Any review of a language-learning tool should, I think, be prefaced with a brief description of the context in which it is being used. I'm self-teaching (via Alif Baa alone) supported by monthly half-day sessions with a native Arabic-speaking tutor (a PhD student at a local university). We review what I've covered and go through further examples.
Alif Baa comprises 10 units with 2 supporting DVDs. The DVDs are absolutely excellent and very professionally produced. The first 7 units take you through the alphabet, learning pronunciation, learning to write, how to use the various long and short vowels, shedda and sukkun. The remaining 3 units take you through the number system, further grammatical elements of the language plus some cultural aspects and calligraphy.
How much time have I spent? Well, I'm personally pretty serious about learning the language after several holidays to Arabic-speaking countries and have, to date, spent over 200 hours on the first 7 units. Some of them I've done twice because they were quite difficult. In particular, I found units 4 and 5 of the book to be the hardest. Here you learn the so-called emphatic consonants plus the tricky `ayn' and `ghayn' sounds. But don't give up !!! If you don't get it, do it again until you `just about' get it. Further examples later in the book will reinforce your understanding and things do become clearer.
The DVDs contain video footage of a professional calligrapher showing you how to write the letters. The book also takes time and effort to show you how printed forms of letters vary from real handwriting. But, for me, really makes this book such a superb learning tool is the rich range of interactive exercises. Throughout the book you will be referred to the DVDs to perform listening exercises, dictation (listen and write), learn vocabulary, writing exercises (joining letters), view street signs, video footage of everyday scenes and so forth. You can also write directly in the book --- it is a workbook, not a textbook. It makes learning Arabic a completely active, not passive, activity.
How can you monitor your progress? Easy, buy the accompanying answer book but resist the temptation to cheat. Do the exercises because they are absolutely the key to success. Believe me.
Learning Arabic won't happen by osmosis: it takes effort, dedication, practise and perseverance. If you're serious about learning the language then this book/DVD combination will give you an absolutely rock-solid foundation on which to build further studies. For me, I feel a real sense of achievement as the once indecipherable Arabic squiggles slowly take form to become letters, words and sounds.
This book is only the start of a long journey but if you stick with it and complete Alif Baa with DVDs you'll be off to a great start.