If you’re wondering how to learn Arabic, this post will give you the answer you are looking for. It is sort of a checklist for what you should consider if you’re looking to learn this language.
Table of Contents:
Introduction to Arabic learning
Due to the occurrence of diglossia you need to make some important decisions at the very beginning. To put it simply, it’s about the fact that the official Arabic language (press, television, books) differs from the language in which everyday people communicate.
Until recently, foreigners were mainly focused on learning Modern Standard Arabic, but now learning dialects has become very popular. There are many study materials to learn Arabic dialects, so if you want to learn the language spoken in a particular country it is not a problem anymore.
Arabic learners are usually:
- learning Modern Standard Arabic (MSA)
- learning the dialect of the selected country
- learning for religious purposes (reading the Quran)
Adapting appropriate methods of learning will be required for each of these points. In this post, we will focus on point one and point two, which is learning MSA and dialects.
This is because learning Arabic for religious purposes is different from typical language learning. There are four basic language skills: reading, writing, speaking, listening. In the case of learning the Quran, you don’t need to learn writing, constructing sentences and partly speaking.
Quran learners have to learn the correct pronunciation, of course, but you don’t need to be able to speak Arabic to read the Quran (millions of people in non-Arabic-speaking Muslim countries are proof of this). When it comes to learning the Quran, what students really focus on is understanding/reading/reciting one particular text- the Quran.
Choose what you want to learn. MSA or dialect?
So what should you be learning? The answer is what you need most. Of course, the easiest answer would be – Modern Standard Arabic, however, think about your personal purpose of learning Arabic.
If you just want to be able to communicate with a colleague from Egypt, or if you live in Jordan and want to communicate on a basic level, doing everyday things, then it would be advisable to study the dialect.
In general, knowing Arabic as it is spoken by native speakers means knowing both MSA and (at least) one dialect of the spoken language. Regardless of what you decided to learn, the following tips will be equally useful to you.
How to learn the Arabic alphabet
We assume you already know what Arabic you will be learning. So it’s time to get started. The most logical way to start is to learn the alphabet.
The Arabic alphabet and writing is not at all as difficult as it seems. Surprisingly, many Arabic learners (especially dialects) skip this step. The reason we think it’s a wrong approach is that knowing the alphabet makes learning much easier.
Many great references for dialects are written in Arabic and learning a language without knowing the alphabet is a bigger challenge than learning the alphabet itself.
The effort put into looking for transliterated study materials can be easily put into learning the alphabet, which even for the lazy will take no more than a week.
In Arabic there are only 28 letters, most of them share the same shapes. Therefore, while learning the shape of one letter you immediately pick up two or even three others.
Until you start writing you will not learn to write perfectly, so practice writing whole words from the very beginning. Many learners practice writing letter shapes alone for a long time, which we believe slows down the process of mastering the Arabic alphabet. Practice on whole words (and learn new words in the process) and you will master this new skill faster.
If you don’t know the Arabic alphabet yet check our post Arabic alphabet – All you need to know to write in Arabic
How to learn Arabic pronunciation
In Arabic there are several letters that are objectively difficult for foreigners. Here, as in the previous point, practice makes perfect. If you are not familiar with a particular sound at the beginning it will be difficult for you.
The proper way to learn how to pronounce the letters is to learn the points of articulation for the Arabic letters.
You should become familiar with the correct pronunciation rules as soon as possible. Then, take at least a few lessons with a native speaker, dedicated only to pronunciation, so that you understand where you make possible mistakes and eliminate them relatively quickly.
You shouldn’t feel discouraged if for some (even longer) time you can’t pronounce a given letter correctly. As with any language, your pronunciation will improve if you practice it a lot and it’s never flawless at first.
We recommend practicing whole words rather than single sounds if you want to practice pronunciation.
How to learn Arabic vocabulary
If you are already familiar with the alphabet and can write and pronounce Arabic letters, you should focus on learning vocabulary.
Ways to make learning vocabulary more effective:
- Learn the vocabulary you know you will need
- Create your own vocabulary base
- Create flashcards
- Learn with apps
There isn’t a single best or fastest way to learn Arabic vocabulary. It all depends on you and how you like to learn new words. We recommend our vocabulary lists if you’re not sure where to begin. Here are some examples:
- Family members in Arabic
- Colors in Arabic: learn basic and advanced color names
- Month names in Arabic. Everything you need to know
- Days of the week in Arabic- everything you need to know
- Country names in Arabic
Check out our other Arabic Vocabulary Lists.
Learn basic Arabic grammar
To begin your study, you will need to understand the basic rules of grammar. For learning Arabic grammar, there are plenty of free online sources available. At first, you will need only one source that clearly explains the basics of the language.
A good way to learn them is to choose one website and/or one textbook to study, and go over the most important basic rules (pronouns, parts of speech, tenses, etc.).
Despite the complexity of Arabic grammar, you don’t need to know all the rules to be able to speak it fairly well. The process of learning Arabic takes time and effort, but decent knowledge of the basic rules can make it easier to learn the language further.
Once you understand the basic rules of Arabic grammar and vocabulary you will be able to learn the language by using it. Then it will become easier and certainly more enjoyable.
Tips to master Arabic
As we mentioned before, there are four language skills: speaking, listening, reading and writing. To learn Arabic and to speak it fluently you have to master all of them.
Most people learn a language to communicate in it. So it is important to pay a lot of attention to practicing speaking. It would be ideal to practice speaking with another person from the very beginning in order to prevent a language barrier from forming.
When learning Arabic on your own, a good approach is to learn the basic grammar, vocabulary, etc., and then sign up for lessons with a tutor to practice what you’ve learned so far. It is better and more efficient than waiting for the teacher’s help with basics such as greetings, pronouns, common phrases etc. You can easily and quickly learn it on your own and use your time with the teacher to practice it.
When it comes to speaking, you can also use free chat rooms and apps where you can find someone to talk to in Arabic for free.
During such conversations, the idea is not to actually learn anything, but rather to practice what you have learned so far. Besides, it will definitely help you to get used to speaking the language and maybe even allow you to meet new, interesting people.
All language skills (reading, speaking, writing, listening) are interrelated, and learning one improves the others. To speak Arabic freely, you must also have a large vocabulary base and good listening skills.
If you want to easily understand what people are saying to you you will have to spend many hours listening to Arabic language. A good solution for the beginners are listening materials designed specifically for language learners.
As soon as you learn the very basics of the language use authentic materials. It is obvious that you will not be able to watch Arabic news, series or podcasts after a week of learning, but it is best to introduce these elements as soon as possible.
At the beginning it can be very short videos, songs, etc. As your skills increase try to introduce more of them.
In learning any language, listening is important, but in the case of dialects it is even doubly important, because in the end we learn the spoken language.
If you want to improve your Arabic listening skills check out our list of Arabic TV shows.
We’ve already discussed learning the alphabet, so under the heading of writing we mean formulating written forms, not writing in general. This is an important point especially for MSA, which is a formal language.
It is important to practice writing often. Try writing anything in Arabic everyday, or at least every few days. Start from the short forms and then gradually increase the length of the texts.
You should start with short written forms, consisting of a few sentences at most.
Reading a few sentences every day will certainly improve your reading skills in the long run.
There are many materials for learning to read in Arabic, adapted to different levels.
It’s a good idea to start using the knowledge you’ve gained right away and read authentic content.
We recommend our post on how to learn Arabic from Twitter to see that Arabic reading practice doesn’t have to be boring. You can read at least one sentence in Arabic every day, which will help you learning new vocabulary and improving your language reading skills.
Immerse yourself in Arabic
Nothing speeds up learning a language like being surrounded by it. Of course this principle is easiest to implement for those who live in an Arab country or who love Arabic culture.
However not everyone meets these two conditions, so for some this element may be more difficult.
You can always introduce some selected elements of language immersion, such as:
- Checking the news in Arabic language on topics that interest you, or that concern you in some way
- Watching interesting channels on YouTube (for dialects vlogs are the best)
- Humor in Arabic
- Checking Twitter in Arabic
- Watching series / movies / cartoons in Arabic
- Listening to songs, translating lyrics
- Talking/chatting with native speakers
We have created a detailed post about Arabic immersion ideas and free resources.
As you can see, learning Arabic is no different from learning any other language. Only the first point makes learning this language seem complicated. The most important thing is to make a plan and work towards your language goals. Good luck!