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How Long Does it Take to Learn Arabic?

I’ll try to answer an age old question that I get asked all the time. How long does it take to learn Arabic?

Instead of relying on guesswork, I’ll base my answer on research and studies carried out in order to determine this.

First of all, when we say learn Arabic what do we mean? Because, the answer to our question greatly depends on the level of Arabic we are looking to reach.

The FSI Rating Scale

The FSI Absolute Language Proficiency rating is a pretty useful tool to determine the levels of language mastery. The person to be rated is interviewed by one or more trained testers, who are always native speakers. They converse with him for ten to twenty minutes, testing in mastery in pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary. They then pool their judgements and assign him a rating between 1 and 5.

  1. Elementary proficiency: The person is able to satisfy basic travel needs and minimum courtesy requirements.
  2. Limited working proficiency: The person is able to satisfy routine social demands and limited work requirements.
  3. Minimum professional proficiency: The person can speak the language with sufficient structural accuracy and vocabulary to participate effectively in most formal and informal conversations on practical, social, and profession topics.
  4. Full professional proficiency: The person uses the language fluently and accurately on all levels normally pertinent to professional needs.
  5. Native or bilingual proficiency: The person has speaking proficiency equivalent to that of an educated native speaker

Study time for each level

Here are the estimates that the FSI gives for hard languages (which includes Arabic). Keep in mind that they classify Arabic as a hard language with respect to native English speakers. If you speak urdu for example which is much closer to Arabic, you will be able to reach these goals much quicker.

Source: How to learn a foreign language by Dr Paul Pimsleur

So to put things into perspective, say if you spend 2 hours a day for Arabic (this is the total time you spend for the language and can include activities like reviewing grammar, practicing with a native speaker / tutor, listening to the language, reviewing vocabulary etc) you can achieve level 2-2+ in just 6 months. With respect to learning classical Arabic, I would say that this level would mean being able to read the Quran and classical works, and starting to understanding a good deal of it, with the occational help of a dictionary.

2 hours might seem to be a lot, but this can include listening to Arabic content in your car while you commute or have lunch. This can include spending time with a person who speaks the language (listening and talking to him).

Also, if you are not in a hurry, or have very limited free time, you can work towards the same goal at a much more relaxed pace. Just remember to have your goals in clearly written out, and to make a system, and stick to it.