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.
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.
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)!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
This was written by Donovan Nagel.
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