What is the difference between MSA and Arabic dialect?
MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) is the Arabic of books, religion, and news media, while Arabic dialects (Spoken Arabic) are the regional adaptations of Arabic used in spoken communication and popular media (films, TV shows, music, and theater). While, some people claim that MSA is also spoken, this is misleading. Most Arabs cannot hold a conversation in MSA and will quickly revert back to their dialect. The reason for this is that Arabs do not learn MSA for speaking; they only learn it for reading, writing, and to a lesser extent, for comprehension. So, it can be generally said that MSA is the Arabic which is written and Arabic dialect is the Arabic which is spoken.
How much do Arabic dialects differ from one another?
Aside from North African Arabic dialects (Arabic countries west of Egypt), Arabic dialects do not differ that greatly from one another. This fact runs contrary to what many western students of Arabic believe because beginners in dialect tend to judge the dialects by their daily greetings and basic high frequency vocabulary. However, once a learner moves beyond the relatively small corpus of high frequency vocabulary, she begins to see how closely similar the dialects really are.
As a result of these similarities, Arabs from the Gulf regions find it fairly easy to communicate with Arabs in the Levant and Egypt. Another factor that has been helpful for communication between Arabs is the advent of increasingly numerous regional satellite television shows watched across the Arab World. It used to be he case that Egyptian media dominated the airways but, in the last decade, we have seen numerous shows in non-Egyptian dialects gain popularity -- even among the Egyptians themselves. So, Arabic dialects are not as different as you may have heard.
Which type of Arabic should I learn? MSA or dialect?
This is one the most important questions a student of Arabic should be asking before beginning his language study. In short, the answer really depends on your goals. If you are desiring to study Arabic solely for the following reasons, then you should consider studying MSA:
If, however, it is your goal to do any of the following, you should strongly consider studying Arabic dialect (Spoken Arabic):
What if I want to learn both? What do you recommend?
It is almost never preferable for a beginning student to study both Spoken Arabic and MSA at the same time. Students who do this will usually become confused between the two and have a hard time progressing well in either one. With over a decade of experience teaching Arabic, we have come to believe that the best approach for most students of Arabic is to begin with Spoken Arabic and then move to add MSA into their study once they have reached to a rating level of Advanced Low on the ACTFL OPI scale (click here to see ACTFL's rating descriptions).
At CGE Jordan, we teach an educated form of Spoken Arabic. We take the first 15 hours or so to make sure that the student has mastered the Arabic alphabet. After that, we move the student through our own Spoken Arabic curriculum which combines critical grammar and basic syntax rules with high-frequency vocabulary and topic-based lessons. So, students come out with a practical grammar structure which enables them to speak intelligently and with greater fluency.
How does your approach differ from the Growing Participator Approach (GPA)?
We are not a GPA center, but one can always find some shared methodology between the different approaches to language learning. During the last five years, numerous GPA centers have opened in Amman. One reason for this is that GPA program fees are typically less-expensive than those of traditional centers. Also, GPA nurturers (language helpers) do not require any prior teaching experience, so they can be hired at less of an expense to the center than a credentialed or well-trained instructor who would possess a better understanding of Arabic grammar and how to drill students in it.
At the core of the differences between GPA's approach and CGE Jordan's approach is the underlying philosophy of how best to learn a second language. The author of GPA bases his method on the assumption that it is more natural for a person to learn a second language as a baby learns her first language -- So, according to this philosophy, there is no need for grammar instruction or learning to read or write until the adult student first learns to speak fluently. Students must discover the grammar principles they need to know through listening to native speakers. In the first 100 hours of instruction or so, a student must not speak or take notes... only listen and try to understand the illustrations shown him.
The weakness with this philosophy lies in the fact that Arabic is very different from the Latin "Romance languages" and even Asian languages, for that matter. Unlike Spanish, French, Mandarin, and many other Asian languages, the grammar of Arabic is complex and does not lend itself to discovery without the guidance of a skilled instructor. As a result, very few students of Arabic in GPA programs are able to learn and understand the basic grammar they need to form correct sentences and communicate well without having already had prior instruction in practical Arabic grammar.
Our firm belief is that it is impossible, as an adult learner, to duplicate the process a child goes through in learning her first language. Even if it were possible, the child would need at least 4-5 years to begin to speak the language at a basic level. The GPA approach diminishes the value of the immense language structure that learners spend years building throughout their childhood. In contrast, we believe this first language structure to be of great value and seek to employ it to helps students to build of a parallel structure in the second language.
At CGE Jordan, we tell our students that Arabic has given us three "saving graces". These are: 1) A simple-to-understand system of writing and spelling, 2) Simple and direct keys to pronunciation emanating from its alphabet, and 3) A highly-structured and predictable lexical construction. These are three big reasons why we include writing as well as grammar structures right from the beginning.
How does your approach differ from traditional Arabic centers (e.g. Qasid or the University of Jordan)?
We differ from traditional Arabic programs in several ways. Firstly, we do not focus all of our attention on teaching MSA. We believe in a balanced approach that acknowledges the great importance of Spoken Arabic in almost every area of life in the Arab World. So, although we instruct students in MSA, we do not believe, in most cases, that students should begin and end there. For this reason, we do not admit students whose sole purpose is to study Quranic Arabic or Arabic poetry. We have chosen to limit our MSA instruction to Media Arabic and practical everyday religious Arabic.
The second way we differ is in regard to our teaching methodology. Unlike most traditional programs, we employ critical drills and other exercises to encourage both fluency and creativity in the language. We also give a lot of attention to high frequency vocabulary as well as crucial grammar concepts that directly affect one's ability to speak accurately and intelligently. Practical Arabic for everyday home and career life is what we are all about and this drives our teaching approach.
How much can I expect to progress in my Arabic at CGE Jordan?
Positively, you will see much more progress in your Arabic during your time at CGE Jordan than you would from taking courses at a university in your home country. Students tell us all the time that they learned more at our institute in a couple of months than they learned in three years of Arabic classes in the United States. But, with regard to what a serious student of Arabic studying full-time with us can expect, here is an approximate time line for the Jordanian/Palestinian dialect (see the ACTFL OPI Proficiency Guidelines for Speaking):
Bear in mind that these are averages for students who are studying more than 15 hours per week. Especially gifted students, with a high level of motivation and good study habits, will reach some these levels earlier.
Should I bring cash with me to Jordan?
Generally, it is not recommended that you bring a lot of cash with you whenever traveling internationally. But, there is less crime in Jordan than in the U.S. or Europe and apartment break-ins are rare in occurrence.
You will need to bring some cash, however. But, make sure that the cash you bring, besides the little bit of money you will change at the airport for your visa, is in $100 denominations. If you bring anything else, you will only get a .700 rate and not the better .708 rate.
How can I access cash while in Jordan?
We recommend that you bring an ATM card and withdraw funds in this manner. Traveler’s checks, bank checks, money orders, and personal checks are not preferred here as the commission taken for cashing them is high and some might not even be accepted. There are many businesses that accept Visa and MasterCard but, again, the exchange rate received when using these cards issued from U.S. banks is not as competitive and so we do not recommend that you use them unless, with one exception -- if you have a credit card that specifically does not charge international fees (Capital One Bank has a rewards card with no international fees). Any Western Union and other cash-sending services take moderate to high commissions and limit the amount of money that can be send at one time.
As far as ATM cards are concerned, you will typically be charged either 1% or 2% (and maybe up to 3%) on any amount of money you withdraw. Additionally, your bank in the U.S. may charge their standard fee for using another bank’s ATM. We suggest that you check with your bank by calling the toll free number on the back of your ATM card and find out how much they charge for withdrawing money from overseas ATM machines. Wells Fargo and other major U.S. banks raised their rate from 1% to 2% a couple of years ago. Of course, a 1% commission is far better than 2% so try to secure a lower rate if possible.
Make sure that you notify your bank and/or credit card company that you will be traveling and accessing money from foreign ATM machines. Some banks will note this in their system so that your card is not rejected or considered stolen, although few students have had this problem in the past.
Lastly, you may need to raise the daily cash withdrawal limit for your card as most banks set those limits fairly low. Students in the past have complained that the ATM would not allow them to withdraw more than $200 per day. This of course, ends up costing the traveler more in ATM fees. A little work on your part in this area will save you both money and aggravation.
Should I change out money in my country before coming to Jordan?
It is better to wait until you arrive to Jordan to change out from your country's currency to Jordanian Dinars (JOD). Because the JOD is tied to the US Dollar (click here for exchange rates) students are recommended to bring US Dollars, if possible because the exchange rate never changes for USD; it will always be .708 JOD to 1 USD. However, those coming from the UK or Europe may bring British Pounds or Euros and exchange them in Amman -- this is not a problem. For currencies that are less known internationally, the holders of those currencies should bring U.S. Dollars.
But, remember to only change out enough money at the airport in Amman for your visa and transportation into the city as currency exchange rates at the airport are less desirable than rates in the city. USD$100 is the recommended amount to change out after embarking the plane.
How and when do I pay for my Arabic study at CGE Jordan?
Although Jordan is mostly a "cash society" and some modern payment options are still not yet available, we are always looking for ways to make payment more convenient for our clients. Presently, students can pay onsite at the institute by cash (Jordanian Dinar or U.S. Dollar), Visa, or MasterCard. However, within a few weeks, secure online credit card payments will be made available to our students. Many language centers here in Jordan charge a 3-4% credit card fee for payment by credit card -- CGE Jordan does not.
Students who have applied and have been accepted into a study program at CGE Jordan will be given an invoice for payment and details about when to pay. Payment dates will differ depending on the program. But, students will always be required to pay before their study begins. Special Track study and Online Track study may be paid on a monthly basis, while courses must be paid in full and in advance of the start of the course.
How may I go about getting an entry visa to Jordan?
Citizens of western countries, as well as many of the developed countries in Asia, do not need to send their passports to the Jordanian embassy in their home country. It is always advised that you simply get a standard tourist visa after you disembark your plane at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman.
Do you have an advice for packing?
Students traveling from the USA are usually allowed 2 check-in bags which must not weigh more than 50 lbs (23 kilos) each. If one your bags weighs anywhere from 51 to 70 lbs, you will have to pay an overweight charge. Please refer to your airline’s website or your travel agent for this information. It is always good to leave a little room in your luggage for bringing back souvenirs. Also, remember that your laptop bag or regular-sized backpack does not count as a carry-on, so you may board the plane with a laptop bag in addition to your carry-on.
Be careful how you pack fragile items, such as cologne, perfume, electronics, etc. These should be put inside of shoes or bundles of clothing and not near the walls of your suitcase. Definitely make sure that you know what items you are and are not permitted to bring on the plane with you, and then pack accordingly. Refer to your airline’s website for detailed information. Lastly, although you can find many western items in Jordan, you may want to bring needed specialty items or medicine that you cannot or do not want to be without in case they are not available here.
A final tip for packing… To make sure that your bag is not overweight, weigh yourself first and record your weight. Then, pick up you suitcase and stand on the scale again. The difference will be your bag’s approximate weight within a pound or two (or within a kilo).
Should I bring anything in particular?
Here are some items that you may want to consider bringing with you:
What should I plan on wearing in Jordan?
While Jordan is one the friendliest and most progressive countries in all of the Middle East, it is also an Islamic country with dress standards that are more conservative than those of the West.
For Men: Men in Jordan typically do not wear shorts or tank tops in public unless while at a pool, running, or working out. As a man in Jordan, it is better to "dress up" than to "dress down". Male students are advised to bring comfortable clothing that has a "neat" appearance. Khakis, dress pants, or jeans will do fine. Long hair and earrings for men are discouraged in Islamic culture. Of course, one may find exceptions in every culture, even in a relatively homogeneous culture like Jordan's.
For Women: Respectable women, in Arabic culture, are considered to be those who wear clothing that covers the shoulders, chest, and legs. Female students should avoid bringing very tight-fitting or revealing clothes. Summer weather in Amman is somewhat hot and dry, similar to Los Angeles weather. Women will not need to wear head scarves or any other religious clothing. Women may also wear pants and conservative tops or shirts.
For All: While t-shirts are okay for some occasions, it is preferred that they be neat in appearance. Casual shoes and sandals are appropriate for the university area and around Amman. Flip flops or flip flop-style sandals are not appropriate for most occasions and are usually only worn in the home. Anyone traveling to Amman should bring at least one “dressy casual” outfit to wear as you never know when you will be invited to someone's home or celebration. For women, this will mean nice slacks and a blouse or they can also wear dresses. Dressy casual attire for men typically means slacks and a button-down shirt, with or without a jacket. Traditional Arab attitudes towards dress can be summed up with one well-known Arabic proverb: "Eat for yourself and dress for others!".
© COPYRIGHT CGE Jordan 2015. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
© COPYRIGHT CGE Jordan 2015. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.