Arabic for Life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Arabic Language

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:

  • Understanding the Qur'an and other Islamic texts
  • Studying Arabic poetry or historical documents of Arabic civilization
  • Reading Arabic newspapers and other forms of news media

If, however, it is your goal to do any of the following, you should strongly consider studying Arabic dialect (Spoken Arabic):

  • Speak and communicate with Arabs in their heart language
  • Build strong and meaningful relationships with Arabs
  • Live in an Arabic-speaking country
  • Prepare yourself for a career in an Arabic company
  • Understand Arabic films and music

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):

  • From Beginner Low to Intermediate Low: 2-3 months
  • From Beginner Low to Intermediate Mid: 6-9 months
  • From Beginner Low to Intermediate High: 12 months
  • From Beginner Low to Advanced Low: 1-1/2 - 2 years
  • From Beginner Low to Advanced Mid: 2 - 2-1/2 years
  • From Beginner Low to Advanced High: 2-1/2 - 3-1/2 years
  • From Beginner Low to Superior: >4 years

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.

Finances

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.

Travel

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:

  • A pair of flip-flops or shower shoes
  • An extra pair of hiking shoes or cross trainers that you don’t mind getting wet and muddy
  • Any prescription medicine that you will need to take during the duration of the trip
  • Good sunscreen
  • A bathing suit
  • A towel or two
  • A wash cloth (if you use them)

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!".

Life in Jordan

What's it like to live in Jordan?

The city of Amman is set on seven hills and is one of the oldest continually-inhabited cities in the world.  It is large, with a population of around 4.5 million in the "Greater Amman" area.  The shops are small and the streets narrow, but beaming with life in Amman's historic downtown district. However, West Amman is home to Jordan's large malls, restaurants, and cafes.  With each new year

that passes, the list of Amman's restaurant choices expands.  From Indian, to Chinese, to American fast-food, and even specialty international cuisine, you can find it and enjoy it in Amman -- of course, some of the best Arabic food in the world is to be found here as well!

Amman boasts a superb quality of private healthcare.  Because of its high quality and affordability, Amman has become the medical hub of the Arab World.  In education, Jordan also stands out, drawing many Arab students from all of the Gulf regions to complete their higher education.

What kind of products are available in Amman?

Within the last decade, the breadth of products available in Amman has increased dramatically.  It is safe to say that almost anything you can find in the West can be had also in Jordan.  Of course, the newest high-tech gadgets are not easy to come by, but those can be brought along with you if you'd like.  As with any international travel, if you have something that you would not like to live without, then you should probably go ahead and bring it just to be on the safe side.

Can I receive packages while in Jordan?

Yes.  We allow students to receive packages by way of our P.O. Box address.  Packages can also be delivered to the institute through DHL, UPS, and Aramex.  There are a few important things that students need to take into account first before agreeing to have a package sent to them in Jordan.  Firstly, keep in mind that customs are applied to all electronics and many other goods, except for food.  Secondly, sending a package by U.S. Post Office (even airmail) can take in excess of over one month to arrive.  Also, packages sent through DHL and other quick delivery carriers can be very costly.  3-day delivery for a one-two page document costs approximately USD $50.  Packages sent from Europe are only slightly less expensive.

If your concerned that your baggage may be overweight and you are considering sending some items by airmail, we would not recommend it.  It would be less expensive and much more convenient to check a third bag with the airline.

If, however, you'd like to send a package, please contact our institute and we'd be glad to provide our mailing address for your use along with instructions.

How will I get around?

There are many ways to traverse the city.  Although Amman does not have a subway or a train, there are other inexpensive options, like taxis, services (shared taxis that run set routes), mini-buses, and large buses.  Mini-buses run set routes and cost about USD $0.50 per route.  Most internationals prefer to take taxis as they can be found almost anywhere and are relatively inexpensive.  You can find approximate taxi rates on our "How to Find Us" page.

If you want to go outside of the city or you have a lot of traveling to do, it's a good idea to rent a car for a day or two.  It costs about USD $30 per day to rent a small 4-door car.  A valid driver's license from your home country is sufficient.  Students are advised to consult with our assistant director before renting a vehicle.

If you plan on staying in Amman for a longer period and would like to buy a car, then here are some helpful facts to know.

  1. Non-Jordanians are not permitted to purchase a vehicle older than 5-years.
  2. Customs duties on vehicles are around 100% (duties are exempt for diplomatic personnel), so expect to pay more than what you would for the same model in the USA or many parts of Europe.
  3. Any non-Jordanian wishing to purchase a car and operate it, must first have a valid annual residence permit and a Jordanian-issued driver's license.
  4. A driver's license is fairly easy to get in Jordan, if you already have a driver's license from your country.  But, Jordanian driver's licenses are much more expensive for non-Jordanians; they have a 10-year expiration date and cost over $100 in fees.

What kind of electrical plug is standard in Jordan?

Jordan imports 220-volt appliances targeting the various countries of the EU and he UK, so there is no one standard for electrical plugs.  Nevertheless, the thinner or thicker two-prong European plug types will be used most of the time.  You can easily buy a suitable adapter here in Jordan for about USD $1.

Will my electrical devices work in Jordan?

They may or may not work here.  If it is a laptop, iPad, cell phone, or an eletric shaver, they will work without a problem because the power supply comes with a "switching" part for 110 to 220-volt and vice versa.  But, for all other devices, you will need to look at the specs on it to make sure that it is "110/220".

Will my cell phone work there?

If you are from Europe, yes.  But, if you are coming from the USA, then that would depend in your service provider's system.  Sprint use the CDMA system, while the other two AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon use the GSM system.  GSM phones take a SIM card.  Jordan's cellular phone system is GSM and only works only with SIM cards.  So, if you do not have an unlocked GSM-compatible phone, you will not be able to use it in Jordan except when connecting to WiFi in certain select locations.  A 2014 law now requires cell phone companies to unlock customers' phones (even those under contract) upon request.  However, some phone companies are issuing phones to their customers unlocked.

What options are there for exercise?

There are gyms in every district of the city.  Some are bare-bones and others are large and full-service.  Here's a list of gyms our students seem to like the most (with links):

Are there any excursions available for students?

Yes.  We have scheduled trips pretty much all year to most of the places listed in the next FAQ entry.  We also set up trips for our students or give them advice whenever they need it.  For those who like to go on their own, we have a very helpful hiking book with detailed information on canyon trails and other hikes all over Jordan, including GPS coordinates.  The book is available for student use anytime and can be found in our Arabic Studies department.

What places in Jordan are worth seeing?

That depends on your taste.  But, we have found that students under 40, really enjoy visiting Wadi Rum and also canyon hikes near the Dead Sea.  Here are the main draws for Westerners (with links).

Do I need to get medical insurance?

If you are planning to study in our official CGE Study Abroad program, then it is required for you to have medical insurance for Jordan.  But, even if you are not a study abroad participant, we still recommend that you have medical insurance for your time in Jordan.  Although, medical procedures and general healthcare costs here are a fraction of what you would incur in the USA, emergencies can happen anywhere and it's best to be prepared for the worst.

The first thing we tell students is to check there existing insurance plan to see if its network coverage extends to Jordan - sometimes, this is the case.  Although the list of approved doctors may be small, it usually makes more sense to utilize your existing policy rather of purchasing another.  If your current policy does not cover Jordan and you would like to purchase quality international insurance, we recommend purchasing from following company: Gallagher Charitable

With regard to dental insurance, it comes down to preference.  We do not usually recommend it, because it is rare that students have dental emergencies while in country.  However, if one were to occur, the costs associated with dental procedures here are very low.  For example, a root canal from a reputable dentist in Amman, would only cost about USD $300.  A standard cleaning costs about USD $30-$40 or less.

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