Egyptian Chronicles: What About Chinese And Hindi !!?? What About Hebrew ??

Monday, September 6, 2010

What About Chinese And Hindi !!?? What About Hebrew ??

The genius scientists in Israel have reached out that Arabic language is hard to learn because it is hard for the brain. I do not know why I have the feeling that the same thing was said about Yiddish in Nazi Germany !!!
Scientifically this research which based on 40 students sample can’t be conclusive , it is rather a joke. Seriously I wonder what the academy of Arabic language will think of this huge research and its findings.
As far as I know same thing can be said and can be concluded about other Semitic languages like for instance Hebrew which is difficult for non Jews as Arabic for non Arabs. Hebrew and Arabic are written from right to left  for those who do not know
I do not understand these photos with these captions , Lebanon is well known to have this fight between English, French and Arabic from very long time !!
I am just wondering what these scientists think of a language like Chinese which is known to be really hard to learn or any other language like Hindi !!??
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  1. The question isn't whether the language itself is difficult, rather its alphabet. And for all of the languages you have mentioned - Chinese, Hindi, Hebrew - the characters in those alphabets are distinct enough to be easy to pick out from one another, and therefore literacy is easier to accomplish.

    Even before the Israeli researchers "discovered" this, I've felt that the Arabic alphabet needs some changes. When Kamal Ataturk changed to a roman alphabet, Turkey's literacy skyrocketed. It's because we cling to tradition that we are unwilling to change when the times call for it. It's a sad reality, but true.

  2. I ditto Ali's comment.

    Scientifically speaking, a 40 student sample is significant enough for the results to be taken into consideration. I believe this research is very important, it can teach us a lot about our language, and how we can teach it better to foreigners. Too bad we don't have research institutes that are ready to capitalize on it.

  3. What a hateful post. Can you tell us what is racist on it? Can you show us the claimed Nazi research which used same methodology as Israeli one?

    I asked my girl, and they had spent by learning reading/writing at school 3 times more time than we had done with Latin.

    Last time it was 24, now you are spitting on brain scans. May be anti-hate pills?

  4. They say that Polish is a very hard language to learn, followed by Mandarin, Cantonese, Arabic and Korean.
    The degree of difficulty or ease in learning a language lies in the difficulty of it's pronunciation, vocabulary, alphabet, etc, but most importantly its' relativity or non-relativity to other languages.
    The Canadian.

  5. Z,
    I am glad that you've highlighted on this report because no body seems to notice it, at least from Arab/Egyptian bloggers.

    I second (Ali) & (Tarakiyee) opinion about the importance of this research yet my real problem is with many points that caught my attention in the bbc report itself and you've got one of them which is the photos. I've rambled too over mine about it.

  6. Arabic is known to be a hard language to learn. It's grammatical structure and letter forms are very distinct from languages spoken by those who might be interested in learning it.

    Even for people who speak Farsi or Urdu, the similarities are in the letter forms and some keywords, but the language structure is completely different.

    If this research proven to be accurate, it could be a good clue to enhance techniques for learning Arabic. It doesn't recommend that Arabic is hard so it is either inferior or shall be abandoned, that's up to the receiver's judgment. Regardless of the research source, what matters is whether the conducted experiment was fairly balanced and accurately documented or not.

    It is almost impossible to compare languages in general or try to say that one is better than the other. But one can quantify the amount of time, effort needed to reach an acceptable level of using a language for communication, but again that doesn't say anything about how beautiful or superior (if any) the language is.

    What is really a shame is that this research was conducted by non-Arabs (which happens 90% of the time for such research efforts) and that we aren't studying other languages, and especially a language of an enemy, to that extent.

  7. @Ali: there is a huge difference between researching for better ways to teach the language and introducing radical changes like changing the characters all together.

    @John: I dnt see how your story about your girl is relevant, unless you are teaching her Arabic, which begs the question, if you hate us so much why are you teaching your kid our language?

    I dnt understand why some are finding this study useful. Arabic isnt an easy language to learn, thats not news to any one and it doesnt mean there is any thing wrong with that.

  8. Please keep that tool ataturk out of this!

    Semitic languages in general are difficult be it Aramaic, hebrew or arabic! and this crap about McTurkishing our language is down right pathetic and outlandish.

    It's the pot calling the kettle black both tongues hebrew and arabic are gutturall and very difficult to navigate.....this is a non-story IMO!

  9. صعوبة اللغة العربية بفرض ان ذلك صحيح
    قد تكون ميزة فمثلا المجتمع يصبح
    صعب الاختراق امنيا و ثقافيا

    Egyptian in USA

  10. We can certainly discuss techniques of teaching languages, but all other factors about the absolute difficulty of the script has no meaning.

    The logic and script of any given language can be a challenge to learners coming from a second language, but no self-respecting linguist would make a claim such as "the language is difficult for the human brain"! and certainly justifications based on difficulty of the script are nonsense.

    و طبعا وهم الميزة الأمنية لصعوبة أي لغة غير موجودة غير في عقلية الشعوب الأمنية.

  11. and this is indeed a funny phrase:

    "for all of the languages you have mentioned - Chinese, Hindi, Hebrew - the characters in those alphabets are distinct enough to be easy to pick out from one another"


  12. Ahmad,

    It is clear from reality that millions of people have mastered the Arabic alphabet perfectly fine. The question is not whether it is possible, but rather if there is something to the point that certain symbols are easier to piece together, mentally, than others. Clearly, after much use, people begin to read Arabic as a second nature (as with all languages), but that doesn't change the possibility that the brain might react differently when shown different symbols - no differently than the brain reacting quicker to seeing a picture of an apple, rather than the word "apple."

    Mostly, I think everyone is confusing the discussion: this is not a question about learning Arabic as a language in general - it is a discussion of the written characteristics of the Arabic language. This is something divorced from the language itself in many ways, especially given the gap between Fus7a and common speach and their relations to the written alphabet. I don't think this talk about "McTurkishing" is appropriate - there is no reason the Arabic language cannot be given the right to develop, especially if that change comes from within the Arab community. The issue is that no one, like whoever it was, is willing to accept change, on the basis that it is "outlandish" and unacceptable. I think that those ideas are the dangerous ones - not changing an alphabet.

  13. I agree with Ahmed Gharbeia guys , nobody said that Arabic was easy language but the claim it is hard for the brain to understand is very offensive especially on how this report presented presented this so called study

    @Egyptian in USA , I do not see how Arabic and its difficulty stopped colonization and protected our societies

  14. I just want to point out a few things.

    Arabic typography witnessed many changes to reach its current form. We all know that adding diacritics(Tashkeel) came at a later age, and without adding them, it would have been very very hard for non-Arabs to learn Arabic. And till today, many non-Arabs fail to read non-diacritized words properly. Words like "كتب", "ذهب" can have different meanings depending on the context. While it seems very obvious for a trained reader, it is not like that at all for a reader from different background.

    However, all Semitic languages actually omit diacritic marks in everyday writing. And in Hebrew, for instance, dots above, inside, or below the letters are used as diacritic marks, but every letter has its unique form, no dots are used to distinguish between letters.

    The problem with Arabic dots is that they don't reflect meaningful information about the sounds of the letters either, ج، ح، خ only share little in common, and so with د and ذ. If you would group Arabic letters based on their phonetic features you would have something like (ت،ط), (ذ،ظ), (ح،ه), (ق،ك), (س، ص) and so on. So it is actually kind of interesting to know why are they formed like that.

    What the result is implying is that we would rely heavily on the details to be able to distinguish Arabic letters. And the dot is definitely a detail for the human brain. It is something isolated and too tiny to fit in a big, snappy picture of the letter form. But this is only on the letter level. If we go to the word level it is a complete change, because Arabic uses connected letter form, which might actually be easier to read than isolated digits. Because the brain reads words as a whole and not as a set of letters.

    As you can see this is actually a very important area of research that has many implications, not only in learning language by humans, but even in computer character recognition applications.

    Maybe the journalist reporting of the research wasn't professional enough and had some prejudice about the subject. But I think we shouldn't be mislead by that and ignore the actual importance of such studies.

  15. زينب

    أنا لم اقل عسكريا و اقتصاديا
    ولكن قلت امنيا و ثقافيا

    Egyptian in USA

  16. Z,
    I notice something in your original post and wish it come true. The "Academy of Arab Language" is an institute that deals with 'linguistics' + 'translation' + 'lexicon' + dictionaries', so I don't think they can track this issue alone. It must be tracked mainly by the support of 'Psychology' + 'Neuropsychology.' This is what I meant by the importance of this research in my 1st comment or else, it's like you mentioned about the 'Yiddish'.

  17. Ali,
    It certainly helps, and is essential in such a discussion, to have the sense of differentiating between a spoken language and its writing system. Many discussions about languages are lost because the lack of this.

    But even though writing has become the mean way by which language is taught, it is still unscientific to say that the writing system of Arabic language is the reason why it is difficult to learn. From my own observation the difficulties native speakers have with Arabic are not with reading/writing, but rather with syntax, style, and maybe spelling, due, as you mentioned, to the state of duality modern Arabs have between a standardised and a vernacular language, and to changes in the phonetics of the language, as you also note, but the difficulties are not because of inability to decipher the script.

    You wrote: "but that doesn't change the possibility that the brain might react differently when shown different symbols - no differently than the brain reacting quicker to seeing a picture of an apple, rather than the word "apple."

    For the completely illiterate, writing symbols - except ideograms - are meaningless and mutable. However once a person learns to read, his brain never returns to the state of *reacting* to each symbol alone. You cannot recall the sense of being unable to read once you learn how to. Do I make sense?

    But I don't see the point in your example of the image of an apple, and the written word "apple" in this context, because Arabic script, like its distant relative Latin script, are abstracted, alphabetical (generally speaking) writing systems in which the shapes of symbols mean nothing to the reader other than the recording of a "sound", unlike some other writing systems.

    Speaking of difficulties facing non-native speakers of the language at learning it is a completely different subject. As far as writing is concerned, this group can also be expanded to include people whose mothers probably talked to them as children - i.e. mother tongue - in Arabic and/or another language, but who've had most of their education in a language other than Arabic - i.e foreign schools - in Arab counties, or abroad, and who never actually depended on written Arabic as their main medium of learning and expressing.

    So does the claimed study mean native, or non-native speakers?! And Equally important, does it measure the effect of the script alone on learning Arabic, and/or the difficulty in learning Arabic script itself when used to write any language at all [e.g. Farsi], concluding that switching to another script would ease learning? Or does it refer to Arabic language as a whole, with its structures and logic regardless of script?

    Moreover, I take your statement of Hindi and Chinese scripts as being easier to distinguish than Arabic script as an attempt at a funny exaggeration, coming from whom I assume to be an Arabic speaker/reader who cannot read neither of these two language, no?

    Do you have a reference to literacy increasing in Turkey after switching to the Latin alphabet? Does that take into consideration the reformation of Turkish language itself making it - according to some linguists - a different language from Osmanly?

    Issues of language are always highly politicised, due to their affinity to culture, identity and nationalism, so one has to be extra careful before accepting the results of claimed studies or assumptions.

  18. AntiVirus,
    Diacritical marks are an integral part of the Arabic writing system without which you're judging only part of the system's specification.

    I know, like you do, that they are omitted in everyday's use, but this is not a limitation in design (not to say there aren't any). You're note about non-native speakers facing difficulties to do the processing needed to distinguish between similar-sans-diacritics words does not help in this discussion, because of the ambiguity in the scope, assumptions and conclusions of the study (see my question above about the study). Again I ask, does the claimed study mean native, or non-native speakers as the learners facing difficulty?!

    I also argue that were diacritics are omitted in everyday use they are not critical; grocery lists, personal messages, etc. The problem is omitting them where they should not be; in newspapers (which are important means by which people acquire language), and most importantly text books directed at readers up to adolescence. But I agree that it is a problem which affects even the way people have come to use the language.

    By the way, Arabic and Hebrew are not the only languages in which diacritical marks are practically omitted thus making it difficult to non-native learners: modern Greek omits intonation marks. English orthography doesn't include a means to marking stress which changes the meaning of the verbs "re'cord" and "ob'ject" to their respective nouns "'record" and "'object", the determination of which depends on context to decipher; i.e you need to understand the sentence before you are able to pronounce it, whereas you can completely voice fully marked Arabic text without necessarily understanding its meaning. Additionally, for so many English words, unless you learn them by heart, or know their etymology, there's no way you can guess the popper pronunciation of a word which you never heard before. Does this ambiguity in writing affect learning English?

    Also your statement "And in Hebrew, for instance, dots above, inside, or below the letters are used as diacritic marks, but every letter has its unique form, no dots are used to distinguish between letters. ignore the sin/shin duality? And the Kaf and Pe duality of sounds in modern Hebrew according to their placement in the word increasing the needed processing to decipher!


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