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Learning Egyptian Arabic to fluency in 3 months… in Brazil! Benny’s new language mission!

| 43 comments | Category: mission

(All uploaded videos over the next 3 months related to this project will be subtitled in English, Arabic and Portuguese. Just click the captions button to activate! Want to see the regular videos of this project as soon as they are uploaded, rather than days or weeks later when mentioned on the blog? Subscribe to my Youtube channel)

It’s finally time to announce my next major language project. This may be one of the craziest ones I’ve ever undertaken! Watch the video for the proper introduction, and to see the fancy new intro (and outro) too!

As you’ll see, I have three months, starting today, to reach fluency (more specifically, high level B2/low C1 on this scale) in (Egyptian) Arabic and I plan to do it… in Brazil!

In case that wasn’t confusing enough, this project has yet another twist to it, mentioned in the video or below.

But first, I should explain why I think I’ve got a better chance of learning Arabic faster in Brazil, than I do in Egypt!! ;)

Going to Egypt in January

Learning Arabic will give me a chance to finally go to Africa for the first time, and start my first step to discovering many other places on this vast continent. While I won’t be going there this year, the whole point of this mission will be to prepare to allow me to take full advantage of my time in Egypt, which will come in January, after my 3 month period specifically for learning the language.

While in Egypt, I don’t want to be studying, doing language exercises, memorizing flashcards or taking spoken lessons where the goal is to improve my level. I just want to be absorbing the culture, making friends, and having deep conversations with locals who don’t speak any English. I look forward to sharing cultural insights and interviews on the blog by recording videos when it happens, as I did in China this year, but with a higher level in the language ultimately.

All of my work intensively learning Arabic will be up to December 18th, and I want to arrive in Egypt speaking it; simple as that. So, three months is my deadline!

I’ll be focusing on the Egyptian dialect as much as possible, but learning what I can of classical Arabic too, to allow me to adapt to other dialects later easier, and cover more ground since most study/learning material is based on classical Arabic.

But… why go to Brazil??

To get fluent, why go to Brazil of all places to learn it? Why not just go straight to Egypt already now?

Well, one of the issues I absolutely need to fix, was that I found it quite stressful in Taiwan to learn Mandarin for my first months because my level in the language made it hard to make friends when combined with being in such a different culture.

I didn’t have this issue with, say, Hungarian, even though it’s linguistically unrelated to anything else I had studied, and I also started from scratch. But because it was in a European country I could immerse myself socially as well as linguistically, as European culture is familiar territory for me.

Even with basics in a language, I can go to a bar, nightclub and other familiar social events and use what I know while keeping people’s attention, socialise basically and improve this with time, right from the start. This lets me get to know a few people even in my first weeks of learning languages, when in the west. However, the social-scene is VERY different in Asia (and I imagine it is in Africa too!), and as such, this plan broke down for me this year with Mandarin.

I’m very proud of the level I ultimately achieved with my Mandarin (scroll down on this page to watch my last Mandarin video, interviewing Yang Yang if you missed it), and my level was independently evaluated as B1 (lower intermediate), but I was still short of that fluent-in-3-months goal! I plan on fixing that this time ;)

Difficulties in making friends due to a very different social dynamic, and not having people to confide in until my last month in Taipei, when my level was enough to get around cultural issues, slowed me down immensely as I was stressed out, overworked, and a little lonely to be honest, for those first two months. The best place in the world to solve this problem, is my favourite country in the world of course!

On the three visits to Brazil I’ve had in the past, I’ve eaten well, socialized well, worked out well and felt absolutely fantastic because of this. Brazilians are affectionate and welcoming people, always eager to cheer you up, and it’s a culture I understand pretty well and have no issues socializing in. Brazil is the country that can definitely ensure I’m under as little stress as possible, and with people I feel I can confide the most in, thanks to this.

But… they don’t speak Arabic!

Well, my plan is very simply to spend the vast majority of the week immersed in Arabic. I’ll have spoken sessions on Skype every day (including today, day one, of course), or even in person if I can find people where I’m going: Belo Horizonte. It will be hard, as this city is far from the much more international São Paulo or Rio, but all I need is one or two people to meet up with regularly, or (just as well) plenty of spoken practice online.

You can learn any language anywhere

Ultimately, in Taipei in my last month there were three or four people I met up with socially for drinks or lunch, to finally start getting good consistent in-person practice in Mandarin.

But you know what? I didn’t need to be in a place with millions of speakers. Why would you? All I needed were those specific few people who I met up with for practice. You can find three or four people who speak Mandarin, or Arabic, or Spanish or whatever language you are learning, no matter where you are if it’s a decently sized city.

This is why I fundamentally believe that travelling to the country that speaks it, is NOT necessary to learn to speak a language fluently. In the end, even though I was in the country itself, I didn’t even get my spoken lessons in person any more. It was more convenient and cheaper to do it via Skype!

To date I’ve usually gone directly to the country that speaks the language and started learning it that day. This hasn’t been because I think it’s the best way to learn the language, but because I’m a traveller. Going to new countries is what I do – learning the language is just a consequence of this.

But many years ago, while living in France, I began to learn Portuguese in advance of my trip to Brazil. I met up with speakers that I found online, and studied around those spoken sessions. This meant that I arrived in Brazil already speaking Portuguese.

This certainly contributed to the experience of me being able to immerse quicker and better and ultimately turn Brazil into my favourite country. While I’ve had lots of fun over the last decade with the adventure of arriving somewhere without a word of its language, and figuring my way through the country while simultaneously starting off and working up to conversational level and beyond, from now on I’ll spend my three months to learn the language elsewhere in advance if it’s not in a Latin or European culture. Then I can hopefully arrive in the country speaking fluently, not worry about the language and focus entirely on the culture :)

This will ultimately lead to me learning it faster, as long as I create that same immersion environment virtually, wherever I may be. As you follow my updates, you’ll see how successful I am in attempting this!

Another twist to the story! Learning Arabic… through French!

As if an Irish guy… going to a Portuguese speaking country… to learn Arabic, wasn’t confusing enough, I’ll be doing it… through French!

As you can see in the video, I found that learning languages through another language (usually French, as I happen to like the French version of the Assimil courses) has helped me to think in that language, rather than force me to translate through English in my head.

Because of this I’ll be focusing on using French phrasebooks (both the Lonely Planet one and Assimil’s one) to start off with, and then the B2 tailored Assimil course book for my classical Arabic studying of how the language works, and then hopefully I’ll be ready to hit the C1 book in my final weeks.

I’ll be using some other material too, but the majority of my studying will likely be using these French materials.

Your tips and encouragement appreciated!

I’m sure many readers here have tips specific to Arabic about the approach I could take, Internet resources I can use, how I can find Skype teachers and so on. Please let me know in the comments below! And general encouragement is also appreciated!

You can expect about 3 video updates per month (starting next week) just in Arabic. Subscribe to my Youtube channel to see those, as I may wait a few days or a week before mentioning them on the blog after uploading!

Thanks for reading, and here’s hoping that this time in three months I’ll be speaking fluent Arabic, even though at the time of writing I don’t even know how to say hello in the language yet! This is going to be fun! :D

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  • WC

    When I saw “Brazil”, I felt a little let down somehow. I’ve come to expect interesting things from you. But I should have known better, shouldn’t I? Arabic, through French, on the other side of the globe. Gotta admit, that’s pretty doggone interesting.

    Good luck! I look forward to watching your progress once again. :)

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Glad my project doesn’t disappoint!

  • Andreas Moser

    Very good idea!
    I agree that you get much more out of a country if you already speak a bit of the language once you get there. You won’t lose a week with learning “hello” and the numbers from 1 to 10, or in the case of Egypt how to read the alphabet and the numbers.
    Before I move to my next country (in summer 2013), I will also learn/improve that language.

  • Colin

    Good luck, this sounds like an amazing idea as I think a lot more people using the website will be able to relate to learning a language not in the native country. I have just started trying to learn Egyptian Arabic myself so will be cool to see what you do and hopefully use some of your tips. I agree it is a language that opens up so much of the world that westerners understand so little about, which is the main reason I want to learn it. The first thing I’m doing is currently I’m learning the Arabic alphabet and how to pronounce the letters and am also listening to the Michel Thomas series at the same time, then need to try skype, I might even be cool to get involved in some Arabic skype sessions with you at some point.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Best of luck with your own Arabic mission!

  • Kerre

    Do you yourself subtitle your videos? How did you get the Arabic subtitles if you can’t even say “hello”?

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Sent the English version to a native, who translated it for me :)

  • MidlifeSinglemum

    I took French lessons in Jerusalem once and we learnt through Hebrew. It did mean that you cut out the step of translating everything to English. Good luck!

  • joker159

    amuse toi bien Benny :), bon courage !

  • Carlos Silva

    welcome back to Brazil…Vou acompanhar com muito interesse seu progresso. Este será realmente um desafio e tanto :) . Good Luck…

  • http://howlearnspanish.com/ Andrew

    Ha! Well, this is certainly going to be interesting, that’s for sure! Not doubting your ability to do it, just saying this is a very odd way to go about learning a language, no so much the doing it from another country thing but the doing it via a language other than your native one (French, in this case). I’m still not completely sold on that idea, but I’ve heard it before from at least one other person, so I’m really curious to see how it works for you…have you done this before, by the way?

    I definitely agree with you that it’s better to get fluent in the language before you arrive in-country, but I believe I’ve stated that before.

    Cheers,
    Andrew

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Actually, I pretty much always learn components of my new languages via the French “de poche” series to start with. The only difference here is that I’m taking that to the next level.

  • Chelsea Fairless

    I don’t know if you’ve already done this, so please correct me if I’m wrong, but can you post a list of all the materials you use to study your languages? I’m always looking for reputable books/resources and I trust your judgment.

    I’m excited to see how this mission goes for you!

  • Samuel Machat

    My jaw just about hit the laughing when I read the French twist. As if the rest wasn’t crazy enough! That is truly awesome, and not the kind of awesome that we Americans like to throw around without discrimination.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Glad to hear it’s that different bigger type of awesome. Thanks :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/andras.lincoln Andras Lincoln

    So excited to see how this goes! Good luck, Benny – work your ass off! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/RRRONC Raphael Campos

    This is fantastic! As always, you’re welcome to Brazil!

    I live in Belo Horizonte, and I got very, very excited to know that you’re coming to my city! Indeed, this is not a very diverse city in terms of languages spoken, and it’s hard to find language learning material in here. I study Japanese language, and even in the Japanese association where I go every weekend we hardly have conversations in Japanese.

    I do know an Arab bakery, but I’m not sure you can find Arabs there (maybe it’s just themed that way?). There’s the Mercado Central, though, which looks like a place where you could find many different cultures. I never looked at it from the perspective of language learning, but it is a place you must get to know anyway, so you might want to look for some language immersion there :). Oh, and if you want to practise your Chinese, I know exactly where you could go! The popular shoppings, such as Oiapoque, have tons of Chinese people who don’t like Portuguese :) I wouldn’t know how many of them speak Mandarim or Cantonese, though.

    I’m sure you’ll like Belo Horizonte! You’ll probably attract a lot of attention, too, in a good way, as people from here hardly see any foreigners. Tell me if you want to hang out any time! We’ll probably also be able to find some place(s) for you to stay!

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      Thanks for the invitation! I actually already have an apartment organized, but I look forward to meeting locals when I get there!

  • that one guy

    Hi Benny,

    This is the most inspiring mission to date, and I look forward to your updates. Thanks for doing this one.

  • Delianne Lima

    how can i send you an e-mail? i wanna send you a task assignment to your blog. please, aswer on my e-mail.

    thanks!

  • Do

    Learning egyptian through french in Brazil ! I wasn’t expecting this. It’s awesome, and such a good way to prove that everyone can learn a language wherever they live. It’s motiving too. Good luck!

    I also plan to learn Egyptian arabic. Actually, I understand more or less Egyptian since I am half Egyptian, but I hardly speak it, and I don’t read it (too bad). I look forward to your videos in arabic, I hope I will understand.

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duiT3ZBtGvI Jacob B. Good

      Most people don’t read لهجه they just speak it. Likewise, most public and formal discussions are not in لهجه. لهجه is really just “common people’s” language. لهجه is kind of like Chinese Dialects in China. They are used alongside Mandarin on the streets but they are rarely used anywhere else.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jakub-Sypianski/742763801 Jakub Sypiański

        Well, good luck if you want to find an opportunity to speak fusha. ;) Never occurred to me and having everyday in fusha is just ridicule. ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Thanks for the tips Judith. In future, please write to just the comments or just my email, not the same message copied and pasted in both. As I said, I’m using some of these resources and heard things differently to your recommendations for others.

    Thanks!

    • http://twitter.com/Junesun Sprachprofi

      Thanks. After posting here, I saw “your post is awaiting moderation, review it here” or something to that effect. Later when I checked back, there was no sign of it anymore, so I thought it had been lost in the system.

      • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

        Yes, as the message said, your post was awaiting moderation. So that implies that you have to wait… If I approved every single message instantly, then I wouldn’t be offline studying or on Skype speaking Arabic, would I? ;)

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    I’ll be doing a bit of both the standard and Egyptian, and hopefully focusing more on the latter later in the mission.

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

    Please email (contact form by the email icon on the right) with any payment issues. Thanks!

  • Tim Bilodeau

    As usual, I enjoy your blog and all the tips immensely. What has been your experience with the Michel Thomas courses? I am a big fan but I am curious about the view from other users. Thanks.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duiT3ZBtGvI Jacob B. Good

    Egyptian Arabic? Why not just the Standard Arabic? Learning an Arabic Dialect is like learning a Chinese Dialect or a dead language like Akkadian. There are not many real tangible ways to go about learning it. Everything media wise in Arab countries is in Classical Arabic anyway.

    • Gus Mueller

      Um, Egypt is the most populous Arab country.

      Mandarin and Cantonese are Chinese dialects.

      Benny’s goal is not to watch TV.

      Jeepers.

  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=duiT3ZBtGvI Jacob B. Good

    If you need something to listen to, in order to develop your pronunciation… Youtube is your friend.

  • that one guy

    It would be excellent if you could record one of your early Skype calls so that we could see how you deal with Arabic speakers when you don’t know much Arabic. This would be very helpful to see your technique.

    • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis

      My calls this week still have a lot of English and would require far too much editing to be of any use or interest. Don’t worry, I’ll have plenty of me speaking spontaneously in Arabic in a few weeks!

  • Marco

    Oi Benny! Eu moro em Belo Horizonte e estou ansioso para conhece-lo. Seja bem vindo e estou à disposição para o que precisar! Abraço!

  • http://www.fluentin3months.com/ Benny Lewis
  • Vitor Eiji Justus Sakaguti

    Parece divertido! Quero ver você explicando ao mundo, em árabe, como fazer um delicioso pão-de-queijo mineiro! Avise se vier a São Paulo algum dia. E boa sorte!

  • http://www.facebook.com/sofie.esther Sofie Clara Esther

    It’s so cool that you’re learning Arabic through French. I am minoring in German right now and really enjoying it (except for those damn separating verbs and reflexive verbs.) I love, love, love learning languages and I always thought that the next time I learn a language, I will learn it through German so that way I won’t forget any of my German. I have the chance to go to Germany or Austria for a student exchange program but I am only 19 and I’m not sure if I’m ready to leave my home country (Canada) for 4-9 months. America I could handle easily, but a non-English speaking country in Europe? I might end up chickening out this year, but I’ll try again next year for sure!

    Also, you say you don’t have any advantages over others when it comes to learning languages, but I think you do: you really, REALLY want to learn the language and you know all the right ways to do it. Plus you have a lot of experience. You can’t learn to speak that many languages without having some sort of affinity for them. :) Viel Glück

    • mariem

      who want to learn arabic
      my name mariem . from egypt . i graduated from faculaty of arts department language arabic . and i teaching this language for non speaker it in egypt . this is my phone 00201110989306 . who want to learn arabic . must tell me . thank you

    • Gus Mueller

      Sophie, you’re definitely ready.

  • http://twitter.com/mojocanadian Jozef Kuracina

    Incredible!!!! I’ve been overwhelmingly impressed with you since I first saw a video of yours on Matador, ohhh…. maybe 5 or 6 years ago now. I am a Canadian, currently living in Florianopolis, trying to learn Brazilian Portuguese. If you ever feel like taking a little vacation to the beaches of Ilha de Santa Catarina, I’d be happy to welcome you at my place. Parabéns, amigo! Abraços!

  • Jee

    As an Egyptian, there’s a huge difference between Egyptian Arabic and Standard Arabic. Huge huge huge. Like with Standard, you wouldn’t be able to converse with random Egyptians in the street. So I’m kinda proud of you, stranger haha <3. You said you'd learn in three months, and that was four months ago… How did that turn out?

  • yukti

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