Saturday

Trouble Arabs have when learning English

The comment that ragtag3333/Linguist made on The Hardest Part About Arabic post got me thinking about some of the difficulties that Arabic speakers have with English. Now I've never had to learn English and am not a native speaker of Arabic so I haven't had to go through what people find difficult in English. I do remember having trouble with knowing when to put 'b' or 'd' in a word when writing it. Something about the mirror image of the letters confused me as a kid. I would write something like 'sudway' instead of 'subway', but I think that's a problem most kids have. Spelling is definitely a big problem for learners of English as well as native English speakers. The fact the bomb, tomb, comb all end in 'omb' but don't rhyme is just one example of many that attests to how convoluted English spelling is.

A specific problem to native Arabic speakers that I've written about before is differentiating between 'p' and 'b'. Since Arabic has no 'p' sound Arab speakers will often say 'p' as 'b' like banda bear or bolice.
The difference between 'f' and 'v' also comes up because, again, there is no 'v' in Arabic. So you will hear many Arabs say 'fery' instead of 'very'. This isn't as widespread at the 'p' vs. 'b' thing though.

The fact that English has many vowel sounds while Arabic only has a few is another problem. The words 'pit', 'pet', 'put', 'pot', and 'pat' might be the hardest in the entire language for Arabic speakers to pronounce and recognize. Words that are only differentiated by their vowel sound are tough. I know a guy who couldn't hear the difference between 'bomb', 'pump', and 'bump'. The 'o' and 'u' sound were hard for him as well as the 'p' and 'b'. The difference between 'six' (6) and 'sex' also causes problems. The 'e' sound in 'sex' just isn't found in Arabic. Many will say 'sixy' instead of 'sexy'.

These mistakes don't cause too much difficulty in being understood though. As long as the word that is said incorrectly is in a sentence to give it context it's fine. However if someone just asks you what X means and they're saying it wrong (like asking what pit means when they actually are trying to ask what pet means), then you can run into problems.

What are some more difficulties people and especially Arabic speakers face in learning English?

4 comments:

Jaz said...

I think Vodafone helped spread the V around the world haha, not to mention there are names with V that are common in Arab countries like Mirvat for example.

Many arabs have a hard time with 'a' and 'the' and knowing when to use them infront of a noun. It's also really common to see Arab teenagers thinking 'wanna' and 'gonna' mean 'Want a' and 'going to' rather than 'want to' and 'going to'.

I know a whole group of students at the AUC who of course, try to act or speak American mixed with their Arabic and say "I wanna cat!" or "I gonna long way!" haha

Omar said...

I think vocabulary will cause an Arab learner of English a lot of trouble, to start with.

I know an Egyptian guy in Holland, (I'm Dutch learner of Arabic myself) who I asked to read an English news article out loud, and then I asked him to tell me what the news article meant, and he just skipped all the words he didn't know the meaning of. there were just too many words.

Anonymous said...

Jaz, I can say, "I wanna cat" - meaning "I want a cat".....

I think the biggest problem is that Egyptians try to translate everything directly from Arabic into English.

I agree that Egyptians often omit the "a" and "the" before a noun, and "p" and "b" is a fossilized error. They also have problems with comparative adjectives; they tend to say, "it's more easier" and "it's more bigger".

Most Egyptians spend their entire school lives studying English and yet most of them can't speak English when they leave school. They're very good at gap fill exercises and know all the technical terms for the tenses, but they can't use them in speech. Listening is also a big problem for Egyptians.

Prepositions of place are usually a problem. Egyptians tend to say "at Friday" and "I'm at Cairo", instead of "on Friday" and "I'm in Cairo".

Anonymous said...

i think the problem is the way we learn english in school or uni and we learn but don't apply it in our life just a little bit when we use computer or mobile phone