Learning Levantine or Iraqi Arabic? These Are The Books You Need

Levantine and Iraqi Arabic

The two families in this photo are my dear friends from Iraq and Egypt who were pivotal in helping me learn Arabic about 12 years ago. I just caught up with them 2 days ago after being away for the last few years travelling.

For me language learning is all about forming lasting relationships with wonderful people like this. :)

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A while back I wrote a popular article called Learning Arabic? Here Are 5 Books That I Highly Recommend You Own.

In it I shared with you a few books that have helped me personally over the years such as the Kalimni ‘Arabi and Arabi’ Liblib series which I still strongly believe are some of the best books on the market for learning Arabic (especially the Egyptian dialect).

For those of you who don’t know, I’ve been learning and living through Arabic for nearly 12 years of my life now – I started it as a curious 18 year old, became heavily involved in the Arabic-speaking community where I’m from in Australia, lived in Egypt several times and even came close to marrying a girl in Egypt who only spoke Arabic.

Egyptian Arabic is a massive part of who I am now – more than any other language I’ve ever learned.

But the very first Arabic varieties I studied were actually Levantine and Iraqi.

My first teacher was from Palestine and I learned a lot from him before I met any Egyptians. He used to take me along to an Arabic-speaking church run by the Iraqi family above so that I could get plenty of exposure to the different dialects.

Looking back, being around these varieties really helped to give me a solid foundation as a new learner.

Today I want to point you in the right direction of quality resources for Levantine and Iraqi.

Since I wrote that last article I’ve been receiving emails every week asking me specifically for recommendations on good products for Lebanese, Palestinian, Jordanian, Iraqi and Syrian.

Since most conversational courses usually favor either MSA, Egyptian or Moroccan, it can be a bit more of a challenge to find the best material on these other dialects.

I hope this helps you out! :)

 

The best books on the market for Levantine and Iraqi Arabic (in my opinion) are…

Note: In articles like this one I usually use affiliate links which means that if you do end up purchasing a book, a very tiny percentage of the cost goes toward helping maintain and improve this site.

 

1. Colloquial Palestinian Arabic: An Introduction to the Spoken Dialect

This book by Nasser Isleem is without doubt one of the most detailed books available anywhere for the Palestinian dialect.

It definitely assumes that you’ve already studied MSA or another dialect though as most of the book is written in Arabic script and no time is wasted on the basics (translations of words and expressions are provided in English though).

What I love about Colloquial Palestinian Arabic is the detail it provides on Palestinian slang, culturally-relevant vocabulary, idiomatic expressions and even jokes – the kind of stuff that you’d certainly be exposed to on the streets in Palestine.

Definitely a must for serious, long-term learners of Palestinian Arabic (or Levantine in general)!

 

2. Living Arabic: A Comprehensive Introductory Course

This is a brilliant book that really kills two birds with one stone.

It attempts to teach MSA for reading and writing and then uses the Jordanian dialect for the speaking and listening sections (though it uses what the author calls ‘educated Levantine’ by avoiding colloquialisms and slang).

There’s also a DVD full of conversational videos and if you can put up with the really bad acting (cringe-worthy in fact!) it’s definitely helpful as well.

The reading and listening comprehension focus is by far my favourite feature of this book and something I’ve found really useful.

Living Arabic is one of those books that you’ll get many years of value out of as it covers so much.

 

3. Modern Iraqi Arabic with MP3 Files: A Textbook (make sure it’s the 2nd Edition!)

There are a few introductory books around for Iraqi but I’ve found this one to be absolute gold.

The audio quality is excellent and the repetition’s helpful (though unfortunately it’s all recorded by one native Iraqi who reads out the conversations which is my only complaint with this book). It’d be much better if the dialogues were spoken by two or more speakers.

It’s still damn good though!

Modern Iraqi Arabic does take a fairly strong grammar approach which might suit some people (for me personally I prefer to focus on the dialogues in the book which are also excellent).

The explanations are very clear and Arabic script is used alongside transliterations (I think the previous edition was transliteration only so make sure you get the 2nd edition!).

This book will suit brand new learners of Arabic as well as those who are moving over to Iraqi from another dialect.

 

4. Syrian Colloquial Arabic – A Functional Course

This is an ebook with audio produced by an Australian woman (it has to be good quality then! ;)) and recorded by Syrian native speakers.

Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s an ebook though – it’s massively detailed with 450 pages and 3 hours of audio, starting from the absolute basics and covering lots of relevant topics using the Syrian dialect.

It can be ordered in print as well (without the audio).

 

5. Shou Fi Ma Fi? (What’s up?) – Intermediate Levantine Arabic

For Lebanese Arabic this book is unbeatable!

Along with Colloquial Palestinian Arabic, this is one of my favorites. It’s not only an excellent book but it assumes you already know MSA or another dialect and doesn’t waste your time on fundamentals.

If you’ve been learning Arabic for a while then this book really should be on your shelf.

Even as a reference tool it’s very useful.

Shou Fi Ma Fi? is very detailed but clear and takes care to highlight the many different nuances between the various dialects and MSA.

The audio recordings aren’t the clearest but the conversations themselves are very natural (the audio doesn’t come with the book but is a free download instead).

Any serious learner of Arabic would get lots of good use out of this book.

 

Now, there are other books available for Levantine but the ones I haven’t listed tend to use transliteration instead of Arabic script which I think is an utter shame (books like Spoken Lebanese and Colloquial Arabic (Levantine) for example).

Not only is transliteration not helping your reading skills but it usually produces bad pronunciation as well.

 

I’ll also add that while Rosetta Stone Arabic might be a useful supplement to your learning (if you can afford it), I would advise you read my review first here.

 

There are some great free resources around for Levantine and Iraqi Arabic to check out as well

I wrote about the DLIFLC a while back (Defense Language Institute’s Foreign Language Centre).

This site is an absolute treasure trove for anyone learning Arabic (Egyptian, Levantine, Iraqi and Gulf in particular).

If you check out their Products page (no cost), you’ll see a list of different sections that are all incredibly good – so good I can’t believe they allow the public to access it for free.

In particular, I love the phone conversations section where you can actually listen to real life telephone conversations in various dialects and on different topics.

There are no transcripts though unfortunately. :(

There are also 3 popular YouTube channels that are focused on Levantine Arabic if you haven’t discovered them already – Maha (Palestine), Hiba (Lebanon) and The Arabic Student (an American blogger who dissects Levantine Arabic TV shows on his blog – worth checking out!).

 

Well I hope that helps!

If you’ve got any questions or other suggestions then feel free to fire away in the comment section below. Make sure to read my previous post, Learning Arabic? Here Are 5 Books I Highly Recommend You Own if you haven’t already.

And please share this with anyone you know who is learning Arabic (or planning to) as it might help them.

 

Thanks! :)

 

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Interview: Scott H. Young’s Year Without English Project

Scott H Young

I’ve been a regular reader of Scott’s blog ever since I heard about him completing a 4 year MIT course in computer science in just 1 year.

He and a friend have just recently started a pretty inspiring project of spending a whole year travelling to 4 countries using only the local languages — no English for a whole year.

I thought I’d fire off a couple of a questions for Scott about this project and his motivation for starting it.

***

 

1. What inspired you both to do the Year Without English project and what do you hope to get out of it?

Originally the idea was just to travel for a year.

The idea of learning languages came after more discussions about how we wanted to travel.

Eventually we decided having four deeper experiences in four different countries with some kind of challenge element was more interesting than hopping between tourist destinations in a shallower way.

 

2. The four languages you’re going to be learning and speaking all year are Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin Chinese and Korean. Why these four specifically and have you studied them in the past?

It was a hard decision to make.

We wanted geographic diversity, usefulness of the languages when we returned to Vancouver and simply which countries/cultures interested us the most. There were definitely many heated discussions about which four to pick: Turkish, German and Japanese were others that had been seriously considered.

I did do some study before the trip, as I break down on my page here, but it was scant compared to what most people wrongly assume you need before starting something like this.

Anyone caring to repeat my efforts with a single country would need only about an hour per day for less than two months to outpace my preparation for any of the languages.

 

3. Do you have a preferred method for learning languages? Can you give us a brief rundown on how you’ll tackle these languages each day? Any recommendations on resources?

I really subscribe to Benny Lewis‘s method for learning languages: immerse yourself completely, try to have conversations with people and don’t be afraid of mistakes.

I know that there’s other language learners who have very different methods that work for them, but I’ve found this one the most successful for myself.

In terms of studying, the resources we found most helpful were to do a first month of Pimsleur and to do a bit of conversational tutoring using iTalki.com. But realistically, the faster you can start actually using the language in ways you care about (movies, books, real conversations with friends) the better.

Too many people study insufficiently because studying is a bore for them.

 

4. With a project like this there are inevitably going to be tough days where motivation is low and frustration is high. How do you plan to overcome this?

Honestly, just deal with it.

When we explain the no-English rule to other people, they often try to overhear one of us speaking English to someone else, as a cheat.

But we don’t–that’s included situations where the other person doesn’t speak Spanish and we can’t even explain why we’re unable to speak in English.

Part of what interested me about this challenge is that it’s a mental test as well as a learning experiment.

 

5. Have you made a firm ‘strictly no English’ pact with your travel partner?

Yes.

We don’t speak English to each other.

We don’t speak English with people we meet (even when they insist on speaking English to us).

We don’t even speak English with people who can’t speak Spanish, which has led to some interesting failures of communication.

 

6. Are you planning to move around a lot in all four countries or do you plan to situate yourself in one place?

Mostly one place.

I hope to travel a bit closer to the end of each stay, but I’ve always preferred living in a place and experiencing a life there than hopping around places.

 

7. How do you sustain yourself financially while abroad for such a huge immersion project?

I’m a writer online, so fortunately this wasn’t an issue.

Vat, however, had to save up for two years at his job to tackle this project.

Travel like this isn’t as excessive as most people think (and costs can often be offset if you do a working holiday which allows you to earn money while you travel).

 

8. You’re quite well-known now for ambitious learning goals. What drives you to keep doing what you’re doing?

I enjoy the challenges–I find learning under more extreme time constraints than are normally available forces me to rethink my learning process to weed out inefficiencies.

But I think these kinds of experiences only form one pillar of building an expertise on learning.

I also try to work with students and self-learners through my business to see what works for people other than myself.

 

You can find out more about Scott and The Year Without English project at his blog here.

 

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Comments: If you’ve got something you’d like to add to this or some constructive criticism you can do that at the bottom of this page. Just please be respectful. Any abusive or nonsensical comments will be deleted.

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