Egyptologists have studied hieroglyphics. Through this language which they have studied in detail, they have learned all about the customs and life style of the Egyptians in Antiquity. They probably know more about them than about their contemporaries, the Egyptians today, with whom they are in constantly in contact when they carry out their research in Egypt, if they have no knowledge of Arabic or Coptic. Knowledge of Coptic may also help in understanding better the Coptic Christians who now speak Arabic only but who use Coptic, which descends from Ancient Egyptian, as the language of their Church.10
But how can someone realise that he knows in depth the language and culture of a people? He can carry out the following test: When an English-speaker, for example, who knows French, sees the word arbre written, he thinks of a tree; he imagines it vividly before him, rather than merely as a word which means tree in English.
Thanks to my familiarity with, and my knowledge – even basic – of so many languages, I was able to understand the difficulties encountered by each one of my students, so I used every means to remedy them.
To sum up: If you tell me what your mother tongue is, I can anticipate the mistakes you will make in Arabic. In the same way, from the mistakes you make in Arabic, I can tell you your mother tongue.
My students have obviously taught me many things, perhaps without knowing it. This is not only my case. Every teacher learns from his students. This means that one is never 100% teacher, nor 100% student, but both at the same time, not only in the classroom, but also in everyday life. We are all teaching each other without cease, without being conscious of this.
This manual is not a treatise on comparative linguistics. However, instead of dealing only with the languages which use the Arabic alphabet, I refer to other languages, since I find that there are common features which every student of Arabic must know, whatever his language of origin, whether or not it uses the Arabic alphabet.
Geneva, 1st February 2011 Abdallah Nacereddine