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”

Make Mistakes when learning Arabic

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Make mistakes

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner

In order to grow as an Arabic learner, you need to make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. The more that you experiment and get things wrong as you use Arabic, the more feedback and growth you will experience. The fear of failure can prevent you from attempting to speak or listen in Arabic (or write and read), and can set up anxiety filters that make it difficult to process and learn. Usually, our fear of failure is based on a false feel that we are incapable of learning, or on a false perception of what others will think of us as we begin to use our imperfect Arabic. Overcoming your fear of failure in Arabic means believing in yourself, laughing at your own mistakes (knowing they are helping you in your journey, not hindering you), and choosing to show off your growing skills to the world rather than hiding “imperfect” skills.

“… students notice errors, their own and other students’, and learn from them.” (Laila Al-Sawi)

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

My report card

1.  Instead of calling my friend Hala by her proper name in Arabic, “haala” / هالة (meaning: halo, aura… a common Arabic name for women), I called her “Haala” / حالة with the ح or aspirated H, which means a “case”, as in a hospital case or a person who is a complicated case of something. The way I pronounced it can be used as slang to tell someone that she is complicated. Oops. A pronunciation mistake.

2. At the hospital a few days ago, following my mother-in-law’s hip replacement surgery, I told the (male) assistant doctor to come see my mother-in-law the next day. But I used the female form of “come” ( ta3aalii / تعالي) instead of the male form. An awkward morphology mistake.

3. While providing feedback to (shouting at) the watchman of our apartment building for having acted obnoxiously/inappropriately, I declared he was “rudeness” (‘illit adab / قلة أدب) instead of “rude” (‘aliil al-adab / قليل الأدب). This caused my wife to snicker from behind the door, which did not strengthen my sense of righteous indignation. A vocabulary mistake at the wrong time.

4. Last month, my car broke down – the alternator belt broke. While talking with the mechanic, I didn’t know the word for alternator, couldn’t remember the word for belt, and found myself stumbling over all the Arabic I was trying to produce. The mechanic looked at me blankly. Complete communication breakdown. Continue reading “Make Mistakes when learning Arabic”

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”