Among the number of foreign languages that you can study, why should you learn Arabic? It is not an easy language to learn and has nothing in common with English. Therefore, a speaker of English will have a difficult time to learn it. But looking at the positive side, learning Arabic can offer several benefits.
If you think of the advantages of learning Arabic, the effort and time that you would dedicate to learn the language would all be worth it.
The Arabic language
Arabic is a Southern-Central Semitic language. It is spoken in most parts of the Arabian Peninsula, parts of Middle East and North Africa. In these regions, the languages with the most number of speakers, in chronological order are Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish and Hebrew. These languages belong to different language families. Turkish is part of the Turkic family. The Indo-European language family is represented by Kurdish and Persian. Hebrew and Arabic belong to the Afro-Asiatic language family. Aside from these major languages, people in the Middle East speak around 20 minority languages.
Arabic is a macrolanguage that has 30 modern varieties or dialects. Literary Arabic, which is also called Standard Arabic or Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), is used today in formal speech and in writing in the Arab world while Classical Arabic was used in Islamic literature of the 7th to 9th centuries. It is the language of the Qurʾān.
The basis of the Modern Standard Arabic is the classical version and the differences between the two are related to simplification and modernization in writing and speaking styles. The MSA is used in the modern versions of the Qurʾān and the modern editions of the novels and poetries from the Abbasid and Umayyad periods.
Reasons to learn Arabic
Arabic is the fourth most spoken language in the world. About 315 million people in 58 countries speak the Arabic as their first language, according to Ethnologue.
- Learning Arabic will make you stand out, as there are very few people from the West that speak Arabic. Having command of Arabic will make you appear clever and sophisticated.
- Learning a language is learning about the culture of the country where the language is spoken. Arab culture is rich and interesting. Learning the language will enable you to read some of the famous classic literature. If you are a fan of Aladdin, Ali Baba and Sindbad the Sailor, imagine reading the many stories in The One Thousand and One Nights (Alf laylah wa laylah) or the poems of Ḥāfeẓ and Ahmad Shawqi in their original versions.
- You’ll be able to benefit economically. Natural resources abound in the Middle East and speaking Arabic will open many job positions for you.
- You’ll be able to experience true Arab hospitality. Arabs are very proud of their language. Unlike the Germans who are not impressed when foreigners are able to speak their language, the opposite is shown by Arabs. Once a native speaker of Arabic hears a foreigner speak a few words in Arabic, they would be very eager and happy to help you learn their language.
- When you learn Arabic you’ll be able to appreciate the region’s unique way of life, cuisine, literature, music and art. You’ll open the door to their rich culture that is not often exposed to the Western world. You’ll appreciate their cultural practices and products and understand the values that matter much to them, such as hospitality, dignity and honor.
- You’ll have an edge over competition even if you are in the West. The demand for people fluent in Arabic is quite high and only a few people from the West attempt to learn Arabic. The secret services in the U.S. need people who are fluent speakers of Arabic. There are many businesses, including translating and interpreting that are in need of Arabic speakers. Other fields that need Arabic speakers include intelligence and Foreign Service, consulting, banking and finance, education and journalism.
- When you know Arabic, you’ll be able to have an easier time learning other languages spoken in the region, such as Farsi or Persian, Turkish, Urdu and even Hebrew. Most of the vocabularies of these languages are derived from and similar to Arabic words so you will be able to quickly grasp the semantic and grammatical concepts of the other languages.
- Traveling to the Middle East would be easier. A good number of Arabs are able to speak English but the larger part of the population only uses Arabic as their primary language. Even if you can only speak common words and phrases, it is better to speak the local language. It would help you appreciate the traditional villages and other points of interest.
- If you are an American, you might avail of the financial incentives the U.S. government grants to people who are interested to learn Arabic. The government has declared that Arabic is a language that has strategic importance and the National Strategic Language Initiative promotes the learning of several languages that are critical to the foreign policies and relationships of the government. It provides learning opportunities and scholarships for those interested to learn a critical language. The support covers courses from beginners to advanced levels, professional development, teacher exchanges, opportunities for intensive instruction and study abroad programs. You can check the scholarships available from the Critical Language Scholarship Program, the Boren Awards of the National Security Education Program and the Arabic Overseas Language Flagship Program.
- If you are planning to join a trading firm, an import-export company or engage in business yourself, many opportunities are available in the Arab nations. Its population is growing and with a huge GDP, it is a prime market for export of services and goods. Learning Arabic and the culture of the people who speak the language will make it easier for you to negotiate and conduct business.
- Nations that speak Arabic contributed significantly to global civilization. Many Arabs contributed to the advancement of philosophy, medicine and science. They have vast libraries that preserved the learnings from Byzantine, Roman and Greek cultures. You can explore the world of architecture, astrology, navigation, mathematics and literature in their first language.
- Learning Arabic can make you an ambassador for your home country. Many people in the U.S. view Arabic speakers negatively because they only get to learn about them from mass media and movies. The situation is the same in the Arab world. If you are studying or working in the Middle East, you’ll be able to help break up the misconceptions the Arabs have about the Americans and the United States.
You gain vital language skills when you learn Arabic. It is easier to learn French or Spanish and these languages will allow you to travel or work in various countries, especially in Europe. However, you have more competition because there are more learners and speakers of these languages. If you learn Arabic, you are sure that there would be a great demand for your language skills as the supply is scarce. Further, if you learn Mandarin Chinese for example, your career focus would only be in a few countries, whereas if you learn Arabic, your opportunities are wider as the language is spoken in 58 countries.