Lately, users have been asking us things like, “Why should I learn Arabic?” and “How can I make learning Arabic easier?” First of all, it’s truly exciting to see a growing interest in this language! While Arabic may appear complex at first glance, rest assured that it’s not as difficult as you might imagine. We’re here to provide you with valuable tips and tools that will make your Arabic learning journey much smoother and more enjoyable. Read on to find out more about the simple 5-step method that our teachers believe is the easiest way to learn Arabic.
Let’s begin by addressing the question of whether you should opt for Modern Standard Arabic or dive into a particular dialect straight away.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that there are two main types of Arabic: literary Arabic and dialectal Arabic.
Literary Arabic, also known as Modern Standard Arabic, serves as the official language in 25 countries!
On the other hand, dialectal Arabic consists of various regional dialects, as the name implies. There are nearly 30 different dialects spoken in North Africa and the Middle East.
To make your Arabic learning experience easier, we recommend focusing on Modern Standard Arabic, unless you have a really good reason for choosing a specific dialect. Doing so will drastically simplify your journey! In fact, we chose Modern Standard Arabic as the language variant for the Arabic version of our app, set to launch later this year. For more insight into that choice, be sure to read Luca’s article about which version of Arabic we recommend learning and why.
Now, let’s move on to the initial steps of learning Arabic.
Think back to when you first learned your native language. Learning your A-B-Cs, right? Well, get ready to do it all over again, because you have a whole new alphabet to tackle! The first and most crucial step in mastering Arabic is becoming familiar with its alphabet. You’ll need it for both reading and speaking because knowing it will also help you develop proper pronunciation.
Unlike the Latin alphabet, the Arabic alphabet boasts majestic calligraphy that can be quite challenging for learners to decipher. Therefore, it’s crucial to adopt a structured and guided approach to learning it. Stay tuned for another article on the easiest way to learn Arabic letters.
Next, dive into the realm of phonetics.
To pronounce Arabic accurately, you must train not only your mouth and tongue but also your nose, throat, and lips. It’s akin to a full-fledged sport! To help you pronounce Arabic letters correctly right from the start, check out this comprehensive table we’ve created. It’ll serve as a valuable guide during your practice sessions (feel free to download it or pin it to your Arabic learning board for later use).
Once you have familiarized yourself with the alphabet and grasped where the sounds of Arabic are made, follow these four simple steps to nail down your pronunciation:
Find your favorite audio resources
Immerse yourself in Arabic by listening to it as much as possible! Numerous online apps, websites, and tutorials can aid you in this endeavor. In the latter part of this article, we’ll recommend some valuable resources for you to explore. Don’t be afraid to repeat the words and phrases you hear out loud.
Break words down into syllables
Arabic, being a Semitic language, consists of words formed from consonant-based roots. To make pronunciation easier, learn how to divide words into syllables. For instance, in the word “كتاب” (book), divide it as “ka-ta-b” and pronounce each syllable distinctly.
Pay special attention to short and long vowels
Arabic has three short vowels (a, i, u) and three long vowels (ā, ī, ū). Make sure you know how to differentiate between them accurately, as pronouncing them wrong can change the meaning of a word.
For example, “كَتَبَ” (kataba) means “he wrote,” while “كَتَابَ” (kitāba) means “book.”
Practice with native speakers
Whenever possible, seek opportunities to practice with native Arabic speakers. They can help you refine your pronunciation and provide personalized advice. Engaging in local language exchanges or joining online platforms to find language partners can make a world of difference in your pronunciation.
To grasp what lies ahead, let’s revisit a grammar lesson from the distant past. Remember how suffixes impart meaning to words?
For instance, “-dom” conveys a place or state of being, as in “kingdom.”
“-ible” and “-able” express possibility, for words like “feasible” or “edible.”
And “-er” signifies the doer of an action, as in “singer” or “baker.” It’s sort of like solving a puzzle! By adding the piece “-er = who does the action,” you can deduce how to say “the person who dances.” (Dancer!)
Putting together the puzzle pieces that form Arabic vocabulary
Well, Arabic vocabulary works in a similar manner. In Arabic, you can identify entire word families thanks to these puzzle pieces.
In Arabic, the equivalent of our “-er = the one who does the action” is the pattern “_ AA _ I _.” Remember to read from right to left! Here’s where it starts to differ from English. Instead of simply adding a few letters to the end of a word, this sequence of letters has slots to be filled in—a true game of Scrabble!
Now all you have to do is fill in the pattern with three letters (usually consonants). These three letters form the root of the word.
Let’s take the root “كـ ــ ت ــ ب / K – T – B” that conveys the idea of writing. Writing + the one who does = KAATIB / كَـاتِـب … The writer, of course! Bravo, you’ve got it! The following table has some other derivatives of the K – T – B root.
*There is no infinitive form in Arabic. Instead, the form you’ll see in a dictionary that identifies the word is usually the third person masculine singular in the past tense.
If you memorize these roots and patterns, you’ll be able to understand word families more easily. In our teachers’ expert opinion, it’s the fastest and easiest way to learn Arabic. It will also allow you to decipher the meaning of words you haven’t come across yet, but whose roots you know.
How to memorize Arabic vocabulary
Arabic has a vast vocabulary, which might initially seem daunting to learners who believe it is much larger than that of other languages. But that’s where you’d be wrong! The Lisān al-ʿArab, one of the most popular Arabic dictionaries, contains roughly 80,000 words. Now, compare that to the Oxford English Dictionary, which features almost 275,000 headwords!
(Your concern likely stems from ancient Arabic texts, such as poetry, which feature a complex and diverse lexicon. But a lot of those words aren’t in use anymore, and certainly aren’t ones you need to know for casual conversation!)
Now, here’s the good news: you don’t have to memorize the entire Arabic lexicon. You only need the words necessary for effective communication. Why bother learning “rhododendron” if you’ll never use it? A mere 500 words are plenty to engage in basic conversations with locals.
The next step involves memorizing these words. And here’s more good news: you can achieve this by memorizing just 10 words per day using the spaced repetition technique. This method ensures that you actually remember the words you learn over a long period of time and that you can recall them when you need to use them.
Incorporate learning and reviewing the new vocabulary into your daily routine. Choose a time that suits you, like while sipping your morning coffee. Begin by reviewing 10 words you learned over the previous days, then add 10 new words.
Through this repetition and memorization exercise, you’ll find that recalling Arabic words becomes easier, and eventually, effortless.
Arabic language expert Salim Kecir wrote about his best tips for memorizing Arabic vocabulary in this article.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with written Arabic, it’s time to work on your listening comprehension. Our recommendation? Immerse yourself in as much authentic material as possible. Unsure where to find captivating resources to develop your listening skills? Don’t fret! We’ve curated a selection for you below.
We recommend engaging in active listening, where you focus intently and take notes, as well as passive listening, where you let the audio play in the background while you’re doing something else, like chores. Both techniques contribute to sharpening your listening abilities and deepening your understanding of Arabic.
When learning a language, no matter which one, you’ll never feel ready to start speaking. You think you don’t know the language well enough, that you’ll make mistakes… And yeah, it’s true! You’ll make mistakes when you first start speaking Arabic, but that’s normal and part of the learning process. After all, we learn best by making mistakes.
So, our advice for developing your speaking skills is to put yourself out there and speak as much as you can! If you’re a beginner, you can prepare a script for your first few basic conversations. Memorize it and practice it out loud in front of your mirror. When you feel more comfortable, you can move on to the next level: communicating with another learner or a native speaker.
You can easily find a conversation partner or affordable language tutor on platforms like Languatalk, iTalki, and Tandem. See our article on the 7 golden rules of language exchange for tips on how to make it work for both parties.
Here’s a list of some resources we like, to help you get the most out of the time you dedicate to learning Arabic. It’s only by practicing and immersing yourself in the language that you’ll begin to see progress.
Learn Arabic easily with movies, TV, and videos
As mentioned above, there are two main types of Arabic. Today, you’ll find more visual audio resources in Arabic dialects than in Modern Standard Arabic. To practice literary Arabic, you’ll need to turn to historical films or documentaries. Here are a few examples:
This historical drama traces the life of Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, the second Caliph of Islam. There are 31 episodes that last around 40 minutes apiece, which gives you plenty of time to practice your Arabic. The series has been a huge success in the Arab world, despite generating some controversy. (Some argue that the four “rightly guided” Caliphs and the Prophet Mohammed should not have been portrayed.) You can find all the episodes with English subtitles here.
This 1976 historical film explores the life of the Prophet Mohammed and the origins of Islam. With this movie, director Moustapha Akkad aimed to create a bridge between Muslim and Western cultures. Interestingly, two versions of the film were made: one in English and one in Arabic, with different actors for each version. You can find the complete film on YouTube with English subtitles. Lights, camera, Arabic!
Looking to get your daily news in Modern Standard Arabic? BBC Arabic is a great choice, and somewhere outside of movies and TV where you’ll hear MSA. Dive into their site to enhance your reading and listening comprehension skills. If it feels too challenging, you can always switch back to the English version. From news reports to cultural features, it’s all there. You can also watch a 24-hour live stream of BBC Arabic TV.
Learn Arabic with Maha
This YouTube channel is full of good advice for beginners and advanced learners alike. Maha is a friendly, super engaging teacher who teaches lessons on the Arabic language and culture. In her bio, she writes: “Maha’s method combines a deep knowledge of the Arabic language with a vibrant personality that ensures that when Maha is at her quirkiest, the viewer will learn more Arabic, use more Arabic and retain more of the language than they thought possible.” We couldn’t agree more!
A lot of her videos focus on the Levantine dialect, which is spoken in Palestine, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Turkey, but some of them, like the one below, compare phrases in MSA to this and other dialects.
The easiest way to learn Arabic is with apps
Exciting news! MosaLingua is expanding its language repertoire to include Arabic. By the end of the year, you’ll be able to effortlessly learn Arabic with your MosaLingua app, known for its highly effective spaced repetition method. Stay tuned! (If you want to make sure you don’t miss the announcement, sign up below to be the first to know when it launches.)
Write It! Arabic
As we mentioned above, it’s a good idea to start your Arabic journey by mastering the alphabet. Try your hand at writing the letters with Write It! Arabic, available for iOS and Android. If you’re a tactile learner, this is a great way to memorize the alphabet! The app provides a comprehensive guide to the Arabic alphabet with images and audio recordings by native speakers.
Learn Arabic with podcasts
Audio-Lingua offers short (1- to 3-minute) podcast-like audio recordings in Arabic. This collaborative bank of authentic audio resources recorded by native speakers is organized by topic, difficulty level, and age range, so you’re sure to find something suitable for your level.
Arabic in 60 Steps
Sam is a native English speaker who has learned Arabic and now teaches it to his followers via his YouTube channel and podcast, Arabic in 60 Steps. We especially like the episodes in which he breaks down popular stories, reading in Arabic and explaining in English as he goes.
At Librivox.org, immerse yourself in the captivating world of Arabic audiobooks, narrated by native speakers. Best of all, they’re available for free download! From stories and poetry, to prayers and grammar lessons, there’s something for everyone!
Let us know how your Arabic language journey is going in the comments, and be sure to stay tuned for our Arabic app!