Demystifying Arabic Grammar: How to Learn Arabic on a Tight Schedule (Part 2)

This article is Part 2 of my Demystifying Arabic Grammar Series. Read Part 1 here before starting.

If you would have told me that the key to learning Arabic on a tight schedule was to first understand Arabic grammar, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Because if you’re a long-time Marhabtain reader, you know that I didn’t learn Arabic fluently by learning grammar.

I watched TV shows, listened to the radio, jammed out to music, and made Anki cards along the way.

I intentionally rejected learning any bit of Arabic grammar, because it reminded me of my days in Arabic class feeling confused, not learning to speak, and overall making no progress.

So also, if you would have told me that after all of this, that would be the one preaching about learning grammar, I really would not have believed you.

But things change. Namely, my schedule.

Since the first wave of the pandemic came to close around Summer 2021, the world starting opening up again, and laying all of its demands on my shoulders (and probably yours too!). Then I quit my job, moved to a new state, and started a new and much more demanding profession.

I dream of the days when I could just spend 5 hours watching Arabic tv shows and reading articles, not to mention the endless hours of passive immersion throughout the day. Now, if I get 2 hours of active uninterrupted immersion per day, I feel like I deserve to throw myself a party.

Last summer, as my free time dissolved, I felt my Arabic skills dissolving right along with it. All the thousands of hours, the learning, the energy, slipping beneath my fingers.

At first, it was nice to have a break from the daily learning schedule. But after a few months of minimal effort, I could see how my skills were stalling, and ultimately going backward.

I had to make a choice: Make excuses for why I just couldn’t learn Arabic anymore or find a solution.

Today’s article is all about that solution.

That’s what you’ll learn today:

  • The logic of Arabic, and why grammar is the key to this process
  • How learning Arabic efficiently can speed your language acquisition 10x

Life forced me to figure out how to learn Arabic on a tight schedule. And honestly, I’m better off for it, and you will be too.

Act 1: The One Concept You Need to Understand (Note: If you do anything, reread this section until it hits.)

Remember this tree I showed you in Part 1 of this series? (If you haven’t seen this before, go back to Part 1 here and read the article.)

Remember how I told you that just by knowing one root, you could learn 40+ other words immediately? And that the branches of this tree represented all of those words?

And remember at the end of Part 1, I told you that in Part 2 of this series, I would explain to you how one root could instantly become 40+ words?

Now, let me show you exactly how the 40+ words are formed.

Look at this chart below. Read it from right to left. You don’t need to know or understand anything that it’s saying. Just observe. What do you notice?

(If you’ve ever taken a formal Arabic class, you’ve likely seen this chart before. And it probably intimated the hell out of you and scared you off of learning grammar. Or was that just me?)

Do you see how each of the words in every column has the letters فعل written in them, and in that order?

Now, replace فعل with علم. What do you see?

Here’s the secret: This chart is the tree I just showed you, but in table form.

Here’s another secret: You could replace فعل on the chart with علم and you would be creating almost all the words you see in the branches of the tree.

Here’s the last secret: You could replace فعل with any 3-letter root and you would be creating almost all words associated with that root.

So here’s the takeaway: As long as you understand this chart, and as long as you have a 3-letter root in front of you, you have access to an unlimited amount of words.

Here’s another view of what I mean.

Act 2: 5 Examples of How this Concept Works in Action

So now, let me show you 5 examples (to be brief) of how this chart represents the different branches of the tree. Remember to replace فعل with علم.

Example 1.

Example 2.

Example 3.

Example 4.

Example 5.

Act 3: The Last One Thing You Need to Know Is This…

If you walk away knowing anything, here it is: This chart represents Arabic. This chart is Arabic.

And even more importantly, this chart demonstrates the logic of Arabic.

This chart demonstrates exactly how almost every word you’ve ever heard spoken or read in Arabic is written and pronounced.

Now, if what I wrote, didn’t stop you in your tracks, I need to scroll back up to Section 2 and look at them again before closing out this tab on your computer.

What I’m trying to explain here might not really being hitting you yet, because English is not designed in this way.

There is no chart in English that you could give a non-native speaker and say, “Here, this chart will show you how every word in English is written or pronounced. It will take some time to understand this chart because you don’t have it in your language, but once you do, you will understand how our whole language works. It’s just… that… simple.”

English is not built upon this logic.

That’s why when my Arabic teacher showed me this chart years ago, I didn’t understand its significance. I didn’t understand that she had just shown me the key to answering all of my questions: How do you say this? How do you spell this? What does this mean?

In the past, I regarded this chart as just another reason why Arabic was so hard and impossible to learn. I didn’t realize that this chart, and whoever designed it, was trying to show that Arabic was easy, scarily easy.

I want to address a few complaints you might have about learning this chart:

Complaint 1. Uchechi, but that chart is in Fusha! I thought Marhabtain focuses on Ammiya. Ammiya and fusha are two different languages!

Honestly, I hope we can all join hands in killing this debate once and for all. Spoken Arabic is derived from Fusha. They are different, and yet one in the same.

I think of the them as fraternal twins — they come from the same source, but they don’t share the exact same DNA.

I know this is a hard pill for Arabic learners to swallow (I rejected the idea for YEARS myself, trust me), because it adds another layer of challenge to the language. But the truth is the truth.

And if we look at Arabic with open eyes and open understanding, we might end up becoming grateful for Fusha. *gasp*

And see that only Fusha, with its deeply engrained grammatical patterns, could have helped Arabic develop into a language that is so incredibly logical and efficient.

Complaint 2. But, Uchechi, this chart doesn’t take into account for the way words like — [insert random irregular verb] or [loaner word] or [slang term] — are constructed! What about those?

No, this chart does not account for every possible word you’ll come across in Arabic.

But instead of being discouraged, think about it another way.

What if I told you that 90% of Spoken Arabic was based on the structure shown in this chart. Or even 80%? Or just 70%?

That’s still the majority of the language.

Yes, if you go to Beirut right now, depending on who you’re talking to, you could hear them speak Arabic, English, and French in the same sentence. But if the Arabic they speak (which is the language you’re trying to learn) is at least 80% based off the structure of this chart, why bother yourself with the irregularities of the remaining 20%?

Complaint 3. But, Uchechi, do I really need to do this to become fluent? This seems like a lot to take on, on top of everything else I’m doing. 

No, you don’t need to learn this at all.

I was able to reach conversational fluency in Arabic without understanding grammar at all. Through immersion, I began to intuit the logic that this chart puts forth so clearly. And I do credit those thousands of hours I spent inefficiently learning, as the reason for why the grammar seems interesting and more natural to me.

But now that I know what I know, I realize that I could have learned 10x as many words 10x as fast, and that this method of learning is exactly what I need with my tight schedule.

Final Act: So What Do You Do Next?

In the next grammar articles I write, I will be breaking down this chart, column by column from a Levantine Arabic perspective, and show you how to learn Ammiya is a simple, logical, and intuitive way.  By the end of this series, you will understand how to form all the branches of the Levantine Arabic tree, and become more confident in your vocabulary acquisition abilities.

In closing, it’s okay if you don’t get the whole picture yet or understand why this will change your whole approach to learning Arabic.

But I have the sense that something is clicking for you right now.

You’re asking yourself: Are you telling me that Arabic is this… simple? Are you telling me…?

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.

That’s why understanding this chart has been such a breakthrough for me.

And that’s why over the course of the next few months, I’ll explain this chart column by column from a Levantine Arabic perspective, and show you how to learn Ammiya is a simple, logical, and intuitive way.

In short, you deserve a bit more free time in your life. I know I do…

Get your free copy of 10 Things You Need to Know if You Want to Learn Arabic Fluently.

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