Disappointment set in immediately when I started using this book, and it grew as I progressed through it. First, the back cover promises a companion website with audio recordings of the short dialogues that accompany each of the 19 lessons, but the website is non-existent. Yale Press told me some other site (?) would be up and running in four weeks (!). Why do they release the book before the audio portion is available, and why in the world would it take that long to prepare the site?
Second, the presentation is not particularly useful and is riddled with type-o's (in both the English and the Arabic text!). Only very seldom are the specific vowels of Levantine marked--to contrast with the vowels of MSA--so unless you have a teacher or tutor telling you how the Levantine words are pronounced, most users will be at an almost total loss. The numerous type-o's are mostly just annoying, but if you don't already know these new words, a type-o can be a real problem (and I'm not talking about the odd colloquial Lebanese spellings).
Third, the coverage is, to put it mildly, shallow. Perhaps the promised elementary and advanced books will offer more depth and texture, but I was able to jot down all of the new words and grammar rules on TWO sheets of paper from this 220-page book. The exercises were nice, and the material that IS presented was relatively useful, but it lacked a lot of the texture and explanation that is really essential for the transition from MSA to Levatine. I was particularly excited to see this new book on Levantine Arabic, since my focus has been on the spoken Arabic of Syria and Jordan, and the back cover suggests that it focuses on "the language and culture of Syria and Lebanon in particular." As it turned out, however, this book's thin coverage focuses almost exclusively on Lebanese, not Syrian (though there certainly are communties in Syria that would use the words in this book, the Damascus dialect is quite different from much of the vocabulary and grammar in this book).
Perhaps I'm just spoiled, because I started with what has proven to be HANDS DOWN the two best sources for learning Levantine Arabic: (1) Syrian Colloquial Arabic, available only as a .pdf online download, with almost 400 pages of densely packed, carefully and attractively presented material and hours of immediately available MP3 audio recordings, and (2) Munther Younes's materials on MSA and Jordanian (Living Arabic, over 500 pages, available on Amazon with DVD video and CD audio, along with the intermediate version of that book, curently under revision). Any solo student or teacher interested in expanding into the spoken varieties of Arabic would be MUCH better served with either of these other programs than with Shou fi ma fi.
Moreover, this might be just piling on, but this book includes a good bit of what might be called abusive language, useful only in serious fights and arguments. I found this to be odd, as one would hope people preparing to use the spoken variety of Arabic would be more inclined toward friendly dialogue rather than fighting. I hope this is not a reflection of what the students at West Point are learning from Chouairi in their Arabic classes--his focus on humor is much more welcome. Why not include lists of foods or furniture or household items (as the other two books mentioned above do)?
And as if all of this weren't bad enough, this 220-page paperback is very expensive. I expected substantial value for the elevated pricetag, and as this review indicates, I was sorely disappointed. Both Syrian Colloquial and Living Arabic are MUCH better values for your money, AND they offer far better substance. The peer reviewers of Shou fi ma fi were obviously quite kind in their evaluations of this book, though Chouairi and his readers would have been much better served by a bit more rigor in these pre-release reviews.