Learning Levantine or Iraqi Arabic? These Are The Books You Need
- Written byDonovan Nagel
- Read time8 mins
Note: We’ve just created one of the most unique sites ever made for learning Arabic dialects (including Levantine and Iraqi) that you might find helpful. Check it out here.
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 learning Arabic 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.
We’ve just created a massive downloadable resource for Arabic verbs (Levantine, Saudi, Moroccan and Egyptian) that you’ll find very helpful. Check it out here.
One more thing: if you’d prefer an online resource to learn spoken Arabic rather than just books, I recommend you use either of these:
Rocket Arabic for comprehensive audio (Egyptian only). Read my review of Rocket Languages.
For video and audio – TalkInArabic.com which covers 8 spoken dialects of Arabic (one of the only comprehensive resources for Levantine and Iraqi at present).
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.
UPDATE: Also check out Diwan Baladna for Jordanian Arabic which is excellent (see my review here).
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.
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. 🙁
I wrote a huge post on Arabic listening resources recently.
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.
Also have a look at TalkInArabic.com for video and audio lessons in Levantine and Iraqi Arabic.
And please share this with anyone you know who is learning Arabic (or planning to) as it might help them.
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Great page, lots of resources to check out in the many Arabic dialects, Levantine being my favorite, shukran ekteer.
Hi there, thank you for all of the wonderful resources you have put together and shared! I am beginning to learn Levantine Arabic (Palestinian in particular) and have a good sense of which dictionaries, listening sites, and slightly more advanced textbooks to use. What I can’t seem to find is a book resource for simply learning how to read and write the script in its entirety. Every textbook relies on my knowing how to read and write the alphabet. Any suggestions for this basic but necessary step?
Which resource(s) should I start with if I want to learn levantine but i’ve no background in MSA? The resources you mentioned require one to have a good grasp on MSA.
I find your website very helpful.
I am a native Arabic speaker (Lebanese) and I will teach Arabic for adults for the first time. I am searching for a good Arabic language material for beginners (level 1, preferably based on CEFR) including the teacher’s book. Would you be able to recommend any?
Thank you so much
I recently purchased the last used copy of Living Arabic: A Comprehensive Introductory Course that was decently priced; it seems the book is now out of print and rebranded as a 3-part series Arabiyyat al-Naas. My question is if you have seen this series, does it cover the same material or expand on it? My concern is finishing this book, purchasing book 2 of the series and finding I’ve already covered the material. I know it’s a shot in the dark, I’ve contacted the author as well. Thanks!
Update: The author says it covers book 1 of the series.
Hi, thanks for your post. Any tips for someone who is especially interested in “translate-and-repeat” audio? I will be travelling a lot in my car and this would be a good way of using that time. Tried arabicpod101 and went through all MSA audio but now I’d like to go further with some levantine dialect, preferably Syrian or Iraqi.
Thank you very much for this information. Your site is very helpful to me. I’ve studied MSA for a year, hoping to get a DoD job as a linguist one day. I’m currently an elementary school teacher. I am considering focusing on the Egyptian dialect because there are more resources, and because it would be fun to watch the many Egyptian movies, and because I would LOVE to visit one day. However, do you think there is enough of a need for Egyptian Arabic in the Dod, that I would be marketable if I choose that dialect? Otherwise, since I’m just now choosing a dialect, I could choose Levantine or Iraqi Arabic. I’ve asked around and have received mixed responses.
Thank you very much for the advice,
I’m hoping to work in Iraq for my company so I ordered Modern Iraqi Arabic.
I was wondering about the writing books and if the ones you suggest in other post would be appropriate? What about dictionary specific to Iraqi Arabic?
amazing post really.. keep posting :) :)
Thanks for sharing some resources on Iraqi Arabic. It’s always hard to find learning material on this dialect.
I’m Australian-Iraqi and I’m not even fluent in my own language so I’m looking for Iraqi Arabic resources specifically. I find that most of the Arabic language products tend to be everything but Iraqi. So it’s good to see someone is recommending one as well!
By the way, I’m really enjoying your website and find it really helpful that I’ve recommended it to others!
J. Elihay’s “Speaking Arabic” is a real good Palestinian Arabic Book + CD (4 parts).
it’s available in French/English or Hebrew as ‘source’ languages, the CD’s are Arabic only, the whole text is transcribed in a clear (1-1) way
I’ve heard a lot of good things about this as well. Have you any experience with it, Donavan?
Good references.. I’ll share it with my following :)
I had a similar experience learning Arabic (well maybe not almost marrying an Egyptian), but found that studying so many dialects in such a short time frame was dizzying. It was a relief to finally settle down in Egypt for a couple years and really get my Egyptian sorted and push the shami to the back of my brain...
I just published a similar post on my experience learning Fusha and Egyptian that might also be of interest
Thanks for sharing your story.i as a kurdish person feel you have the right to say what you don’t want to learn,but I feel if you say something that has no positive affect or impact then there is no point saying it.also as a linguistic person you should have at least said with respect to kurdish language and then could have made what ever quote u wanted to make about your lack of interest for the language.
I’m not interested in Kurdish at this time. Perhaps in the future but not right now.
But I do have a lot of respect for the Kurdish people and language even if it wasn’t mentioned in this article.
Kurdistan is also part of Iraq and so there is no difference between any country ,nation ,people ,and race.whoever think there is ,then they clearly have a problem.you need to be able to speak kurdish if you looking to move to erbil as well because the people wount learn Arabic just for you mate.i don’t think you will be able to learn it either with an attitude like that lol.
What ‘attitude’ are you talking about?
I know people in Erbil speak Kurdish but this article is not about Kurdish - it’s about Arabic.
The people in that photo are actually Assyrians from Mosul (Arabic is their second language just like you) and they are the most persecuted group in Iraq (more than Kurds).
Most Assyrians have had to flee Iraq with their lives because of the constant attacks against them there.
Donovan, why did you switch to learning Egyptian Arabic (as opposed to staying with Levantine and Iraqi)?
Kind of a long story but to put it briefly, I had been planning to move to Mosul in Northern Iraq to learn Arabic at first (where that family is from) which was right before the war started.
Because of the situation there I obviously couldn’t go but the Egyptian woman sitting next to me in the picture there invited me to her brother’s wedding in a village called El Fashn in Upper Egypt.
So I ended up moving over there instead and started Arabic classes in Egypt. Then I just fell in love with Egypt and made a lot of life-long friends.
I’ve always kept Iraq close to my heart and it’s the place I’d love to move to eventually when the country gets a little more stable (I am looking into the possibility of moving to Erbil in Kurdistan which is a very safe part of Iraq now but I have no interest in learning Kurdish).
That’s the short version of a long story :)
Thanks for this post, Donovan. I spent two and a half years living and studying in Jordan and thought I knew all the best resources for Levantine, but I hadn’t heard of several of these.
Another book you should check out is Diwan Baladna. It mostly consists of very detailed wordlists in Jordanian dialect, but about half the book is devoted to idioms and expressions. Every entry in the book is voiced in MP3. I haven’t found a better resource anywhere for building vocabulary; I’ve been slowly working the book, converting its entries into Anki.
Another good book is “The 101 Most Used Verbs in Spoken Arabic”, which includes multiple sample expressions with accompanying MP3s for the most common verbs. What makes the book so handy is that many of these expressions cover subtle or idiomatic uses of common verbs.
Finally, are you familiar with CultureTalk? There are dozens of video clips of interviews with native speakers, with bilingual transcripts, for multiple languages and dialects.
This is such a great list! I think too few people know of Levantine Arabic resources that are available (at know I was definitely struggling to find some while I was studying in Jordan) so this post is really timely.
I also have to agree with Mark, that Diwan Baladna is a great resource as well when it comes to learning Jordanian dialect. In addition to Maha, Hiba and the Arabic student, one of the resources I also listed out in a previous post was the Jordanian comedy channel N2O. There’s a lot of stuff on there, but what I would target specifically is the Ex in the City portion, where American Brett Weer takes on simple local expressions and breaks them down on how to use them.
Thanks again Donovan, I’ll be sure to check out these resources soon!