(Updated 27 June 2019)
Duolingo’s Arabic course is finally here! Duolingo announced in 2017 that the course would launch in March 2018. Over a year past that initial launch date, it has arrived.
Do Duolingo teach the alphabet?
I own Arabic Reading Course, an online course that teaches English speakers the Arabic alphabet and how to read with it. The course is incredibly popular and has been online for 9 years. For that reason, I was really interested to see if Duolingo would cover the alphabet in their course.
The answer is, they do cover the alphabet. A lot. In my opinion they cover it too much in the first few lessons. The first 4 lessons are entirely about learning the alphabet. Personally I wouldn’t have taken this approach. The alphabet is the hardest and most daunting thing about Arabic. It would have been nice to start with something really easy, that just uses audio so you could learn some words by listening instead of having to read them.
Having said that, the method they use for teaching the alphabet is very effective. They don’t fall into the trap of presenting the entire alphabet in one go. They teach a few letters at a time. They start by teaching only letters that don’t change their form in words. This makes it easier to recognise them.
During the alphabet lessons you have to be quite observant to notice some of the different sounds and how the characters and symbols influence the sound. For example, it introduces the ‘sukun’ symbol without explaining it and leaves you to deduce that the symbol gives the consonant a ‘doubled’ effect.
They settled for MSA
This was disappointing. They took the easy route and chose to teach a dialect that nobody naturally uses for every day conversation (but as we know, Duolingo doesn’t really concern itself with realistic communication).
I can see that it would have been difficult for them to choose a dialect because there would have been so many angry reactions about why they chose one dialect and not another.
If you’re more interested in learning a dialect, luckily there are more and more resources becoming available these days. For example, I recently discovered Talk in Arabic which looks very useful.
My overall opinion
On the whole, I don’t particularly like the Duolingo method (regardless of the language) but I congratulate them for finally launching this course and for taking on the difficult challenge of teaching the alphabet.
Unfortunately, I don’t know if the course will produce very many confident Arabic speakers but, at the very least, it will make Arabic a little more ‘accessible’ as a language by encouraging more people to give it a try.
Arabic Reading Course
If you’d like to try an alternative (easier?!) method for learning the alphabet, have a look at Arabic Reading Course.