I finished the Arabic course V1 to crown level 1! Here are my thoughts:
Keep in mind these are suggestions by someone who is familiar with Duolingo and language-learning, and has had experience learning Arabic (not very much, but enough to be familiar with many aspects of the course). Unfortunately, the Arabic course needs a massive overhaul. Thankfully, what is in the course is overall good.
What I would keep in the Arabic course:
I like the way the alphabet is taught. It shows how letters connect to one another and helps the learner get used to reading in the “opposite” direction early on.
I like the idea behind the structure. It eases the learner from learning the alphabet to learning the language proper.
I like the wording in the tips & notes, it’s very fun.
What I would do differently in the Arabic course:
Use more words in earlier lessons. (see below)
Teach letters in groups based on shape or sound (i.e, ب ت ث ن can be taught at the same time after ا و ي ). This will help people remember letters because many letters with similar sounds have similar shapes. The current order is somewhat confusing. It doesn’t hurt to teach random words early with no regard to grammar, especially if you are teaching a language with very different grammar from the learner’s native language. I feel like this isn’t done enough in the earlier lessons; the words aren't explained, just put together.
Revise the notes so they are at least twice as detailed, giving more examples. For the alphabet I suggest you show the different forms on their own (isolate, initial, middle, final), as well as what they look like in words. I would highly recommend re-writing the tips-and-notes in Alphabet 2 and Alphabet 3 because I feel like the explanations are sparse for complete beginners.
Use an alternative transcription system that people can better read. Many people find the current transcription system confusing because of the numbers. I would use a different transcription system with less numbers that English speakers can more easily read.
Cover more grammar and start teaching it earlier. Also start teaching words and their meanings earlier. This will help people learn the alphabet faster and know several more words once you introduce the grammar. I feel like the Arabic course is having the same problem as the Hindi course where the alphabet is given a lot more emphasis than needed early on. It’s best to learn the alphabet as you learn the language.
Audio needs fixing to be consistent MSA standard. It’s a bad idea to mix dialects, especially if people want to study a specific dialect along with MSA. Native speakers might be able to explain this better than I can, but I can tell the audio is not 100% MSA. However, I think it’s fine to accept answers that are not MSA, so people can still practice any dialect they need to learn.
Background: I have taken one college class in Modern Standard Arabic, Arabic 101. Before that, I taught myself the alphabet. Everything in the Duolingo course was at least familiar to me, which means that when you complete this course to crown level 5, you should have a elementary understanding of Arabic and read it well enough to be able to pronounce the writing in children's books. MSA is the Arabic used in the media, but you can understand most other dialects if you know MSA.
If you have anything to add or anything to comment on, don't be afraid to do so. The Arabic course needs feedback!
I absolutely agree! To your point about the transcription, however, I think it should remain, but be thoroughly explained in the first lesson. Number substitutes for certain Arabic letters are quite common, learning and getting used to them will be useful, but they absolutely do need to be explained in more detail, especially to people who are just beginning their Arabic journey.
Also, off-topic, I love the way you styled your critique. Good luck with your languages!
Great comments, DragonPolyglot.
I'd like a little more information in the notes. I ended up printing out some pages from another source with an explanation of the entire alphabet to help myself, as I found myself floundering at first trying to differentiate the letters and sounds. Still having some difficulty differentiating why some letter combinations have long sounds and some short. Would love real words instead of sounds strung together and people's names.
Not sure why the numbers in the transcription are confusing. I actually haven't paid attention to them. Are they supposed to be conveying some type of information that I am missing?
Anyway, thanks again for your comments.
Great question about the numbers! From what I understand, they are used often in Arabic texting and typing when an Arabic keyboard is not available. I guess native speakers prefer to use numbers because it’s quicker and easier. Personally I feel like it’s confusing because it doesn’t give any hints about pronunciation, just the shape of the character. This would make someone with no access to notes or who doesn’t look at notes frustrated. The transcription system I was taught in my college class (with no numbers) focused on getting the idea of the sounds across so you wouldn’t need to rely on a transliteration system once you knew the pronunciation or letters.
Some letters are represented as numbers, especially later on in the course. For example, ع would be 3, and so بَرع would be transliterated as "bar3" instead of something closer to how an English speaker would think of it (bara', maybe?). There are at least five letters with numbers for transliterations, some of which are slightly more confusing than this example.
Increase the font size. When choosing one of the four combinations, I see every glyph and do not confuse one for another. But in all other cases - pairs, sentences - the font is so small that I see the glyphs as single dots, and sometimes have to guess based on the possible answers rather than read the letters.