Read Arabic daily – 7 helpful sources

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Read Arabic daily

Read Arabic to develop proficiency in the language

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic LearnerRead Arabic daily, and push yourself to complete reading something in Arabic every day. Reading is foundational to enriching your vocabulary and engraining Arabic structures and styles of discourse into your thinking. It is not difficult to find materials to read in Arabic, whether news, commentary, religious, social media, or many other forms. Try to read things through to their end even when you don’t understand every word. The discipline of reading to the end (whether a chapter, blog entry, tweet, or article) overcomes our tendency to drop focus when we don’t understand everything.

“… we help them to get really good at reading…the proficiency that they develop and the confidence that they develop doing that spills over…” (Kirk Belnap)

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

Reading Arabic as a life skill

I remember standing in Tahrir Square in Cairo in 1991 with a friend who was telling me where he lived, and he pointed in a certain direction and said “Do you see that billboard for Mustapha Ali?”. Mustapha Ali was a company that sold, if I recall correctly, lighting fixtures. My eyes scanned the multitude of billboards in the busy square, and suddenly found the Mustapha Ali one… written مصطفى علي. Suddenly, I felt this incredible feeling of accomplishment, that I had actually negotiated one very small aspect of life using my newly developed skill of reading in Arabic.

7 great sources for those who want to read Arabic

Let me start this post by getting straight to “the goods”. Many people who want to read Arabic just need someone to point them to useful places they can read things. Here’s my current list of 7 very useful places on which you can read Arabic in a way that contributes to your learning the language.

Al-Jazeera resources to read arabicAl-Jazeera Learning Arabic site – An absolutely great site with huge amounts of useful reading materials, fully vowelized, on a wide variety of topics from news and current events. Includes questions, vocabulary, and exercises. Highly useful for intermediate to advanced readers. My current top pick for Arabic learners who want to read.

Read Arabic siteRead Arabic! اقرأ العربية site. Funded by the US Department of Education, the materials of Read Arabic! were developed to provide online e-learning reading lessons aimed at beginning and intermediate students of the language. Good stuff here. Continue reading “Read Arabic daily – 7 helpful sources”

Arabic Vocabulary – build it daily

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Arabic Vocabulary

Arabic Vocabulary – build it daily

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner

Build your vocabulary daily by adding at least one new word or expression to your repertoire each day. There will be days where you will learn much more than one item, but by setting a minimum of one term per day, you will ensure that your mind stays freshly focused on expanding your active vocabulary at all times. Over time, this will lead to a significant increase in your ability to understand and express yourself in Arabic.

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

Cairo hotels on the Nile
Photo: Vyacheslav Argenberg.

My wife and I walked into the five star hotel, surrounded by people dressed in all kinds of chic, formal, and dazzling attire. My wife looked incredible. I was feeling pretty good. The wedding reception we were attending was fun. The music was loud. The moon was reflecting off of the pyramids nearby. Cairo nightlife at its best. Arabic vocabulary was not on my mind.

Needing to make those final last minute adjustments in front of a mirror before stepping into the ballroom, we made our way to the front desk to ask about the whereabouts of the washrooms.

Andrew: mesaa’ il-kheer / مساء الخير  (Good evening)

Receptionist: mesaa’ in-nour / مساء النور (Good evening)

Andrew: feen il-________ / فين ـــــــــ  (Where is the ___________?)

Substitute in the blank space above a crass, inappropriate word for “restroom facilities”. Use your imagination. Or don’t!

Wife: <facepalm>

Receptionist: (awkwardly) hinaak / هناك  (Over there…)

You may be wondering why this was so awkward for my wife and the receptionist. It was my choice of vocabulary for the washroom. I had learned the word on the street, and didn’t realize that it was not considered “polite language” for the setting that we were in (for those with any background in linguistics, you will recognize this as a sociolinguistic plot twist).

This is what I call a ‘Vocabulary Incident’. That is not a scientific term, or a term based on research. It is just my term that I use for situations involving Arabic vocabulary when something doesn’t work. I use it to refer to times when:

  • I don’t know a word in Arabic that I need to know
  • I know a form of a word that is not appropriate to the context I am in (such as the situation above)
  • I think I know a word or expression in Arabic, but the word/expression that I know is not the correct one

Continue reading “Arabic Vocabulary – build it daily”

24 ideas to activate your Arabic today

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Activate what you learn

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic LearnerUse what you have already learned in Arabic immediately. One of the dangers that some people fall into is growing in their knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation, but never taking initiative to actually use it in real life. If you make a daily habit of using your Arabic in some small way, you will have broken the inertia of passive learning and will be actively increasing your Arabic level.

“To keep [Arabic] in your head, you have to use it.” (David Wilmsen)

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

Habits for learning Arabic

What habits do you have that are helping you learn Arabic? What habits do you wish you had?

AristotleAristotle said, about habits, We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. 

This week, I’ll begin to discuss some of the daily habits that make up a solid Arabic learning strategy. With the right mindsets in place, choosing what you will repeatedly do will form habits of excellence in you as an Arabic learner.

Over the past weeks I have discussed the five key mindsets that are essential skills of an Arabic learner. These include setting fluency as your aim, committing to interact, being enthusiastic, accepting ambiguity, and making mistakes. I call them skills because they are mindsets that are intentionally developed through conscious effort, not gifts that are endowed on random people. Each of these mindsets came up repeatedly as I discussed learning Arabic with 6 thought-leaders in the field of teaching Arabic. If you develop these mindsets, you will be positioned to learn Arabic effectively.

What I am trying to do with this applied research and discussion is to help you form a learning strategy for acquiring Arabic. If you have not yet read the overall strategy given in The 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner, I recommend that you download that now and skim through it. Then come back to this post.

The first habit is to activate the Arabic you learn by using it daily. This post is going to give you 21 ideas that you can put into action today to begin to use your Arabic. Continue reading “24 ideas to activate your Arabic today”

Arabic vocabulary – how to increase it

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Arabic Vocabulary learning hacks from the pro’s

This past week I interviewed two well-known people in the Arabic learning world. They are:

Abbas Al-TonsiAbbas Al-Tonsi, Senior Instructor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, faculty member at the Arabic Language Institute of the American University in Cairo, and co-author of the famous (and most widely used) Arabic textbook “Al-Kitaab fii Tacallum al-cArabiyya” (Georgetown University Press), as well as many other books.


David WilmsenDavid Wilmsen, Chair of the Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages at the American University of Beirut, and author of Arabic Indefinites, Interrogatives, and Negators: A Linguistic History of Western Dialects (Oxford University Press) , and a huge list of articles published in academic journals.

These interviews are part of a book that I am currently working on that focuses on the process of Arabic learning and teaching. Stay tuned for more on that… and if you would like to kept informed of the progress on this, sign up by clicking the button below.

Keep me informed

One of the questions I asked each of them was about increasing your vocabulary. What is the best way to increase your Arabic vocabulary? They had some interesting and insightful answers for me, based on decades of their own experience with Arabic learning students. I’ll give you just a brief summary (re-written in my words) of some of their thoughts they shared with me over the course of the interviews. Continue reading “Arabic vocabulary – how to increase it”

Shem El-Nessim شم النسيم

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Shem El-Nessim

Shem el-Nissim (شم النسيم) is an Egyptian holiday that celebrates the coming of spring each year.  We just got back from our annual Shem el-Nissim trip up to my wife’s family’s beach house on the Suez Canal.  Sunshine, water, an old rowboat, my awesome teenage kids, tons of food, and a generally fun spring atmosphere.  Here’s some Arabic words that came up a lot this weekend (Egyptian Arabic ones marked with a *): Continue reading “Shem El-Nessim شم النسيم”

Learning Arabic – Milestone 2

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Milestone 2 - the rental contract

Signing the Contract

(If you haven’t read Milestone 1 – A Cup of Tea, this post will make more sense once you have read it).

My first year in Egypt was spent immersing myself in Arabic. I was determined to make the most of what I thought would be a single year here. My plan was to take in as much Arabic language learning as I could in as many ways as possible.

Five days per week, I was in class at the American University in Cairo.The program was intense – five hours a day of instruction.About 3/4 of the class time was spent studying Modern Standard Arabic (فصحى) and 1/4 of the time spent studying Egyptian Colloquial (عامية).The teachers were for the most part good, and some of them were excellent.One of my favorite teachers was Abbas Al-Tonsi, co-author of the famous Al-Kitaab books for Arabic language learning.He revolutionized my thinking about learning vocabulary, even though that was not the main focus of the course I took with him. More on vocabulary in a later post.

In addition to class time, we had 2-3 hours of Arabic homework per night, on average.On top of this, I decided I was going to spend as much time speaking Egyptian Arabic as possible.Learning Arabic was my priority. I was unconventional.I made friends with a fruit-seller on our street named Ibrahim, and sat on a chair next to him for 1-2 hours per day, at least 5 days a week.I would talk with him in Arabic (he spoke no English), as well as with all kinds of customers that came by.It was only after I had been doing this for several months that I learned from other people that in Egyptian society, this was seen as strange.I was not concerned with that!

Fruit Seller
Fruit Seller (credit: Fox News)

So all in all, I was spending something in the range of 8-10 hours/day learning Arabic.Eating, breathing, sleeping… lots of Arabic. Continue reading “Learning Arabic – Milestone 2”

Article: Why learning Arabic is so hard

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Trying to learn Arabic

Here’s a great article from Slate called “I’m Trying To Learn Arabic.  Why’s it taking so long?” by Robert Lane Greene.

Summary of the article:

1. Arabic script is complicated and hard to learn

2. There are a number of sounds that are hard to pronounce for English speakers Continue reading “Article: Why learning Arabic is so hard”