Ahlan…ana ismi Maha…..
So I am making my very first blog post- a special book review! I am telling you this may become ranty and if you are a fan of this series you will hate this review. I really just have to get this off my chest but Al-Kitaab sucks! It just sucks. It is the worst language textbook I have ever used and I have used a lot. As you know from my first post I am majoring in Arabic and this Al-Kitaab series is the standard for use in college classrooms. Why? I have no idea because the book is so bad. First let me say the first book in the series called Alif Baa that teaches you the alphabet is fine, it is a great book for learning the alphabet the problems start coming in Al-Kitaab Part 1. First of all this book is for beginners, the only thing you know about Arabic before beggining this book is the Arabic script. You might know some few vocabulary words or whatever but still Alif Baa’s main purpose was just to teach you how to read Arabic. So when you first open Al-Kitaab the whole table of contents is completely in Arabic with no English translation. The pages are also numbered in Arabic but Alif Baa only taught you to count to about twenty. So if you have to find a page or look up something in the table of contents you are screwed because you can’t understand anything. Yes you can read it but you can’t understand it!
Okay so let’s move on to the first chapter. You start with a girl named Maha, she tells you in Arabic she is a student studying English literature at the University of New York. Now this is fine, there is a lot of good vocab that beginners need especially for college students. However this is said in a video, which is great, I love the fact it is in the video but no where in the book is the dialogue written down. Actually in all of Al-Kitaab no dialogues are written down ever. You are supposed to guess what they are saying and even the authors tell you in the book that you are supposed guess what they are saying and they don’t give you all the vocab in the videos on purpose! But the reader is supposed to be a beginner! How are we supposed to figure it out?? Also in the first chapter, they teach words for grammar constructions that you are supposed to memorize and then it never shows up again in English so you have to constantly look back in case you forget. And let’s talk about grammar for a second. because Al-Kitaab sure doesn’t talk about grammar. Arabic is very grammar heavy but every grammar lesson in this book is less than a page long and gives you maybe one example with no English translation of the example. In chapter ten they try to explain how to form conditionals but after explaining it, they give you two examples! Just two with no translation! The whole book is extremely vague. This goes back to the authors wanting you to guess at everything but how are you supposed to guess when you are still a beginner?! Also, the exercises in this book are just awful. They are mostly fill in the blanks, there are almost no grammar exercises at all. All the reading exercises are way too advanced for beginners. For example in Chapter 9, they want you to read a newspaper article about the government of Jordan but you don’t know more than half of the vocabulary or half of the grammar used in the article. Nobody could understand it, our teacher had to translate it for us. Again in Chapter 10 they give you a biography of the Ayatollah Khomeini which is way too advanced and again our teacher had to translate it for us because no one could understand it.
So each lesson begins with vocabulary and some vocabulary is pretty good but most the vocabulary is not very useful or completely random to the chapter. For example using this book I can say “My mother died in a car accident two years ago” but I can’t say “I would like Tabbouleh please” or any conversational words at all because this book does not teach high frequency conversational words. It does not even teach you how to tell time until chapter nine! Which it barely teaches you you are again expected just to guess what time it is. Also none of the dialogues in this book are in the least bit interesting. For the first five chapters you have Maha and Nasreen (Nasreen is the girl for the Syrian dialect). Every story she gives you just talks about how lonely she is, how she only has one friend Laila (who Maha is jealous of because Laila has a swimming pool). And one dialouge is about how she can’t remember her family member’s names and one about how she hates New York and it’s weather. And then we move onto Khalid who is just as depressed as Maha. He talks about how his mother died in a car accident and that his father would no let him go for literature and his girlfriend dumped him for a rich Saudi man. And then you have the other characters in the dialect dialogues which I can barley understand because they aren’t written in the book. The one dialogue is about a husband and wife fighting, one is about going to Paris, seriously I can’t understand the rest of them because we have none of the vocab for it we are supposed to magically figure it out somehow.
Apparently someone (a friend who took Arabic in Austin) told me this book is supposed to match the author’s bizarre teaching style of which is total immersion from Day 1. But we know that total immersion really doesn’t work, I know so many people who come back from a foreign country where they were totally immersed in the language come back not being able to say anything in it. How are you supposed to learn any grammar without being able to see it English? How will your adult mind compare it to anything?
I have used terrible language books before, I have tons of them. I have used some of the bad Teach Yourselves and the bad colloquial books. And there were miles ahead of Al-Kitaab. The idea of guessing just does not work. Everyone in our Arabic class is just so frustrated with this book. Our teacher makes us use Rosetta Stone and made us get an Arabic grammar because this book does not teach you anything. I believe this book is the reason why so many people fail out of Arabic or end up taking Chinese. The positives of this book are the videos and the online but even as I pointed out before there are flaws in the videos too especially because you don’t know what you are hearing.
However if you want to learn Arabic, I strongly recommend these books:
If I was an Arabic this is the book I would use because this book is excellent! You can even get a workbook with it and it is a very good beginner book.
Living Language Arabic:
If you want learn on your own, this book is great. It comes with three books and tons of audio. I love it, it is helping me a lot with Arabic.
These are my two suggestions for Arabic books, if you guys have any other suggestions I would love that. Also does anyone feel differently about Al-Kitaab? Or has anyone had any similar experiences with it? Or any tips when using this horrible book? So let me know in the comments. And I hope this review helps you and there will be a lot more language book reviews. Mostly positive, I hope! I just had to get my hate for this book off my chest.