If I Started Learning Arabic Again, This Is How I'd Do It

  • Donovan Nagel
    Written byDonovan Nagel
  • Read time10 mins
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If I Started Learning Arabic Again, This Is How I'd Do It

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Arabic was the first foreign language I learned to fluency.

I started almost 17 years ago when I was just starting college and it took me a full 3 years to reach a point where I felt comfortable communicating in it and understanding people when they spoke to me (which I always say is the most difficult part about learning another language).

Over the last decade I’ve travelled to the Middle East for language immersion many times and had some pretty amazing experiences along the way such as almost marrying a girl who only spoke Arabic.

But you know after all these years of learning other languages as well as doing Masters research on language acquisition, I look back in retrospect on my experience with Arabic and I can now see a lot of things that I would of done differently which would have helped me learn a lot faster and more effectively than I did back then.

Like I said, it took me about 3 years to reach a point where I was speaking Arabic fluently.

And understanding people when they spoke back to me.

That’s quite a long time even though I was very determined.

So if I had the experience and knowledge 13 years ago that I have now, I’m sure I would have had much better results.

Here’s what I would do if I had the chance to start over again (and what you should do if you’re just starting now):

1. Choose a dialect from the beginning and stick with it

If you’re reading this and you’ve decided to learn Arabic but don’t know anything about it, it’s important that you know there are lots of different ‘Arabics’.

People from the West coast of Africa right across to Asia speak Arabic and everywhere you go it sounds totally different, has different words, different grammar and in some cases sounds like an entirely different language (yet still called “Arabic”).

So before anyone learns Arabic they need to decide what part of the Arab world they’re interested in and make a decision to stick with that particular variety of Arabic at least for the time being.

You’re not going to get far if you divide your attention (I say the same about learning any two languages at the same time).

In the early days I started out with Levantine (Palestinian) and Iraqi Arabic, and also Modern Standard Arabic for reading (the formal dialect of the media).

I eventually switched to Egyptian and ended up spending the next 10 years of my life focused mainly on Egypt and getting my Egyptian Arabic to a high level but if I had of just chosen Egyptian from the beginning I could have made much more effective use of my time.

That’s not to say that Levantine, Iraqi and MSA didn’t benefit my Egyptian.

It definitely did.

But it would have been better to focus on one dialect from the beginning.

Our resource TalkInArabic.com currently offers 8 spoken varieties of Arabic.

We also recommend this resource for Egyptian Arabic.

2. I would not attempt to learn Modern Standard Arabic first

Or even at the same time as learning a spoken dialect.

I say choose a variety of Arabic and stick with it but if your goal is to learn to speak Arabic, then forget about Modern Standard Arabic and focus on something people actually speak.

Modern Standard Arabic isn’t spoken by anyone on Earth as a native language. It’s archaic, it’s grammatically more complicated to learn than spoken dialects and you will understand virtually nobody when you travel to the Arab world (apart from the TV).

Save yourself the regret and read this article I wrote which explains why I’m so against learning it first.

I made the mistake of devoting quite a bit of time to it in the early stages and getting continually frustrated when it conflicted with everything I was learning about Egyptian.

As I said above, it’s not that it didn’t help me in the end (especially having worked in translation in recent years), but at the time it would have been better not to.

3. Learn the alphabet immediately and not just resort to Arabizi / Franco Arabic

If you want to learn Arabic, don’t be put off by the alphabet!

Arabic script is actually what’s called an abjad which means it’s an alphabet primarily made up of consonants without vowels.

This means that a word like computer written in Arabic looks like this: km**b*ywtr.*

The problem is when you see a word written like this and you’ve never encountered it before, it’s very hard or impossible to know how it’s pronounced unless you can hear it.

You can guess but you just can’t know (you do improve at this at higher levels and can make more accurate guesses).

I think this is one of the main reasons why people avoid the alphabet altogether and use materials with transliterations.

This is a mistake.

The thing is – yes it will be confusing and difficult to read at first but as long as you have quality material with audio and/or a native speaker to listen to (all very easily accessible these days either in person or online), you’ll get used to it.

Have you ever seen this before?

There have been studies which have proven that when we read text, we don’t read every letter of every word. We see the outer letters, but the ones on the inside can be scrambled up.

Chances are we won’t even notice mistakes while we’re reading.

What this means is that when you get used to Arabic words – just like English – you’re not actually spelling the word out anyway.

You’re just recognizing the image of the word in a sense.

So for example if I take a simple word like كتاب, I know instantly by looking at this word without spelling out it’s individual letters what it is and what it means.

I’ve associated the image of that word with sound and meaning.

The problem is if you always resort to Arabizi / Franco Arabic, you’ll never improve at this. It’s a lazy way out and will affect you majorly later on.

Also, pretty much all good quality resources for Arabic use the Arabic alphabet.

You’re missing out on quality material if you avoid it.

I made the mistake early on trying to just write Arabic using English letters. This caused delays for me later on down the track.

The alphabet’s a piece of cake as I explained here so why not take some time to learn it?

4. I would recognize and practice the importance of Arab acculturation and assimilation from day 1

This is one of the most important things I’ll tell you.

To the Jews I became a Jew.

To the Greeks I became a Greek.

Every time I step off a plane somewhere new in the world this ancient bit of wisdom that I live my life by comes back to me (admittedly way out of context but still!).

Assimilators learn languages better than anyone else.

They appreciate and understand other cultures better than anyone else.

And vitally, they earn the respect and trust of local people better than anyone else.

This is one thing I was always mindful of even when I started with Arabic and I’d do it all again.

To the Arabs I became an Arab.

There’s a big difference between learning Arabic and becoming Arab.

Of course you’ll never become an Arab in the literal sense but it’s a mindset that will drive you to succeed with the language.

I’ve applied this same principle in every country I’ve lived in around the world while learning the local languages and I always earn respect from local people for it.

The one thing that really separates what I do on this blog from most other language learning blogs out there is that I take a very holistic approach to language learning which encompasses complete assimilation into the target language culture.

For me language immersion and cultural immersion cannot be separated.

As far as I’m concerned language fluency only comes about when you’re fluent in the culture as well (so to speak!).

I often encounter people too who say things like “I want to learn Arabic but I don’t really like Arab culture.

My response is “Forget it. You’ve already failed.”

If you don’t respect and appreciate the culture and its people then don’t waste your time.

And if you want to truly excel in any language, strive to assimilate.

5. I would devote time in the beginning to surrounding myself with and listening to the target dialect

Be a fly on the wall in every Arabic speaking community you can find.

I can’t emphasize this enough if you want to learn Arabic as quickly as possible.

Assuming you’re living in a Western country in or close by a major city – you’ve probably got Arab community groups and events going on somewhere.

I attended every event I could when I started Arabic (Arabic-speaking churches, Islamic events, cultural festivals, refugee centers). If I even suspected that there were going to be Arabic speakers there, I was there.

If I started again I’d be even more active in finding every single opportunity to be around people and if this wasn’t possible, I’d at least have Arabic media playing in my house every day just so my ears adjust to it and Skyping with Arabic speakers daily.

6. I would find Arabic teachers who don’t just drill grammar but teach with a communicative style in the dialect I’m learning

I hate to say this but most native Arabic teachers have one of two common problems:

1) They either teach using outdated and ineffective teaching methods.

2) They teach Modern Standard Arabic as if it’s real Arabic and don’t understand the value of spoken dialects.

Traditional teaching methods which are all about drilling grammar rules and tedious memorization are prevalent all over the world unfortunately.

I’ve had a lot of bad teachers over the years (not just Arabic teachers) and the ironic thing is the bad ones have tended to be the most expensive. 🙂

If you feel overwhelmed, bored or confused in a lesson don’t always be quick to blame yourself.

Chances are the teacher stinks.

As a general rule you should come away from every lesson with you having spoken 80% of the lesson.

If you feel like you just sat there and listened to explanations without talking much then your teacher is rubbish and it’s time to look for another one.

Harsh words I know but if your teacher is doing all the talking then they aren’t a real teacher and should find another career.

Also make sure that they understand and appreciate the value of spoken Arabic dialects over Modern Standard Arabic.

Modern Standard/Classical Arabic are held in very high regard – sacred in fact – in the Arab world. For this reason, it can be quite challenging to find teachers who understand why you specifically want to speak a local dialect.

In fact, even with my own site for spoken Arabic dialects TalkInArabic.com, I’ve often had trouble explaining the concept to my Arab friends who struggle to see the logic behind learning spoken dialects of Arabic instead of Modern Standard Arabic.

7. I would start speaking Arabic as soon as possible even if it’s grammatically terrible

This is something I didn’t have much control over when I first started.

I began learning Arabic at a time where amazing tools like italki didn’t really exist. I couldn’t jump online to Skype people for a couple of a bucks an hour.

That would have been a dream come true for me back then! 🙂

But even with the chances I did have to speak to people all those years ago, I was often very nervous and shy about making mistakes in front of people.

If I wasn’t too sure about getting the grammar right and didn’t know enough vocabulary, I’d just avoid using Arabic and speak English.

These days when I learn a new language I speak as much as possible as early as I can even if my grammar is horrendously bad.

Mistakes have a way of working themselves out over time but you need to take every chance you can to practice the little that you do know.

If I started Arabic again and I only knew a couple of words and phrases, I’d be out there using them constantly until they were perfect.

8. I would only spend time using quality books and resources to learn Arabic

When I started learning Arabic all those years ago, there was hardly anything available for learning spoken Arabic.

My very first book for Arabic was a book from a local mosque that was absolutely atrocious. A waste of paper and ink (but I persisted using it!).

I’ve still got it today. I look at it sometimes and think “Wow. Did I actually use this crap?”

Thankfully things have improved somewhat for dialects (not a lot though unfortunately!).

For starters, see this review and this review that I wrote recently.

I also shared some of my favorite Arabic language books here and here.

And then of course there’s my own 8 dialect resource which me and a few buddies have put together here.

Finally before you go ahead and get a language book or resource, see my crucial checklist for deciding whether it’s good or bad.

9. I would cast fear and prejudice of Arabs and the Middle East aside

Let’s face it: swathes of the Middle East and North Africa are nuts right now.

There’s some pretty horrendous stuff going on in various places. It’s always unpredictable what’s going to happen next even when there’s peace.

But you know one thing I’ve learned during all my travels through the Middle East and everywhere else in the world:

Most people, regardless of their political or religious affiliations, just care about the same stuff you and I care about. Mundane things like getting married, having kids, going to work to put food on the table, buying a new home, the latest gadgets, a new pair of shoes, etc.

I said the same thing about Russian people after doing language immersion there – most of them aren’t even aware of Putin’s politics and couldn’t care less. They’re too busy working, paying the bills and putting a roof over their kids’ heads.

Painting the entire Arab world as violent and psychopathic is a really naive and stupid thing to do.

My first trip to the Middle East was not too long after September 11th and I was absolutely shitting myself that something was going to happen to me.

My mother cried at the airport because she thought it was goodbye and so did I. Seriously!

And something did happen.

I loved it and went back for seconds, thirds, fourths, etc. 🙂 My life was changed forever and I fell in love with the people there.

Are you learning Arabic? Share your thoughts below!

Also check out:

TalkInArabic.com for spoken Arabic dialect material.

Or Rocket for a comprehensive Egyptian Arabic audio course.

For online Skype teachers and conversation practice for a few bucks an hour I recommend italki.


Egyptian Arabic - Easy Stories With English Translations

NEW: Are you learning Egyptian Arabic? We just released an excellent new book called Egyptian Arabic: Easy Stories With English Translations. It’s aimed at high-beginners to low-intermediate learners and a great way to build vocabulary and comprehension.

It’s on Amazon here.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek
Greek

COMMENTS

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Maroun

Maroun

Good point about choosing to learn a dialect first. I think most non native speakers don't grasp that concept in the beginning.

xyz

xyz

hello

where i live (France) there is Algerian, Marocan, Tunisian, it's hard to choose a dialect.

My goal is to understand the Koran and everything ararbic around the life of prophete Muhomet (sas).


questions :


what is the most modern (occidental sort of way of life) arabic country (tend to think about Tunisia) ?

what do you think about Saoudi Arabia ? did they use the same dialect that we can find in koran ? (if this is a dialect)


Thanks :)

bye

skyver

skyver

thanks for sharing ,
simply , if you want to read and write in arabic you should learn the standard arabic
and if you want to communicate with people you'll need to learn a local dialect , and the most known dialect in the arabic world is the egyptian one.

Fraser

Fraser

Hey Donovan,

Thanks so much for the great post. A quick question: I totally get what you're saying about learning a dialect first, and also about avoiding transliterated books, but sometimes that can be a bit of a hard thing to do. I checked out your post on Levantine Arabic (I am learning Palestinian myself) and the books you cited were for those already know MSA. Are there any books you could recommend that teach Palestinian or Lebanese dialects that are not all transliterated? Any pointers would be much appreciated.

Really love your work.

Thanks,

Fraser

charlene

charlene

Love this post.I am learning Morocaan dialect via facebook and yes,the best way is to *become* Morocaan........I speak English,French,some Spanish and am starting German

Aref Dajani

Aref Dajani

Your article is spot on! I'm the son of an Arabic native speaker, but grew up in an English-speaking house. As a result, I grew up HEARING Palestinian Arabic and READING Qur'anic Arabic. Total disconnect. I went to college and took three semesters of Modern Standard Arabic. More disconnect! I did not move forward in TWENTY years toward fluency because I had low proficiency in THREE Arabics! I finally moved over to Palestinian Arabic to learn that there are THREE Palestinian Arabics: Mádani (urban, esp. in Jaffa and Jerusalem), Fellá7 (rural), and Bádawi (nomadic). All three are mutually intelligible, but one is pigeon-holed by other Palestinians depending on which Palestinian Arabic said person uses! I stuck with Mádani Palestinian Arabic and my proficiency skyrocketed. A couple of my own suggestions beyond your article: (1) get Arabic writing capability on your computer so you get away from transliteration sooner than later, (2) learn how to write in Arabic by writing English words using Arabic letters (by reading back English words with Arabic phonics rules, you'll develop an Arabic accent much faster that way), (3) think in triliteral roots (same as in Hebrew) and you'll remember words better, (4) learn early on how to use an Arabic dictionary by using the triliteral roots, (5) learn proverbs -- that always impresses Arabs! I am most amused that that the Palestinian Israeli singer Mira Awad is teaching her fellow Israeli singer Noa Palestinian Arabic though Noa is the daughter of Yemeni Jews. DRAMATICALLY different Arabics!! :-)

astrid

astrid

This is exactly what I needed for a fresh start in Arabic. I tried to start with MSA but lost motivation...

@JustinHoca

@JustinHoca

If you're in the U.S. and have a library card, I recommend checking out Mango Language's website. They have language lessons for several dialects. I'm currently working through their Levantine series, they have several units, supposedly focusing on how it's spoken in Damascus. It's like Rosetta and Pimsleur in that they are heavy in repetition and listening but they also put everything on the screen in Arabic script, which makes it easy to take screenshots for flash cards. Clicking the word gives you the transliteration with an accent note. The lessons also give occasional grammatical and cultural notes. I've combined it with the Syrian Colloquial course that Donovan mentions above, Mango is great as it provides much more listening practice and a different perspective on cultural aspects.

Vanessa Newby

Vanessa Newby

Yes yes yes, I went through the same journey with MSA although as you say, after a year I did totally get the shape and grammatical structure of the language - just could barely speak a word! I then focused on Lebanese Arabic at a great language school in Beirut called Saifi - and now I can speak to an advanced level. I WISH more Arabic teachers would just give up on the MSA - whenever I speak about this issue to people it's always Arabic people who disagree and say NO you must learn MSA even when they themselves probably forgot all the grammar years ago!

ibrahim

ibrahim

if you want to speak with native Arabic speaker just add me on Skype
Ibrahim Yousef

Luisa

Luisa

Interesting ... But I still think the learning method depends on what you intend to do with the language : I first learned MSA and then quickly tried to acquire a dialect for obvious communicative reasons and never regretted it.
For two main reasons : the first one because MSA strangely helped me learning 2-3 dialects very quickly by being a sort of "base" or "glue" on which I piled up my dialects, and the second reason is because my life would be miserable without books and news and written stuff. Talking with people is not enough ;) And since everything written is in MSA, if I hadn't learned it I would feel I missed on most of the things I loved in Arabic culture and the Arab world.
The only good thing of having first learned only MSA in my first year is to have let me the time to choose what part of the Arab world (which was all the same to me in the beginning) I loved the most, and then I went head-on with the appropriate dialect (at the time, the levantine one, now I've switched to Gulf dialects).
And btw in certain parts of the Arab world people can totally speak to you in MSA when they see you're a foreigner (they assume you don't know their dialect), it's funny and weird, but why not, it does help the poor Arabic student who never had any dialect lessons.
Anyway, thank you for the post, I love reading about other people crazy about Arabic ! And points 4, 5 and 9 are so spot on, and so often sadly overlooked ...

Craig

Craig

Hey Donovan. I agree about the importance of learning the arabic alphabet. I also think it's important to learn how to type the arabic alphabet, in this day and age when we probably type more than handwrite. Myself, I like to type arabic letters into Google Translate because it's instant and doesn't require any keyboard configuration.

What do you think of this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyldgH6pzmc which is an Arabic teacher arguing that it's better to learn Standard Arabic before any dialect?

ibrahim mahmoud

ibrahim mahmoud

hi , Im Ibrahim from Jordan I speak Arabic but I want to improve my English if any body want to learn Arabic ( Jordan or Palestine dialect ) just send a friend request to me in facebook but" he should speak English fluently".

Dee

Dee

Hi Donovan,

Thanks so much for the advice, it's really useful!

I am currently working in East Africa but would like to work in the Middle East in the future, which is why I'm considering learning Arabic. Do you know what accent is spoken in Lebanon and Jordan? Or what accent most people there would understand? Would Egyptian Arabic be an option?

Many thanks in advance.

somebody

somebody

what is the dialect of UAE?

KL

KL

I think the MSA/dialect argument depends a lot of your purpose for learning Arabic. For me, I want to be literate. When I learn a language, I want to be able to engage with its literature and I like to read broadly more than speak (this is my personality - I'm not that gregarious).
Also, with regards to dialects. If you want to learn Egyptian Arabic, maybe you can gather a decent variety of resources, but, I mean, Arabic resources suck in general without trying to find a variety of resources for a specific dialect. My husband speaks Arabic, but there are zero resources available in his dialect. I've just studied MSA and then listened and observed the differences and how to adapt.

Muhannad

Muhannad

Beautiful article

Although I'm Lebanese, I have never understood why would someone who wanted to speak with the locals learn MSA/Classical Arabic.

But when someone reaches a higher level, a bit of knowledge of MSA/Classical Arabic will be necessary because street signs are usually not written in dialects.

I believe a lot of native teachers don't appreciate dialects because this is what we were taught. Arabs are taught that the dialects are a cheap way to make 'real' Arabic less important, and that dialects are merely made-up languages whose origin is Classical Arabic. Whether this claim is true or not, we all tend to believe so. Another reason is perhaps because we are never taught our dialects. We acquire them from our parents, so we are usually not aware of their grammatical rules.

Good job learning Arabic anyway!

Lee-Sean Huang

Lee-Sean Huang

Thanks for your helpful posts Donovan. I just started my Arabic language learning journey a couple of months ago. I'm taking an intensive Arabic course at the New School University in New York. Our teacher is Palestinian, so we are learning the spoken Levantine dialect, but also covering MSA for reading and writing. A friend of mine at another university learned only MSA and then went to Jordan on vacation, where locals would often laugh at him when he spoke because it sounded so unnaturally high-falutin'. Haha

Joe Gabriel

Joe Gabriel

Great post, I love your approach and emphasis on assimilation. I'm starting to learn Arabic for work, I'm in the US and my company is soon opening offices in Dubai and I'd like to position myself for a future working there. My question is if I should focus on Emirati Arabic. I have friends from Syria and I LOVE the feeling & sound of Levantine, and the resources are pretty plentiful for Levantine. Aside from Youtube, Emirati Arabic feels slim on resources. Would Levantine serve me well as I'm getting into Dubai or would I be better served to make do with the Emirati resources available? Thanks! --Joe

Arabik Teklado

Arabik Teklado

I think the MSA/dialect argument depends a lot of your purpose for learning Arabic. For me, I want to be literate. When I learn a language, I want to be able to engage with its literature and I like to read broadly more than speak (this is my personality – I’m not that gregarious).
Also, with regards to dialects. If you want to learn Egyptian Arabic, maybe you can gather a decent variety of resources, but, I mean, Arabic resources suck in general without trying to find a variety of resources for a specific dialect. My husband speaks Arabic, but there are zero resources available in his dialect. I’ve just studied MSA and then listened and observed the differences and how to adapt.

Jai Kobayaashi Gomer

Jai Kobayaashi Gomer

Hi Donovan. I began my learning experience learning MSA, thinking I was getting somewhere [although slowly!]. Then I found myself in southern Beirut, struggling to make myself understood, and realising just how different a dialect is from classical Arabic. From now on, I'm going to focus solely on what I need to learn in order to communicate with the people I will be surrounded by next time I visit.

A.L.

A.L.

Hi Donovan,
Great article. Thank you for writing it.

If I want to learn, say, Levantine Arabic for speaking but also want to read books & the internet in Arabic, watch tv & movies in Arabic, watch/read the news in Arabic, etc, (i.e., be fully functional in Arabic), isn't it quite necessary to also learn MSA? And if so, then is it still better to learn dialect first?

What should be the strategy for someone who wants to go from beginner to fully functional? MSA first? Dialect first? Both simultaneously? Or is MSA never necessary?

thank you.

Andrew Reid

Andrew Reid

These are all great principles for learning Arabic. One that I'd add is: Invest time in learning Arabic when you first arrive. If you delay it to "set yourself up" or "get used to the place", two things will happen:
1) You'll get busy with other things and won't devote sufficient time to it later.
2) You'll establish social connections only with expats and locals who speak English. That will be hard to break out of later.

Andrew Reid

Andrew Reid

Maybe I would also add: Devote time to learning Arabic in a structured way. Don't think you will just "pick it up" only by social contact. There's a variety of learning methods with different approaches - group/individual lessons, tutor, GPA, TPR, etc. Social contact is essential, but in order to practice what you've learnt and pick up new vocab/expressions to ask about in your class. Don't listen to well meaning locals (sometimes your local boss) who tell you can pick up the language just by going to the market, talking to colleagues, etc.

Ellen Amanda

Ellen Amanda

Wow, I just found your post and webpage and I'm so thankful!

I accidentally(!) started learning Levantine Arabic surrounded by friends in language cafés - and suddenly I realized I had started to learn like a child, out of pure joy! Listening, asking, repeating and suddenly identifying words, grammar, verbs. It was the most wonderful feeling, falling in love with a language and a culture through your friends - all at once. This was about 1,5 years ago and the few words, verbs and sentences I have learned (and been practicing a lot) since then has made me so happy.

I assume already having experienced the 'learning language through culture' once with Spanish (actively studying the language and living in South America), had already opened up that "aha-feeling" and created new "rooms in the brain" for new sounds, grammar, rhythm of talking and... That is was actually possible incorporating a new language in once's life.

In other words - your words, advices and thoughts about language and culture deeply touched my heart on this particular Friday morning :-) Hopefully for many more. These experiences have changed my life completely, and I'm so grateful that you're sharing these thoughts, helping to establish a new image/mind set of what a type of experience learning a language could really be.

Thank you for putting this post together and for all the great advices on your webpage. You've got me convinced that I can and should start learning the alphabet(!), that I should stick to the Levantine dialect, go all in on find good material/webpages, teachers (or perhaps create a study group with some fellow students!) And - most important - that my constant thoughts about culture and language assimilation are worth continue to explore within linguistics, cultural and social anthropology :-)

Greetings from a fellow language enthusiast and student of Linguistics and in Sweden

Tom

Tom

Hi,
What would you advice me, if I want to communicate in Arabic for professional purposes while still living in Europe?

Abdurrahman

Abdurrahman

You are misguiding people, formal/classical Arabic is the most eloquent form of Arabic, by learning it, it becomes easier to understand The Quran and the Ahadeeth... and any form of Arabic literatute.. choosing a dialect wont help u if u go to another Arab country unless u knew classical Arabic as it is understood by everyone.. another thing is informal Arabic does not follow Nahw(Arabic for grammer) or Sarf(morphology) rules.. thats why in every country its different and hard to understand unless you speak classical/formal Arabic which is generally understood everywhere in the world.

Abdun

Abdun

You are misguiding people, formal/classical Arabic is the most eloquent form of Arabic, by learning it, it becomes easier to understand The Quran and the Ahadeeth... and any form of Arabic literatute.. choosing a dialect wont help u if u go to another Arab country unless u knew classical Arabic as it is understood by everyone.. another thing is informal Arabic does not follow Nahw(Arabic for grammer) or Sarf(morphology) rules.. thats why in every country its different and hard to understand unless you speak classical/formal Arabic which is generally understood everywhere in the world.

Amal

Amal

Hi, it is really interesting how everyone is writing about learning the Arabic language from you own experience. I just wanted to add that there are more than 20 different dialect are spoken in the Arab world , Arabic native speaker would understand most of the dialects as they grow up watching Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese movies and listening to songs with different dialects. But those who were born in USA or Australia, they would never understand other dialects, as they grew and learnt what they hear from their parents.
the fact is we have to learn the MSA as it the language of teaching and learning , reading and writing, and the language we use everyday in our life, we cannot write it. however some people use it in the social media, it is very frustrating and can hardly understand what they mean. in my opinion you should learn MSA if you really want to learn the Arabic language, as MSA unites the Arab world together. If they can't understand when they communicate in their dialect, then they use MSA instead. Each of the Arab counties use different terms and expressions which it is hard to understand. Hence, learn and speak the MSA and if they don't understand you it means they are illiterate, and there are not much of them. and those who laugh about hearing you talking in MSA, that's because they are not used to hear it more often, it is mostly used in formal situations.

al-Hussein

al-Hussein

Actually, you can 'literally' become an Arab.

The Prophet (saw) said that Arabism was not something passed by blood from father to son, but was in the language (and culture). He himself coming from what was described as an Adnani tribe, which was itself an 'Arab tribe' but not of 'Arab' origin - they were in effect Arabised Arabs. The only true 'Arabs' that can lay claim to an 'ethnic Arabism' if you like came from a small pocket in Yemen. Therefore, the majority of 'Arabs' are linguistic/cultural Arabs - although most don't like knowing or being told such things.

Julia

Julia

I'm taking Arabic in high school, and we're learning MSA. I have a tutor, but he also teaches me MSA. I was wondering if in college, do you study a dialect or MSA? I'm interested in going to college for Arabic language and culture. Also, what would be the best dialect to learn for a student?

Dede

Dede

Very nice tips I use language apps and almost every last person wants to teach me MSA I'm like no I want to learn Levetine dielect. They keep pushing MSA tho and will even lie and say ok I will teach you Syrian but don't know that I know a few phrases in MSA and Syrian and they end up teaching me MSA 😂 Then I tell them "well that's how you would say it in MSA I thought it was said like this *****" and they go "o it's all the same" 😒... Ugh... and I'm having a problem with speaking it's like I can understand but I can't speak back or remember how to say any words or put sentence together... it's like I'm learning and understand but not talking..

Nancy

Nancy

This is a great resource! Thank you! I teach elementary school and next year I will have several Arabic speaking families in my class. I'm excited to learn more about their culture and would love to learn Arabic to help me connect more with the families. I have my first assignment though - I need to find out where the families are mostly from so that I can focus on one language. I'm bookmarking this page! : )

YIGIT INSELOZ

YIGIT INSELOZ

Ya ahe ,
You definitely know what you are saying. I wish i could read this at the beginning of my arabic learning adventure that brings me to this mud i am in rightnow. But i will make a fresh start with you thank you very much for all the information.
Regards

Abu Yusuf

Abu Yusuf

So you acknowledge how sacred and in high regard modern standard/classical is held by natives and you claim that part of your method is to respect the culture you are immersing in and learning. Yet you completely contradict these two points when you then speak about classical in a completely disrespectful way. Your disdain of MSA/CA is the sole reason I discourage anyone from your site

Greg

Greg

I don't want to change the way I study the language, it works very well for me. First I do a self-study and then I go abroad. After coming back I attend some lecturers at my home country, read newspapers, books, watch TV etc.

Could you please help me?
Which of these two books will be better for a CLEAR self-study:
- Kalimni ‘Arabi Bishweesh
OR
- Kalaam Gamiil: An Intensive Course in Egyptian Colloquial Arabic

when I know already the alphabet (I hate Latin transliteration), understand some words and sentences, can use a dictionary, but still I am at a beginning of the journey. Due to the work I do I can devote only some time to learning (evenings only).

Greg

Greg

Hello Everyone! I work in the international trade, I use foreign languages every day. I speak Polish (native), English, Russian, German an a little bit of French. I became fascinated with the Arabic world some time ago and started to learn Arabic. All previous languages I learnt by myself, after some time of self-study, when I reached some degree of being understood and understand basic things I usually went abroad to master the language. I spent a year in the USA, a year in Russia, 2-3 months in Germany etc. I plan to do the same with Arabic - learn by myself and then go to Egipt to study more. My choise was to use the Assimil book "Arabic with Ease", which worked very well e.g. for my French. After a few months of learning MSA Arabic from Assimil I feel that I'm a little bit not on a right track. My main goal is to communicate and I have a feeling that repeating the sentences from Assimil is like learning esperanto. I decided to change the book and leave Assimil for another book based on a real, spoken language.

Natalie

Natalie

Hey there. I agree with the concept of assimilation.. In fact that is how I learned the languages which I do speak and it is the most respectful way towards a foreign culture.
I do have a question about arabic cultures. From my experience in Latin America learning Spanish, I have run into many very uncomfortable and almost dangerous incidents as a white, blue eyed, blond haired female. In Colombia, I got used to the constant whistling and cat calls, but there were still times when I got followed around or taken to a motel, without knowing that motels are only for having sex, or being hit on by a 60 year old man, who I was dependent on at one point and had no way to get out of the situation. At the end of the adventure, I survived and got to know a lot of wonderful people, fell in love and got a better understanding latin america.. However it has left me with an amount of respect for the unknown and a need to recover from the constant blows to my naivety.
So I want to ask about the arab culture. Is it easier to assimilate for a man than a woman? I think this must really depend from country to country, but if somebody could let me know about their experience as a woman in one of the arab speaking parts of the world, then I will highly appreciate your insight. Thank you.

Iss

Iss

Hello

What you've said about modern standard arabic is so misleading. It is like saying that speaking proper english is archaic and too complicated.
Modern standard arabic is the basis for any dialect you find, it is beautifully complex and we're lucky that it is still taught and learn by so many people. Would you rather learn slang french or proper/school french ?

Anass

Anass

I'd be very happy to help anyone who's wishing to learn Arabic and to have a conversation either in Fusha or Moroccan dialect, in exchange we can talk in English as well because I want to practice mine for educational reasons. Anyone interested send me a message on my facebook account.

Furqan Javed

Furqan Javed

Hi,
I would be really grateful if anyone can help me with this, I want to learn an Arabic dialect for professional and religious reasons like reading the Quran, I've gone through the Egyptian dialect but it seems weird to me to pronoun jameel as gameel which is the case for all jeem(j) words in egyptian arabic. Can you tell me which dialects pronunciation is closest to Quran. Kindly consider the request that i am talking about pronunciation. Which dialects are you offering to teach and how much do they cost?

Maya

Maya

Does anybody know what dialect people speak in the United Arab Emirates? i want to visit there.

Victoria

Victoria

Really enjoyed your writing, thank you for sharing your experience!! Currently I am learning MSA, simply for the purpose of being able to read newspapers and know the basic level. It may seem pointless, and I'm sure I'll have to start over with the dialect version, but I'd be remiss not to do both! Planning on conquering MSA first.

My question is what do you think of learning the Levantine version? Will different parts of the Middle East be able to understand me? Will Gulf areas be able to understand me, and vice versa? How about Egypt? Levantine areas of the Middle East is where my interest lies, but maybe it is best to go Egyptian, since I hear it is the most widely understood? Just curious on your opinion of Levantine.

Thanks and thank you for your article!

Victoria

Lauren

Lauren

I was just wondering whether it is valuable to learn Arabic as a white female from The Unites States. I really enjoy learning foreign languages and about about different cultures. I have been interested in Arabic for quite some time and even took measures to learn some Arabic when I was in high school, but was quickly dissuaded. I mean no offense, but given cultural stereotypes about Arab views toward women, would it be a valuable time investment to learn Arabic if I wanted to make a career out of my passion for foreign languages/cultures? I appreciate any feedback!

Shahid Gordon

Shahid Gordon

Which dialect would you recommend for someone who is learning for the purpose of reading Qur'an as well becoming conversationally fluent at the same time. For example which dialect would be closest without completely confusing me? Thanks

Sarah

Sarah

Hi! I'm a high school student, and I'm considering going into international relations. Because of that, there are a few languages I want to learn or get better at, one being Arabic. The argument against learning MSA first makes a lot of sense to me, but since I'm planning on using it primarily in a diplomatic context, would you say that I should learn MSA first?

Ferdaus

Ferdaus

Hi Donovan
A very nice post here, specially for anyone trying to learn spoken (colloquial) Arabic

dalton

dalton

it seems to be true but need high concentration than it expected

Nana

Nana

Which dialect would most refugees (in Germany) understand? I want to learn Arab so I can help people better

Toryanna

Toryanna

Hey Donovan,
I'm moving to Cairo real soon, and I just came upon your article, it was so helpful! So thanks. I was wondering if you know where I could find movies, (translated or native) in Egyptian Arabic? Or do you have suggestions for specific movies? Thanks!

AJ

AJ

Other methods other than paying? Not the richest person in the world unfortunately...

Also, what would you say would be the closest to the Palestinian Dialect?

Dana Hooshmand

Dana Hooshmand

Just came across this epic post. Loved it.

Getting ready to get back into arabic, full time, in Egypt from 2019. I'm going to carefully analyze this and a couple of other resources.

You guys who write "this is how I'd have done it" articles are the best. Thanks!

Mark

Mark

You do not have to take Arab culture in order to learn Arabic. You don't have to assimilate. To say otherwise is false. That is like telling English learners "you have to assimilate into white culture in order to learn English". False

Nikola

Nikola

I ask you kindly to explain the difference between RocketArabic and TalkinArabic. I understand the essentials of both of the courses, but if I am a total beginner, which one is more suitable for me?

A Mack

A Mack

*super informative. I love language as well and probably the only student who took Latin for fun 20 years ago!!

So, would your recommendation be to learn Egyptian dialect if you want to converse with a (possible) larger population? Then, later learn MSA to read and such........

We have several years to learn Arabic and the general area is within the Egyptian dialect..

Nikolay

Nikolay

Hello donovan

I have been studying Fushha for over a year and speak a little of it. At the same time, I realize that this is not the mother’s language, but only a written language.

I want to go to the dialect, but at this time I do not know which one. There are many Arabs in the European city where I live, but they all chat in their dialects.

Tell me, what dialect could be taught together with the MSA?

I understand that if I choose one of the dialects (even commonly understood, for example, Egyptian), it will not be the language of the heart for another people, for example, Lebanese or Syrians.

Thanks for the answer

Kholoud

Kholoud

Thanks for your effort to help others

If anyone wants to practice arabic , just add me in Skype.

Ahmad Adel Eldardiry

Ahmad Adel Eldardiry

There is a free comprehensive reading and grammer Arabic course for beginners to advanced students, Muslims and non-Muslims, on Madinah Arabic.

Li

Li

Just wondering, what dialect would You recommend for frequent travel to Dubai, Morocco, Israel, Geneva? Really need to learn to communicate verbally rather than reading/writing...
Thanks

Christian Cain

Christian Cain

Hi Donovan,

Thanks for this piece. I’m hoping to make a career change into translation work. I’m starting with Italian, and am considering learning Arabic after having acquired Italian. For translation work, would you recommend learning MSA or a particular dialect. Which would be most in-demand in the translation world? Thanks, Christian Cain.

muhammad saalim

muhammad saalim

Hello Nagel ...asalamu allykm,
I like your site a lot. Iam in a dilemma ,if there is a language conflict then Iam in one, like cultural shock.let me explain.
Iam kenyan but originally my parents come from yemen..so at home my parents would be speaking arabic and of course kenyan official language,swahili.(swahili did start from arabic mixed with some bantu native languages ..most of the words originally from arabic but now its evolved with so many jargon words...we have around 41 native languages in kenya).
i went to live in uae from 1980 and iam back in kenya with all my kids who speak fluent arabic and english. but still my community here say my arabic is not fluent enough since i didnt mingle with the arabs a lot there .I was mainly with the sub continent people and even in my work front. sorry for rumbling..
so here i still persist speaking with my kids in arabic but switch to english when i cant make my self understood with difficult ideas. but I DO WANT TO SPEAK IT FLUENTLY what do you suggest i do apart from speaking with my kids what else ? thanks a lot in advance.

Kendra

Kendra

I’ve been using a few apps and my boyfriend as references to learn Arabic. He’s from Iraq so that’s the dialect I’m focusing on. I admit that Arabic is fairly hard when you have never really gotten to know the alphabet. Personally, I wish I had spent my first month learning Arabic by just knowing the Arabic alphabet inside and out considering it’s pretty different from our English alphabet.

I recently went back to the alphabet to learn specific sounds to each consonant as well as what that consonant looks like depending on what part of a word it’s in and that’s helped me a lot. This whole article rings true for everything, from focusing on one dialect to understanding the culture in order to understand it’s language. I’m very excited to look a little deeper into your website.

Omar

Omar

Hello,
How do I access it with a library card? Is it free if I do so?

Michael

Michael

Googling 'how do I learn Arabic' brought me here, so y'all know just where I stand with it currently.
Thanks for a super-informative post, Donovan.
My question for you and the community of like-minded language enthusiasts is: where do I begin?
From what I'm picking up here, I guess the answer is - abjad...
Haven't found anything in the Resources tab, so any pointers would be much appreciated.

Patric

Patric

Thanks Luisa.

Monica

Monica

Thank you for this article, really useful

Leighton

Leighton

What would be the closest dialect to Gulf (Khaliji) arabic offered on talkinarabic.com? I'm wanting to converse with my family in Dubai/Bahrain!

W

W

BTW native Arabic speaker understand most of the Arabic dialects, but he cant pronounce them, so we can't say dialects is a different languages,
and i think its not the case for a foreigner who learned a specific dialect,
thats why MSA is important, all arabs studied it in schools, universities, reading books, novels and hearing news using MSA, so you can communicate with them using it.

anyway, Im from Jordan, If any one wants to practice Arabic and help me with English (even if its not your native language) please add me on Skype: wardghb

If I Started Learning Russian Again, Here’s How I’d Do It

If I Started Learning Russian Again, Here’s How I’d Do It

[…] It’s how Donovan says in his post about learning Arabic: […]

Talya Adira Lubit

Talya Adira Lubit

Thank you so much for the talk in Arabic resource!
INCREDIBLY USEFUL!

Amatullah

Amatullah

Do you have any suggestions on using Arabic to learn various topics? I mean learning topics as one would at school and University.

Nedeem

Nedeem

All boils down to your needs and objectives. But a language, any language, means first and foremost communication in authentic situation sto get your message across and to achieve your purposes when you interact with fellow human beings.
I have been teaching Arabic for 12 years. My conclusion is the language should be taught either using an intergrated , i.e. a major dialect and "MSA". I would use Formal Modern Arabic (FMA) instead of the deceiving and inaccurate name MSA.
Speaking and listening is done in a major dialect/variation, reading and writing in FMA.
Alternatively, a beginner could start with a major dialect/variation like native speakers do then they add Formal Arabic on the way. I spoke my mother tongue until the age of 6 before entering school and learning Formal Arabic of the media and print.
In the US the Integrated Approach is more common than in Europe. In the latter, teaching "MSA" is still dominant and I am not exagerating when I say that is because of the intransigeance of teachers . The reasons those teachers give are neither scientific or logical.

Erin

Erin

Hi I am a student at the University of Georgia currently learning Arabic for the first time! I know French and took 5 years of Spanish but don't recall much . We just finished learning the Arabic alphabet from the Alif Baa book and now we are on to Al Kitaab. I also have a tutor I meet with twice a week for an hour and watch Arabic tv on Netflix with English subtitles. I really want to study abroad at an Arabic school in possibly Morrocco, do you have any ideas as to where I should study or what I should do. I want to make the most of my last year and a half at UGA. Thank you so much! and I loved this blog post!

Geoff

Geoff

Hey Donovan, I really enjoyed your podcast. I'm not very good with languages and only just starting out learning Arabic but much of what you say resonates with me. Luckily, I have made a friend with a Saudi who devotes a lot of time teaching me. Every day I am expanding my vocabulary and learning lots about the Arab World.

Fadhila abutourabi

Fadhila abutourabi

I agree with you.

Stjohn Hawkes

Stjohn Hawkes

This is the first introduction to Arabic that didn't put me off with the complexities- well done!

kaalen

kaalen

I would learn standard Arabic first before learning the local Arabic languages

"The limits of my language mean the limits of my world."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
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