How to Learn Arabic
Arabic (اللغة العربية) is an Afro-Asiatic or Semitic language closely related to Maltese, Hebrew, and Aramaic as well as Tigrinya and Amharic, and is spoken in an array of colorful dialects. Arabic is the official language of 26 Middle Eastern and North African countries spanning Yemen to Lebanon to the Sudan to Tunisia, it is an official language of the Arab League, the African Union, NATO, and the United Nations, and it is the liturgical and intellectual language of Islam. People all over the world study Arabic for a variety of reasons: work, travel, family, heritage, religion, wanting to travel to an Arab country, marriage or friendship with an Arab, or simply as a hobby. To learn Arabic, determine which type you wish to learn, study the alphabet, get a good Arabic dictionary, and use some key language learning tools.
Which Arabic do you wish to learn?
Be aware that there are several types of Arabic.
They are: Modern Standard Arabic, Classical (Qur’anic) Arabic, or Colloquial Arabic. Decide which kind of Arabic you want to learn:
- Modern Standard Arabic. The safest option is to learn a version of the classical language known as Modern Standard Arabic. Also, MSA is used across the Arab World, but is generally confined to writing and formal contexts: literature, newspapers, education, radio/television news programs, political speeches, etc.
- Classical (Qur’anic) Arabic. If your interest is more specific to Islamic or Arabic Golden Age studies, a course in Qur’anic/Classical Arabic will meet your needs. Also, Holy Qur’an is using the Arabic , the Arabic of classical religious, intellectual, and legal texts, and the Arabic from which Modern Standard Arabic is based.
- Colloquial Arabic. If you are planning on living in the Arab World or dealing with a specific Arab region or country, Modern Standard Arabic on its own is unlikely to meet all your needs. Hence, Arabs speak regional dialects as their mother tongue, and the differences between dialects can be significant enough to cause mutual unintelligibility. Broadly speaking, there are five broad families of dialects, each with sub-dialects according to country, city, neighbourhood, and even religion: Gulf Arabic, Mesopotamian Arabic, Levantine Arabic, Egyptian Arabic, and Maghrebi Arabic.
Understanding the alphabet and dictionary
Learn the Arabic alphabet.
The Arabic script seems daunting at first, and some people try to avoid learning it by relying on transliterations of Arabic words. This merely stores up problems for later; it is much better to ignore transliterations and use the script from the start. Your best option is to borrow a book at your local library or buy one from a bookstore, since this is a long and difficult project.
Learn how to use an Arabic dictionary.
Words in Arabic dictionaries are under their three-letter roots list. So you would look for istiqbaal (“reception”) under “q” because the root letters are q-b-l. Getting used to this takes a little practice but it is not particularly difficult because additions to the roots follow set patterns. Something similar happens in English: “unaccustomed”, for example, is actually “un-a-custom-ed”.
Learn at home.
If you are able to study at home, there are self-tuition courses that will see you through the beginners’ stage, and perhaps even a little beyond. The traditional textbook-and-cassette courses vary in quality, as do their teaching methods. You may find yourself buying two or three before you find one that suits you.
Consider online tuition.
If you would like to try learning Arabic over the internet, the following courses are available:
- BABEL Arabic is an interactive course for beginners with text, sound, transcriptions and translations. It teaches writing and reading in the form of conversations.
- The Arabic Tutor is a beginners’ course on CD ROM which can be sampled and purchased over the Internet.
- Apprendre l’Arabe is basic Arabic for French speakers.
Try language classes.
For most people, part-time evening classes are perhaps the most accessible option. They can provide a leisurely introduction to the language, but don’t expect to learn very much very rapidly. Try researching what options you have in the area where you live.
Practice your Arabic and befriend native Arabic speakers.
The Arab diaspora spans every corner of the world; the best way to develop your Arabic is to talk with Arabs and expose yourself to all things Arabic. Also, Join pen-pal websites, listen to Arab music, watch Arab soap operas, news broadcasts, and children’s shows, chat with your local Palestinian barber, Moroccan grocer, and Lebanese restaurateur, etc. Knowing even a few words opens doors.
- Find someone who speaks Arabic. You might have someone in your family or in your friend group. You can also ask on Facebook if anyone knows an Arabic speaking person.
- Contact the person and ask him or her to meet once a week for an hour. You can focus on words, for instance, words connected to living, travel, etc.
- At the same time, focus on basic sentences, ready made chunks, such as how are you, my name is, how old are you, etc. You can also put these into different categories.
- In the meantime, study the language points you have discussed with your tutor. When you meet next time, you will be able to understand more and have more insight into the language. You can also ask questions about the prior lessons.