Back after a long hiatus

Just a quick note to apologize for having been away from posting any content on this site for a long time! Covid was not kind to my schedule at the university, in addition to some other crazy life things that have been happening.

I am working on rebooting my Arabic grammar video series, and hope to be posting a new video before too long. It all takes place in the early morning before my day gets going.

So in the meantime, have yourself a good cup of coffee, practice your Arabic in real life, and have a great day.

Photo by Marina Leonova:

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner book released (finally)

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15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner book cover

I am pleased to announce that my book 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Leaner has now been published on Amazon!

For the coming 5 days (Jan. 27-31), the book will be available for free.

(The button takes you to You can also access it on Amazon in the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, India, Netherlands, Japan, Brazil , and Mexico.)

What makes some people who try to learn Arabic succeed, while others fail? What will help you become fluent, where others have not been able to? This short book is based on the ideas shared by six internationally recognized leaders in the field of Arabic language learning as they were asked these questions. Their ideas are organized into four different categories: mindset, habits, systems, and interactions. As you launch your journey of learning Arabic, or continue to press forward in it, these skills will prove invaluable to you as you work towards fluency in the Arabic language.

It is not a technical book about the Arabic language (which most aspiring Arabic learners usually start with). It is a book about how you can learn Arabic successfully. If you incorporate these 15 skills into your Arabic-learning approach, you will become fluent much more quickly.

Me giving a brief introduction to the book ’15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner’

This book has been a long time in coming. I did the interviews for it in 2016. I guess life has been busy! I hope that this is helpful for some of you Arabic Learners out there.

Please feel free to grab the book while it is free, from January 27-31. It’s only 110 pages, so it doesn’t take long to read. If you had a chance to read it and leave a review, I would love that!

Arabic Question words in MSA (Interrogative Particles)

How do Arabic question words (also known as Interrogative Particles) work in Modern Standard Arabic? Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? How many? Which?

Here’s a short video that will walk you through the way that each of these words is used. These words are powerful because they allow your Arabic to become more interactive, as you recognize and form questions.

Interrogative Particles (Arabic question words) is the second in a series of short videos explaining key grammatical concepts in Modern Standard Arabic. The textbook I am using is Azza Hassanein’s Modern Standard Arabic Grammar: A Concise Guide. I find this book incredibly useful for me as an Arabic learner, which is why I am using it as the basis for this series.

If you are interested in Modern Standard Arabic, you might also find my MSA Absolute Beginner’s Course helpful. Feel free to take a look at some of the preview videos on it.

Set fluency as your aim

Many Arabic learners undermine the steady progress they could be making by not having clear goals about what they want to learn in Arabic. Here’s a short video I’ve put together that talks about this.

Often, people start studying Arabic without actually believing that they can (eventually) become fluent!

Whatever your reasons for wanting to learn Arabic, setting fluency as your ultimate goal helps you to make clear and steady progress. 

This video is based on chapter 1 of my book “15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner”. The manuscript of the book is currently being considered for publication by an unnamed university press (not too hard to figure out if you know where I teach!).

The 15 skills came out of a series of interviews that I did in 2015 with 6 internationally recognized Arabic language educators. And this first skill, having an end goal as you set out to learn, is something that all of my students at the university would tell that I force them to do. 🙂

The Arabic Definite Article ال and Solar Letters

How does the Definite Article (“the” in English) work in Arabic? Here is a short video that will show you the 3 key rules for pronunciation of ال, plus an explanation of the sun and moon letters. 

This 4 minute video will teach you a simple but important Arabic language concept (or review it for you if you already know it)

This is the first in a series of short videos explaining key grammatical concepts in Modern Standard Arabic. I will be releasing them on a monthly basis. This semester I am making time to work on this, and I hope to slowly build up a library of short, simple, effective teaching tools for Arabic. The Arabic definite article is the first stop on that journey.

Continue reading “The Arabic Definite Article ال and Solar Letters”

Arabic conversation: overcoming barriers to interact meaningfully

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Arabic conversation: overcoming barriers to interact meaningfully

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner, including self-directed learningHave real Arabic conversation, whether spoken or written, with Arabic speakers. True conversations, where there is a give and take of information and interaction, will bring into play all of your receptive and productive skills in Arabic – the skills that are required to understand (receive) and produce language in a way that allows actual communication. The satisfaction of having understood someone and having been understood, even on a small level, will motivate you like very few other things. And the frustration of communication breakdown, where you are not able to communicate as you would like, will also sharpen your focus on areas in which you can improve.

“…Talk with Arabic speakers. It must be verbal communication to keep the Arabic at the desired level of proficiency. “ (Abbas Al- Tonsi)

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

Arabic conversation: overcoming barriers to interact meaningfully

Arabic conversation and interaction

All of the Arabic skills that you learn are for the purpose of interacting in Arabic. Listening, speaking, reading, and writing can be dealt with as isolated skills, but ultimately their purpose is to be used together to interact in real conversations with Arabic speakers.

Arabic conversation can take place through writing, but I have found spoken conversations to be the most valuable on an everyday basis. Writing as a medium for immediate conversation has increased due to the use of social media in the Arab world, but verbal conversations are, for most of us, the most satisfying and useful for learning (there are some people who are exceptions to this, and I value and honor their focus on written communication).

Part of our problem as Arabic learners is that getting into conversations can be difficult, even when there is opportunity to do so. Yesterday (August 28) marked 25 years to the day when I first arrived in Egypt. Looking back, great conversations have been one of the things that have made it fun to be here over that length of time. But as I look back, I also realize that I have gone through certain seasons in which engaging in Arabic conversation has been more difficult.

In this post I am going to highlight five things that can block us from participating in Arabic conversation, and offer five ways that I have found helpful to increase meaningful, conversational interaction. Continue reading “Arabic conversation: overcoming barriers to interact meaningfully”

Design your own self-directed learning experience for Arabic

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Self directed learning for Arabic

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner, including self-directed learningTake charge of your own Arabic language acquisition by directing your own program of self-directed learning. Many times, you may not have access to classes or programs that provide you with the kind of instruction that you would like to have, and will need to customize your own approach. Even when you are actively engaged in class work, take control of your learning by building your own self-led framework of Arabic instruction that combines multiple learning strategies into an overall plan.

“…those learners that are self-directed and highly motivated will jump on these opportunities…”  (Aiyub Palmer)

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

Design your own self-directed learning experience


For most of us, when we set out to learn Arabic we don’t think of self-directed learning. Our first step is to research what programs and institutes are available to take us where we want to go. We look for the best instruction we can possibly find. We hope for a solution that includes all of the features we will need to be successful, including great materials, skilled teachers, opportunities for practice, and practical application of the skills we learn.

What we are looking for is a person or program that will lead us in our Arabic language learning. The problem is that it is hard to find people or programs like this. Which is why we need to be ready to engage in self-directed learning. Self-directed learners can design their own Arabic language learning experiences.

I distinctly remember when my first year and a half of “official” Arabic language learning at the American University in Cairo came to a close. I had reached a point where I did not have the time or focus needed to stay in the program. But I recall thinking something along the lines of “this should be easy – I live in an Arabic speaking city and I’ll just keep growing in my Arabic as I use it”. While living in an Arabic speaking environment has been helpful, I came to realize that there’s a lot more to successfully learning the language than just soaking it in. To be successful, you need to be a self-directed learner.

Self-directed learning, whether for a language or any other area, means that “the learner takes responsibility for their learning, choosing the content, resources, time, place, activities, and pace of their learning” ( . It doesn’t necessarily mean that you learn alone, but that you make the key decisions that organize and direct your learning experience. Continue reading “Design your own self-directed learning experience for Arabic”

Using apps to learn Arabic

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Using apps to learn Arabic

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic LearnerTake advantage of the increasing number of computer-assisted language learning tools that are available for Arabic learners, to work specific language skills. These apps, whether websites or software that runs on your computer or mobile device, can be used to provide the time-intensive drilling and practice that is usually not feasible in class. They can provide excellent exposure and practice in comprehension, pronunciation, and structure.

“Any technology that allows students to do more and better mechanical work on their own, outside the classroom, is something that we need to be thinking about” (Kristen Brustad)

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

Using apps to learn Arabic

There’s no question that using apps to learn Arabic is important part of an Arabic learner’s tool kit. But many language learners discover that finding useful computer-based language learning programs, let alone making good use of them, is often not very easy.

Back in the day, when I was completing my Master’s degree in teaching English, I had an opportunity to take the first course on Computer Assisted Language Learning that was offered in my university. I enjoyed the course a lot, although it wasn’t mostly because of the curriculum that we were taught. My favorite part was sitting in the back row of the computer lab for the entire semester, using web searches, hacks, and authoring programs to begin to formulate all kinds of wonderful apps that would help me teach languages, while pretending to pay close attention to the lecture.

Most of these apps failed. And apparently I was not successful in fooling my professor, who later told me that despite my thoughtful nods during class, she was aware that I was doing my own thing on my terminal there in the back row. Apparently she wasn’t threatened by this, but felt it was an important part of the learning process. Al-Hamdu li-lleh for great teachers!

However, something must have connected in my brain, because I spent the following two decades developing educational software and working as an educational technology consultant.

Based on my experience over the past 20 years, let me give a few thoughts about what software (which I will from now on call “apps”, referring to programs running on any kind of device, whether desktop or mobile, including web-based tools), can and cannot do when it comes to helping you learn Arabic. Continue reading “Using apps to learn Arabic”

Arabic classes – how to choose what works for you

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Take Arabic classes

Arabic classes – how to choose what works for you

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic LearnerTake organized Arabic classes given by a skilled instructor, in order to be able to follow a learning curriculum that has been set by someone who has experience in facilitating Arabic language learning. Classes provide a framework that can dramatically accelerate your progress in all areas of Arabic. They also provide feedback and evaluation, which are essential to prevent the recurring mistakes we make from becoming a permanent part of our language (a process known as “fossilization”). These classes can be in person or online.

“In class they are going to show you why it works this way, or why it shouldn’t work this way but perhaps does…” (David Wilmsen)

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

Experiencing Arabic classes

Over the past months I have been writing about mindsets and daily habits that can help you become a more effective Arabic learner. This week I will shift gears into the next section of the 15 Skills of an effective Arabic Learner, and begin to look at organized Systems that can help you learn more effectively.

Perhaps the most common system that we think of, when it comes to learning any language, is the classroom.

In a best-case scenario, a classroom provides:

  • a set of objectives and a framework for your learning that lets you make systematic progress toward your Arabic goals
  • a skilled teacher who knows the obstacles and hurdles that you will face at given points along the way
  • immediate feedback on your Arabic that is friendly and gentle, making you feel empowered to improve
  • ongoing evaluation of your overall progress that is clear and encouraging
  • an experience that is centered on you and your fellow students
  • all of this in an environment that is enjoyable, not stressful, and worth the financial investment you have made

If your Arabic class provides you with all of these things, please stop reading this blog post right now and take a minute to write a thank you note to your teacher. Then continue reading.

If your current experience does not match this, then you are in the same situation as many learners who take Arabic classes. Unfortunately, although we all hope to have good class experiences, it doesn’t always work out that way. Continue reading “Arabic classes – how to choose what works for you”

Listen to Arabic – resource list and strategies

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Listen to Arabic daily

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic LearnerListen to Arabic being used – spoken, sung, or recited – every day. This is foundational to building understanding, pronunciation, and a sense of the rhythm of how the language is spoken. By listening every day, you will develop an ear that can comprehend verbal Arabic effectively. This listening can be include some periods of active listening, but also longer periods of having Arabic playing in the background as you do other tasks. Daily listening builds your confidence and level of comfort when it comes to engaging in conversations in Arabic.

“It is very difficult to reach a high level of proficiency in speaking without being almost native in listening…the listening builds up vocabulary, and when you are listening the grammar and pronunciation become correct.” (Abbas Al-Tonsi)

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

Listen to Arabic – Resource List and Strategies

Magnetic reel to listen to Arabic
When I first began to listen to Arabic as a structured part of my learning, it involved signing out the old 7” magnetic reel audio tapes from the language lab at the American University in Cairo. Before you start thinking that I am a true dinosaur, in my defense I plead that the technology being used there was not entirely up to date for its time. It was 1991.

Cassette to listen to ArabicBack in my student apartment, I was using more conventional cassette tapes to record Arabic news broadcasts from the radio.

56k Modem to listen to ArabicAround 2000 and 2001, I remember the excitement of realizing that I could download an increasing number of useful audio clips and movies from the internet. This was at times an excruciating exercise because we would go online with a 56K modem connection (in 2001 I did manage to upgrade to a dreamy 128K).

YouTube and Podcasts to listen to ArabicFast forward to 2007 or 2008, and I was able to happily listen to Arabic and view it on YouTube, and other media sites. In the past few years, I have started listening to podcasts that automatically download onto my phone and iPad.

Whether you are an old-timer or relatively new as an Arabic learner, listening plays an important role in your becoming fluent in the language. Research has shown that listening typically takes up to 40-50% of our total communication[1]. Continue reading “Listen to Arabic – resource list and strategies”