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Frequently Asked Questions

Learning Arabic

Isn't Arabic hard to learn?

There's no effortless way for adults to learn a new language, despite what some may claim. Learning any language takes time and consistent effort (which can, of course, be great fun). Newbies reach advanced levels of proficiency through practice, study and a willingness to make mistakes and learn from them.

Arabic is certainly no different in this regard but, in the end, it isn't really more complicated than other languages. If you attend classes regularly, study between class meetings and arrive prepared every week you can move confidently through our program and learn Arabic. Arabic's challenges will be clarified for you as you advance through our curriculum.

Also, while Arabic can be tricky, in some ways it's less complicated than most European languages. For instance, Arabic has a very simple verb system -- only two tenses!

How long does it take to learn Arabic?

It takes time to learn any new language well. We offer a full three-year program in Standard Arabic, but you can become quite conversant within a year in our program. So although there might be much more to learn, Arabic can begin opening doors for you fairly quickly.

Learning Arabic at Pacific Arabic Resources

What is Pacific Arabic Resources (PAR)?

Pacific Arabic Resources is a private language school for adults in downtown San Francisco. We are a secular, apolitical institute with only one purpose: helping our students learn.

What's the best way to get there?

You're best off taking MUNI or BART, since we're only half a block from the Montgomery Street station. The school is also served by many bus routes, and is only a few blocks from the Transbay Terminal.

Is there parking nearby?

Although parking can be difficult in the Financial District, our classes meet on weekday evenings (except Fridays) or weekend mornings, when spaces are often available on the street (especially in time for our 7:30 p.m. classes). The most reasonable indoor lots are listed here. There is also abundant motorcycle parking along Jessie Alley, just outside the school. Bicyclists will find a rack in front of the school where they may lock their bicycle. (Bicycles are not allowed inside the building.)

What kind of people are learning Arabic at PAR?

All kinds of people come to PAR to learn Arabic, for many different reasons. Diverse in age, background and viewpoint, they form a vibrant community of language learners. Most of our students are between 25 and 40 years of age, but you'll also find high school students and retirees in our classes. We value our students' diversity, and it's important to us that all our students feel comfortable at our school.

When do classes meet?

Our classes meet on weekday evenings (except Fridays) or weekend mornings. Most classes meet once per week for an hour and a half, while some meet twice per week. Classes begin at 6 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. on weeknights, and at 10 a.m. or 12 noon on weekends.

Are PAR classes only for adults?

Basically, yes. We don't offer instruction for children, but we admit students as young as 14 if they have the emotional maturity to participate in a language class with adults.

How many students are usually in a class?

Generally our classes have fewer than ten students. Our maximum registration is 17 students per class. We keep our classes small to ensure all students receive abundant attention.

Is your school accessible to the differently abled?

Absolutely. The building and all our classrooms are fully accessible. Everyone is welcome to learn Arabic at PAR.

Time Commitment

How much will I learn in each course?

Each of our language instruction classes (as opposed to our conversation, history and calligraphy classes) presents approximately 250 new vocabulary items and some key grammatical concepts. Each course brings the student to a new plateau in their language acquisition.

How much should I do outside of class to keep up?

You will have one (or possibly two) weekly meeting(s) with your instructor to practice earlier material and learn new concepts and vocabulary. You must then study the concepts and memorize the vocabulary on your own, as you'll be expected to know the new material fairly well before returning to class. We're always available to answer questions between class meetings.

Of course, students in our intensive programs will learn new material every day and must dedicate a few hours per day to study outside of class. Many of our intensive students like to stay at PAR and study together, which gives them access to PAR's resources (including teachers) while studying.

How much new material will we learn each week?

Our Standard Arabic classes present an average of 30 words and phrases per week, along with one or two new grammatical concepts.

How much time should I devote to studying each week?

You'll need to devote the time required to learn the new material, which may be more for some students and less for others (and the amount of time required may vary by the week). Therefore, we can't really give a specific answer to that question. However, there's one thing we can say with absolute certainty: it's far better to study a little bit every day than to wait five days and cram. And with the audio CDs you can review easily wherever you are.

Remember, learning a language is largely a matter of developing habits. It's like learning to play a musical instrument: daily practice -- even just a little -- is the way to go!

I want to take a class, but I have travel plans and will miss one or more of the class meetings. What should I do?

If your absences won't be back to back, you might want to take the class anyway. You may have the option of making up the class by attending a weekend meeting at your level (or, if you're in a weekend class, a weeknight meeting).

Barring that, you may schedule a meeting with a private tutor before you return to class. The texts we use in Arabic 1-6 and in our dialect classes were designed for self-study, and students who have time to study while traveling can often keep up with the class without tutoring.

However, if you miss two class meetings in a row we cannot allow you to return to class unless you communicate with the school about your absence and make arrangements for tutoring or otherwise demonstrate your ability to participate fully in class.

Which Class to Take (Beginners)

I've never studied Arabic before. Which course is best for me?

Complete beginners should start with our Arabic 1 or Arabic 1: Fast Track courses. You should know the material presented in Arabic 1 (or its Fast Track variant) before registering for any of our other classes (except our history classes, which are taught in English).

What do you cover in Arabic 1?

Students in this class learn the Arabic alphabet, about 300 Arabic words and some basic grammar. At the end of the course, students are able to form simple sentences and to communicate about basic topics. With this rudimentary knowledge you can move on to any of our other courses. You'll find a complete course description here.

What's the difference between your Arabic 1 and Arabic 1: Fast Track courses?

Arabic 1 is our course for complete beginners to Arabic. Students in this course meet once per week for eight weeks. Arabic 1: Fast Track is the same course, but students meet twice per week for four weeks, covering the material twice as quickly.

Is the Beginner Intensive Program the same as Arabic 1: Fast Track?

No, it isn't. The Beginner Intensive Program is an eight-week course offered in the summer, or a four-week course offered in the winter. Students in the summer program complete a year of college-level Arabic and winter students learn approximately one semester of college-level Arabic. Arabic 1: Fast Track is our Arabic 1 course taught in four weeks instead of eight.

How can I find out more about your intensive Arabic programs?

You'll find the details here, or contact us at instruction@pacificarabic.com if you don't find the information you're looking for.

What is Arabic 1b?

Reading and writing activities form the core of this four-week proficiency workshop. Graduates of Arabic 1 and students in Arabic 2 alike will develop the basic literacy skills necessary to advance through our first-year curriculum. All materials are provided, and there are no homework assignments beyond suggestions for reading and writing practice outside the classroom.

I really just want to learn how to speak. I don't want to learn how to read and write. Does PAR offer classes like that?

No, we don't. We teach all forms of Arabic, Standard and dialectal, using only the Arabic alphabet. Our teaching method stresses conversation, but we teach Arabic using Arabic script in our textbooks, handouts and on the board during class meetings. Students must be able to read and write Arabic in order to enroll in any of our courses except Arabic 1, Arabic 1: Fast Track and our history courses. Even if you are mainly interested in speaking Arabic, it's really a good idea to learn the Arabic alphabet if you study the language. It has only 28 letters and, although it might look baffling at first, it's not very hard to learn.

Which Class to Take (Students Beyond Beginner Level)

What are your Arabic conversation classes like?

Our conversation classes are designed to complement our Standard Arabic courses (Arabic 3 and above), putting new (and old) concepts and vocabulary to active use. The content of these conversation classes is tied to that of our grammar classes, and combining both is a great way to get two doses of Arabic in a week.

I studied Arabic for a while, but that was a long time ago. How do I know which class is right for me?

First contact our registrar, who will help you determine your general level within our curriculum. Based on that assessment, the registrar will schedule a time for you to visit one of our current classes. This class visit will help you (and our school) determine which course level best suits you. We're also prepared to test students for placement purposes, and the registrar may ask the student to come to our office to complete this test. (The test takes no more than a half hour.)

I've begun a class at PAR but my schedule's changed and I need to take the class at a different time. Can I transfer to another class or postpone my registration?

You may not postpone your registration to a future term, but you may transfer to a different section of a class (if one is offered) during the same term. Contact the registrar first, though, because you'll need to resubmit the non-refundable portion of your tuition payment (either $40 or $80). (The non-refundable portion of your tuition represents your commitment to a particular class at a particular day and time; this allows us to schedule classes in advance and make a commitment to our instructors and the other students in your class.) It is always a good idea to double-check your availability for a four- or eight-week course before registering.

My family is from Egypt and I grew up speaking Arabic, but I never learned to read the language. How can PAR help me?

We can help you learn the Arabic script and the Standard Arabic language in a fun, structured group class setting. The Arabic you grew up speaking is Egyptian dialect, which is very different from Standard Arabic (the language of almost all written Arabic). Your best bet would be to take our Arabic 1 class and learn basic grammar, vocabulary and literacy skills while you become accustomed to Standard Arabic phonology.

I don't know how to read it and I can't really understand Al Jazeera, but I do speak Arabic with my family. Do I really have to take Arabic 1 with the beginners?

Students who do not yet know the Arabic alphabet are not eligible to register for any of our classes other than Arabic 1, Arabic 1: Fast Track or our history classes. Although you might feel Arabic 1 is beneath your level, you'll find that it presents a language very different from the one you speak. Remember, modern Arabic dialects differ from Standard Arabic as much as Spanish differs from Latin. You'll be in good company, too, as we have many Arabic heritage speakers in our beginner classes.

How much Arabic can I learn at PAR?

We offer a three-year program in Standard Arabic, bringing the student to an advanced level of proficiency in the language. We teach Standard Arabic as the living language it is, and stress oral and written skills equally. Students who wish to study Standard Arabic at our school beyond our three-year program have the option to join one of our advanced readings or upper-level conversation classes.

Which Class to Take (Standard versus Regional Arabic)

What is Standard Arabic?

Standard Arabic is the official language in Arabic-speaking countries. It is the language of television broadcasts, political speeches, literature and the news. Nearly all written Arabic is in Standard Arabic. If you know Standard Arabic, you can communicate with people throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

What are the Arabic dialects? How different are they from Standard Arabic?

The Arabic dialects are the spoken languages of the Arab world. They differ from each other considerably and, as a group, they differ markedly from Standard Arabic (the official, written language).

Which Arabic should I learn? Should I study Standard Arabic or a dialect?

That would depend on your needs and goals, but many choose to study both. If you're learning Arabic only to communicate with your in-laws, then there's certainly no need to study a lot of Standard Arabic. If, however, you are studying Arabic to do business in the Arab world or to read the news or literature of the region, then you should focus on Standard Arabic. Generally, though, it's a very good idea to learn a dialect in addition to Standard Arabic. A solid grounding in Standard Arabic will make dialect study much easier.

I'm going to visit Morocco next year. Shouldn't I take Moroccan Arabic instead of Standard Arabic?

It would certainly enrich your travel experience if you can communicate a bit in Moroccan Arabic. However, you'll need to take our Arabic 1 class first to learn the writing system and pronunciation of the letters, and some rudimentary grammar.

When should I begin learning a dialect at PAR?

We generally recommend waiting until after you've reached an intermediate level in Standard Arabic. Once you understand the basics of Standard Arabic grammar fairly well, you're likely to find a modern dialect quite simple to learn.

I'd like to study an Arabic dialect at PAR, but I'm not really interested in studying Standard Arabic. Is this okay?

Yes, of course. Some of our students prefer to study only a regional form of Arabic, and that's fine. However, you must know the Arabic writing system (at the very least) before beginning your dialect studies at PAR.

The Deal

How much is tuition?

Workshop (four meetings)$140$40
Full class (eight meetings)$280$80
Winter Intensive (20 meetings of 3.5 hours)$900$250
Summer Intensive (40 meetings of 3.5 hours)$2200$500
Summer Intensive (Part A or B) (20 meetings of 3.5 hours)$1100$250
+The remaining tuition will be refunded if the student withdraws from the class prior to the second class meeting. No refunds are given after the second class meeting begins.

Private tutoring is available only for students enrolled in group classes, and our instructors set their own hourly rate. Contact your instructor to set up a tutoring appointment if you need extra help outside of class.

Does PAR provide financial aid?

PAR provides financial aid to four students each term. Scholarships are available only to continuing students, including those returning to PAR after a break. Scholarships are not available to new students.

To request a scholarship, send a brief email to the registrar explaining your financial need and the particular class you wish to take. Your email must be received at least one week before tuition begins to rise.

The four students who most require assistance will receive a $110 scholarship to be used as half-tuition for any eight-week course. Scholarships may not be used for four-week classes, and students may not receive financial aid during two consecutive terms.

May I visit a class to see what it's like before I register?

Yes, in fact we encourage it. If you'd like to visit a class, please contact our registrar to make arrangements.

May I observe the first class meeting, then register afterward if I like the class?

We encourage you to visit one of our classes before registering since we don't allow visitors at the first meeting of a class. Try to visit a class now if you're considering taking one of our classes in the near future.

What if I don't like my class?

To drop a class or request a refund, simply notify the registrar. You will receive a refund (minus the non-refundable portion of your tuition) if you notify the registrar before the second class meeting. No refunds are given after the second class meeting begins.

Do students receive academic credit for your courses?

We're a private language school and do not offer academic credit for our courses. Some students have obtained credit for our courses through their high school or university. Students need to arrange this through their own institution.

Not Our Bailiwick

Do you provide translation services?

No, we don't. If you're looking for translation or interpretation services in the Bay Area, have a look at the Northern California Translators Association website.

I believe in a cause and I have an announcement to share with your students. Where should I send it?

PAR is a secular, apolitical institute. We stand only for language learning (although we're passionate about that). Therefore, we don't pass on cause-related announcements, and students are encouraged to leave their political and religious views at the door when they come to class. We want everyone to feel equally comfortable studying at our school as part of our learning community. We believe that's one of the things that make our school so great.