Book Review

Standard Arabic
An elementary-intermediate course

Schulz, Krahl, Reuschel
Cambridge University Press, 2000, 641pp


This Arabic-language textbook was originally published in German. Although a few German idioms sneaked through the translation, it is a very intensive textbook. Most other textbooks, including Ahlan wa Sahlan and Mastering Arabic, are full of unappealing cartoon figures. However, the lessons in Standard Arabic are made inordinately difficult by numerous small omissions. First, many words are used in the exercises that are not covered in the lessons, forcing the reader to spend time searching for them in an Arabic dictionary. Secondly, the Arabic words and sentences are only phonetically transliterated for the first lesson. By Lesson 3, even the diacritical marks indicating the vowel sounds are also gradually phased out. This forces the reader to use written Arabic in its printed form before gaining confidence with it. Without an instructor, the reader will be unable to pronounce the words without looking them up in a dictionary - a task that, for Arabic, is extremely time-consuming and frustrating for beginners. For example, I never did find some of the vocabulary words in Wehr's dictionary and could not determine their correct pronunciation. These problems make the book of very limited value for self-study. In fact, it might be easier for self-study students to throw this book away, buy some newspapers, and figure out the language on their own.

However, with an instructor or a lot of patience, these problems eventually could be overcome. I suppose one should be grateful that any textbooks on Arabic are available. For some languages (like Taiwanese), it is difficult even to find textbooks.

The book also contains a glossary and extensive tables of the many, many verb forms. An advanced textbook is also available, and there are rumors that tape cassettes may exist somewhere. In my opinion, tapes are not essential for Standard Arabic; ultimately the student will have to learn one of the dialects in a classroom setting anyway. The students' main goal at this stage is to keep their brains from melting.

(Last updated Sept. 8, 2001) Back