Wednesday, January 7, 2009

SOAS Arabic course

A reader once wrote to ask: Do you really think learning Arabic will make people stop killing each other? I assure you this is wrong.

I'm sure she's right. There may be some piece of knowledge whose acquisition would persuade people not to fire rockets at schools where children are hiding under desks; if I knew what it was, I would certainly publish it on this blog. Supposing, that is, that it was an abstruse piece of information not readily available, something no newspaper or commercial publisher would touch, so that one could only get the closely guarded secret out into the world by blogging.

Since I don't know what that remarkable piece of information might be, I pass on instead information about the SOAS Arabic course. This is somewhat abstruse, since the course is normally sold only at the SOAS bookshop. I found it useful for learning such Arabic as I know. Those who think they might find Arabic useful, but are nervous that it might weaken their resolve to bomb civilians, can, I suspect, make use of the course with perfect equanimity.

I once did a two-term course at Oxford on reading Arabic. The Oriental Institute rejected out of hand my request to attend the undergraduate introduction to the language, which met every day at 9 and included the spoken language, the view being that it was irrelevant to my doctorate and might interfere with work on it; Mustafa Badawi persuaded them the following year to let me take the two-term MA course instead.

I then spent some time using the SOAS course at the University Language Centre. This was back in the mid-80s - back in the days, in other words, when PCs still had a drive for 5.25-in floppy disks and the internal hard drive had either not been invented or was not commercially available - so the the audio course was on cassette, or rather cassettes, lots and lots and lots of cassettes. (It's a shame, but perhaps not surprising, that no one has had the energy to transfer this mass of cassettes to a more readily accessible format: Joseph Burridge, of the SOAS bookshop, tells me the course is still being used by undergraduates; the books can be bought, but the audio materials are not commercially available.) It's not at all clear to me that this time-consuming, inefficient way of tackling the language was any less damaging to my doctoral research than simply taking the course that met at 9am, but Jones aliter visum.

Apart from the audio materials, anyway, the thing that's especially good about the course is that, starting with Volume 2, it gives the reader a great deal of practice with reading handwritten Arabic. I've scanned in a few pages so you can see why this is helpful:

Beginners tend to rely heavily on dots as a means of identifying letters, so the note on written treatment of dots is well worth having early on.

It may be that other introductions to the language give similar sets of exercises on writing and reading handwritten text; I mention this one since it's not normally available in shops and readers are unlikely to come across it.

Mr Burridge has sent me the following details for those interested in ordering one or more volumes (NB I am not at all sure that my Volume 2 corresponds to his Volume 2, a point worth clearing up if anyone thinks of sending in an order):

Arabic Year 1 Book 1 £10.20
Arabic Year 1 Book 2 £8.20
Arabic Year 1 Book 3 £6.50
Arabic Year 1 Book 4 £7
Arabic Year 2 Term 1 £6.50
Arabic Year 2 Term 2 £9.50
Arabic Language Lab Book for Books 1 & 2 £6
Arabic Language Lab Book for Books 3 & 4 £5.50
Arabic Course Syntax Supplement £4
Arabic Course Glossary & Index £9.50
Saudi Arabia in the Balance £20
Arabic Course Grammar Supplement (First Year) £4.50


Should you require mail order...

Postage is £4 per item (UK standard - approximately 3- 5 days for delivery)

For international deliveries...
Europe - £6 standard - approximately 7-11 days for delivery
Europe - £8 airmail - approximately 3-6 days for delivery
Rest of the World - £8 standard - approximately 10-14 days for delivery
Rest of the World - £12 airmail - approximately 4-7 days for delivery

Email/phone your credit card number, expiry date & security code (+ issue number if your card has one) or send a cheque payable to 'Arthur Probsthain Bookshop'.

Joseph Burridge
SOAS Bookshop
Brunei Gallery Building
Thornhaugh Street

(020) 7898-4470
International +44 (0)20 7898-4470

Monday-Friday 9.30-5.30
Saturday 12-4


papalazarou said...

I thought this a very interesting piece - I'm still learning Greek slowly after 5 years living here an the issue you raise over understanding the handwritten language is absolutely spot on - somebody left a handwritten note under my windscreen wiper before xmas and we have only just worked out who it was from and what it said!!!!

BTW transcribing audio tapes to mp3 is now very easy - using something like this -

Clay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
SnowLeopard said...

Do you know which dialect of Arabic these materials cover?

Rob said...

the book Mastering Arabic by Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar has a lot of handwriting and 2 CDs of audio. despite the title, it teaches the barest introductory grammar. mostly vocabulary lists and sentences with no verbs. has it for $7.

learning arabic may not stop murder, but neither does consulting a streetmap to locate a hospital cure your cancer. you'd have to be morbidly shortsighted to decide the map is of no use since it fails to give you chemotherapy.

Helen DeWitt said...

SL, The books cover the sort of Arabic that is sometimes referred to as "Modern Standard Arabic", the Arabic used, for example, in newspapers.

R, Well, one might feel that a map to the hospital was useful, yes, and then realise that what one had was not a map to the hospital but a map of ski lifts in the Tyrol. Which would still have its uses, it would be helpful for people who wanted to go skiing in the Tyrol. It's not that I actually think that's a good analogy; I was tired and appalled.

SnowLeopard said...

Thanks for the clarification. I thought it might be Modern Standard Arabic -- especially unfortunate, then, that the tapes aren't available, because extensive audio materials on MSA seem pretty scarce. Fortunately there's the Pimsleur Eastern Arabic course to placate me in the short term, and then the free-to-download FSI Saudi Arabic course. Something will pop up sooner or later.

Mary said...

Do you know if there is a certain type of lined paper that people use when writing in the Arabic script?

Mary said...

Oh, also, have you heard back from the person who said "learning Arabic won't keep people from..."?

Anonymous said...

I hear that nothing happened to that person.

but her sister lost her hearing among other things after a rockett hit her school, (this wasn't on the international news, it may not even be true, it happeend before the conflict started when there was no one shooting at civilians obviousely, so it is a logical impossibilty)so now they are both learning how to talk with their hands, very useful language! the end. (as far as looking at this website goes for good reading recs. )