Learning Arabic for Free with the Free and Legal Challenge

Hey there guys, gals, and non-binary pals. In today’s post, I’m going to be talking a little bit about something called the Free and Legal Challenge – which does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s also a chance for me to talk a bit about the fact that I’m learning Arabic now (yay!) and where I’ve got to with this language so far.


What is the Free and Legal Challenge?

So, this challenge was thought up by user iguanamon over on the Language Learners’ Forum and I knew right away that it was something I was going to be into because I’ve kind of tried it before on my own. Way back when, I tried to learn Japanese for free using, again, only legally available resources. However, that time I kind of fizzled out because I was doing it on my own and, honestly, I don’t think I was all that interested in learning Japanese to any kind of decent level.

Then the Free and Legal Challenge was initially posted on the forum, so I decided to try again. But this time, I tried with too many languages at once, then I tried again with French, which I just wasn’t that interested in learning, either. Then, back in December, someone else commented on the thread again and I thought it would really be fun to do this starting from the beginning of 2021.

I’d technically started learning Arabic back in October (it was kind of my new birthday language), but by the end of the year I’d only spent three hours on it, a fair bit of that being on Duolingo, just trying it out. I’d also spent some time on other websites, trying to learn some of the Arabic alphabet. That meant that by the time everything started at the beginning of this year, I hadn’t broken any rules of the challenge, so I decided to give it a try.

The Essentials of the Free and Legal Challenge:

  1. You can’t spend any money on this challenge, so you’re restricted to only using materials you can get hold of for free (with some minor exceptions).
  2. You’re only allowed to use resources that are legally available online (so no piracy).
  3. Your goal is to try and get to A1/A2 level within nine months.

Now, I mentioned there are a couple of exceptions. There are actually two different variants to the challenge: the ‘Pure FLC’ and the ‘Library Assisted’ variant. For the Pure FLC, you use online, freely-available resources, which can of course be supplemented by (free) help from a native speaker, and with the Library Assisted variant, you can use anything available from your library.

There are some other exceptions within that Pure FLC variant as well, the most important being that you are allowed to use streaming services that you already own prior to beginning the challenge. That means you can be all up in that handy Netflix subscription you’ve been hammering since lockdown first began – which is some great news for me, since I’m excited to watch Paranormal at some point. Anyway, this rule was basically allowed because it’s unlikely most learners are using heaps of film and TV to get themselves to A1/A2 level, but it does help keep you motivated.

How am I doing this?

So, like I said, I’m learning Arabic for this challenge. Specifically, I’m starting with Modern Standard Arabic because I’m not sure which dialect I want to choose and when I did kind of think I might want to learn Moroccan Arabic, I saw some people saying that Darija is verrrry different to MSA, so it’s better to start with something that should generally be understood. Even if I might sound strange to people at first.

I also want to be able to read in Arabic and a lot of what’s published is done in MSA, so there’s that too.

As the other criteria is to try and reach A2 level within nine months, I’m counting my start date as the beginning of January – a little bit of a cheat, maybe, but I don’t think three sporadic hours gave me that much of a leg up – so that gives me until September to get there. I’m not going to be too disappointed if I don’t make it, since it’s a pretty difficult language and I’m learning a bunch of others right now, but it would be very cool if I could make it.

There are also lots of resources available for Arabic, which should help me get there.

What resources am I using?

Initially, I went to the place I always go when I’m looking at starting a new language: the FSI/DLI courses. Now, if you know which dialect of Arabic you want to learn, these are incredibly useful because they have a lot of different ones – Levantine, Egyptian, Iraqi, Saudi… – but MSA was a little more difficult. However, DLI has a good Basic Arabic course, so I’m going with that.

The DLI course also includes a couple of volumes that help you learn the alphabet – The Writing System, and Sound and Script – which I’m working through right now. Sound and Script is the better one, as it comes with a lot of audio, but The Writing System is nice for those moments when you want to practise but don’t want to sit and do a long session. The DLI courses are definitely not for everyone, and there’s the fact that they’re probably a tiny bit out of date, but I’m finding the drills and things really useful for getting the language in my head.

After I’ve finished this DLI course, which is definitely going to take longer than nine months at the speed I’m going, then I’ll be looking for some resources to take me to the next level in terms of grammar, comprehension, and things like that. Then, when I feel comfortable with my level of MSA, there’s a Peace Corps course for Moroccan Arabic I’d like to begin.

Where do I expect to be by September?

Hopefully, I’ll finish at least the first volume of the DLI course – which actually seems pretty achievable right now, but we’ll see. I should be able to assess my level (ish) using the Online Diagnostic Assessment from the DLI, which is a much better option than trying to assess it myself!

If I make it to A2 level by September, I’ll be very impressed; I’d be impressed if I managed that anyway with the full range of courses available to me, but with this challenge, especially so. But no matter which way it goes, I’m sure I’ll have a lot of fun learning Arabic for the first time.

If you are interested in taking part in the FLC, then you can go check out the original rules and other discussions at this link here. And if you’ve been learning Arabic, then let me know how it’s gone for you. I’ll be updating every so often on the challenge, just to let you know how it’s all going, so until then, I hope you’re all having fun learning languages!

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