappointing for real newbies like me.
Thank you for posting this, as a learner it's nice to be aware of my own learning and helps me think more critically. You're right it is quite repetitive. I'm totally new to Arabic, but I know how to read the script so I definitely think if there were an option to skip those lessons it'd be great. I also find it confusing how the words sound different when they're in a sentence as opposed to pronounced individually. Perhaps it's in the lesson notes and I missed it. I do really believe that they'll continue to improve the course and listen to everybody's feedback. Nevertheless, gonna keep on keeping on!
Yeah, it doesn't look like they put too much faith in the user to be able to figure out the script organically. Even the infrequent updates from the development team were ultra focused on the script, both pedagogically and in terms of coding / web design. I don't know much about duolingo development, or how much difference we can expect to see between the beta and finished course. But I hope that difference is significant.
It is short. 33 skills is not a lot, in particular considering the fact that several lessons are dedicated to letters (which I need!).
I think this is just the beginning; to see whether the course works at all, what kinds of technical problems arise, what issues are reported etc.
I expect the tree to grow. :-)
I think a main problem with the DL incubator is that DL wants volunteers, who are (nearly) bilingual, rather than mix of bilingual, teachers, and learners. The teachers should be ideally teachers of the target language, but that may not even be necessary. E.g. an Arab teaching Arabic in France could still contribute to course structure and design of exercises better than a bilingual (Ar-En) person with no teaching experience. And a small group of learners should be involved right from the start. After about 4 years since this Arabic course has been announced, we now have a beta version, which took hundreds and hundreds of hours of work from the volunteers, which shows many problems, many of which could have been identified at a much earlier stage in the development. Testing with real learners can and should be done much earlier. Again, this is not criticizing the volunteers, who created this course (and maybe they did run tests outside of DL, they even developed most of this course outside of the incubator according to their own statements). This is something which needs to be encouraged and supported by DL.
Also, DL has by now zillion of data points about the learning on its platform, ie what is the progress in different languages, what is the retention, what are the reactions of the learners, etc. to be able to recommend best practices to the team of volunteers. E.g. having a core list of vocabulary, which should be included, with recommended progression based on word frequency lists. For Arabic, there is a well known list published by Buckwalter et al. Or recommendations about the mix of different exercise forms (e.g. text matching versus recognizing spoken phrases). I guess some of this is available in the Incubator platform, but the differences in the different courses shows that this is either very limited, or not sufficiently enforced.
On the other side we need to acknowledge that DL is a company, which needs to pay salaries to its employees. With all the best intentions of providing the best learning experience, they need to focus their efforts on features, which help to generate money.
I saw many complains about the Hebrew course not introducing the script. Introducing the script is important. So, this is good in the Arabic course, but the creators overdid it - imho. And while I don't think that a DL course needs to go the route of focusing exclusively on dialog situations - as many other courses do - the vocabulary should be geared towards being able to chat with native speakers. Cold regular chickens are definitely not what people want to talk about :-)
There was recently an article (which I cannot find anymore) about how much information a learner needs to store to master a language. I distinguished between different aspects of a language, like script, sound inventory, syntax, and semantics (ie vocabulary). The researchers estimated that the script and even syntax are in the hundreds the thousands of bytes, whereas vocabulary is orders of magnitude larger. The tried to quantify what we all intuitively know: building a sufficient vocabulary is the big effort in language learning.
כל מילה בסלע.
There are only so many times I can pair tirru3 and bassaam. I want to learn more words, I want to practise them, and I want to learn new ones. It's a little weird that essentially the first things they teach are "cold regular chicken" and "generous husband" (don't forget "cold fish"!).
I guess it's a good way to practice countries with the whole "Bob is a Canadian teacher" though I wish they would use more native names, since a) Bob in the recording sounds a little weird (as if she's asking him a question) and b) it's just not a name you'd encounter that much.
The Hebrew one definitely had it's issues when it was in Beta (like, really bad errors), but it wasn't repetitive. It's hard for me to judge the Hebrew in terms of teaching since I am essentially a native speaker, but as someone who has a previous basis in Arabic - I could read and write, but my vocabulary was very limited - this is a little too slow for me. Some test outs skip lessons with no problem, others skip actual vocabulary. So now, I'm "stuck" going through ALL the lessons.
At least it's good for the points :P
I was amazed to complete the Arabic course with gold on all topics (level 5 reached) and still not encounter any discussion of root and pattern, broken plurals, hollow verbs, masdars or anything else which one would find in an elementary MSA course. I would hope that future iterations of this course will include more substance.
I share with other posters my disappointment that the complexity of the Arabic course falls far behind that of the Hebrew course.