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Brain Study: Reading Arabic Isn’t Easy

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Saif
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United States
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Speaks: English*, Arabic (Levantine)*, French

 
 Message 1 of 14
01 September 2010 at 1:17am | IP Logged 
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100831102621.ht m

"The brain's right hemisphere is not involved in the initial processes of reading in
Arabic, due to the graphic complexity of Arabic script. Therefore, reading acquisition
in Arabic is much harder in comparison to English, new research suggests.

...

The results have revealed that the right brain is involved in the reading process for
English and Hebrew, but not for Arabic. The authors explained that in Arabic,
identifying the number and location of dots that is critical in order to differentiate
between letters is a hard task for the right brain since that hemisphere primarily
utilizes global information in order to identify letters. The overall findings support
the hypothesis that the complexity results in high perceptual load, contributing to the
difficulty and slowness of processing in reading Arabic."

Edited by Saif on 01 September 2010 at 1:20am

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Radoznao
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 Message 2 of 14
01 September 2010 at 2:04am | IP Logged 
Wow. Thank you for this. I am a fluent speaker of an arabic dialect and I can understand the news etc rather well
when listening, but my reading is painfully slow...and showing very weak signs of improving...ya weeeeli!


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CaucusWolf
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Speaks: English*
Studies: Arabic (Written), Japanese

 
 Message 3 of 14
01 September 2010 at 3:46am | IP Logged 
       Studies aren't correct for every person. I find reading Arabic to be fairly easy. I can read it fairly quickly as long as I know the Vocabulary. Obviously not as quickly as English but it's also not my native language.
       Honestly, the dots that distinguish certain Arabic letters make them that much easier to identify. This can be said especially when comparing it to the seemingly more complex Latin Alphabet.

Edited by CaucusWolf on 01 September 2010 at 3:48am

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William Camden
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 Message 4 of 14
01 September 2010 at 1:31pm | IP Logged 
Do they mean for foreign learners of Arabic, or Arabic native speakers learning to read the language? Or both?

If they mean native speakers, I would not have thought the script was the problem with Arabic literacy. The problem is that written Arabic can be quite different from the spoken varieties.
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Ester
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Speaks: Modern Hebrew

 
 Message 5 of 14
02 September 2010 at 1:31am | IP Logged 
I don't speak Arabic so I might not get things correctly, but... Why aren't the results for Hebrew approximately the same? When you learn to read in Hebrew it's also all about little dots that make a difference in vowels (though in 3rd-4th grade kids stop using vowels completely), and it also takes time to distinguish between visually similar letters, it's just that those are "square" rather than "dots". Could somebody explain to me what's the difference between learning to read Arabic and Hebrew?
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skeeterses
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 Message 6 of 14
02 September 2010 at 4:33am | IP Logged 
I haven't done too much studying on Arabic so take my 2 cents with a grain of salt.

Just like with Hebrew and English, Arabic has around 20 some letters. But Arabic is cursive, which means that
most of its letters have 3 different forms.

But the real kicker is all the ligatures, the letter forms that result when two or more letters are stacked up in one
space instead of being written neatly next to each other on one line like you'd see in an Arabic 101 book. I did a
search on google one time for the Arabic for the Unicode Arabic ligatures and the Unicode charts I found had
over 400 different forms for these ligatures including a couple phrases from Islam. If written Arabic looks as
difficult as Chinese or Japanese, it's because the Arabic writing system is up there with Chinese and Japanese.
Trying to read Arabic calligraphy is another story altogether.

The way I learned about the difficulty of its writing system was after 9/11 when I went into a mosque to try
reading a Quran for the first time. I picked up the little brown pocket Quran and was trying to compare the
letters with the Arabic charts off of the UKIndia website. Needless to say, everything after the bismi verses
looked like jibberish.

Luckily websites like the Corpus Quran have appeared since then to help non-Arabs understand the Quranic
Arabic better.
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Doitsujin
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 Message 7 of 14
02 September 2010 at 10:51am | IP Logged 
skeeterses wrote:
Just like with Hebrew and English, Arabic has around 20 some letters.

Technically speaking, Arabic only has 28 letters, but in term of graphemes, the student also has to learn:
- 3 letters with a Hamza (glottal stop) and the Hamza itself [+4]
- dotted and dotless variations of Hā' and Yā' respectively [+2]
- 2 variations of Alif (Alif Madda & Alif Wasla) [+2]
- the mandatory Lam Alif ligature [+1]
which brings the total count to 37 letters. Of course, students will also need to learn 8 diacritics (9 if you include the "Dagger Alif") that are used to indicate vowels, absence of a vowel, doubling of a letter and case endings.

skeeterses wrote:
But Arabic is cursive, which means that most of its letters have 3 different forms.

Actually, most of them have 4 forms (initial, medial, final and isolated), but since most of them are similar, this isn't a major problem for most students.

skeeterses wrote:
But the real kicker is all the ligatures, the letter forms that result when two or more letters are stacked up in one space [...] I did a search [...] and the Unicode charts I found had over 400 different forms [...]

In most real life printed texts only a handful of them are used. The Unicode charts contain contain so many ligatures, just in case someone develops a typesetting software that wants to make use of them.

skeeterses wrote:
If written Arabic looks as difficult as Chinese or Japanese, it's because the Arabic writing system is up there with Chinese and Japanese.

The Arabic alphabet may look very very complicated, but is definitely easier to learn than the Chinese or Japanese writing systems. It takes most people only a couple of days or weeks at most.

skeeterses wrote:
The way I learned about the difficulty of its writing system was after 9/11 when I went into a mosque to try reading a Quran for the first time.

The Qur'ān is difficult to read for beginners, because it contains special recitation marks (pause marks) above the diacritics, which confuse many beginners. And, as you already noticed, it also contains special ligatures for commonly used eulogies such as ‏ﷺ‎. But they're only found in religious texts.

Edited by Doitsujin on 02 September 2010 at 12:41pm

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