Bismillahi ar-rahman ar-rahim
I want to share the books and other resources that I personally use and am still using to learn Arabic including grammar and vocabulary. Now depending on your goals you can choose a particular resource to focus on. My advice is to stick with one or two resources and stay consistent on it. I suggest downloading an app called “Loop habit” which is a nice way to track your activities that you want to make into habits. I promise that with consistency you will pick up words for sure. I’ll break down the article into a list of possible goals and the resources you can use to help you with those goals.
It needs to be stressed that there is no getting around putting in hours of your time a week on learning Arabic. But it is extremely useful to have reassurance on how and where to direct your arabic learning efforts, which is the goal of this article. The links to books that I will recommend are links to the Amazon pages of those books in the UK.
Perhaps you’re at the beginning of your arabic learning journey and you want an easy way to learn the alphabet. Well the alphabet poses various challenges for native English speakers as it’s a whole new script written in a different direction (right to left).
To actually memorise the alphabet to reasonable familiarity can take about 20 hours, and to become comfortable and fluent with it will take much longer. The key to being able to read arabic lies in practicing to write the script, in my experience.
Arabic letters are joined together to form words in written arabic. Each letter has a certain shape when it’s at the beginning, or middle or end of the word. The simplest and very effective way to practice is to write the beginning, medial and end forms of each letter at least 20 times. And don’t be lazy about it. It really helps to have someone check how you’re shaping the letters. There are many youtube videos that teach you the alphabet but I’ll just link two videos which I feel are useful for beginners:
Another extremely valuable and free resource is the website madinaarabic that contains over 80 lessons of arabic grammar, and even contains lessons on pronunciation of the letters: https://www.madinaharabic.com/
Again, the key to learning the alphabet is good ol’ pen and paper (or pencil and paper) and just keep writing the letters out. Once you’ve practiced writing the letters out individually then you should write words. If you put in the time and effort there’s no reason why you can’t be familiar with the alphabet after a week.
To speak colloquial Arabic
I want to get a bit controversial here. I personally dislike dialectical arabic, and that’s why I very much prefer using standard arabic in my speech but because of my Egyptian background I can’t help but use some Egyptian arabic when I’m stuck for words, but honestly it’s like a crutch to me. Moreover dialectical arabic just doesn’t sound very intelligent especially when compared with standard arabic, and sounds practically crass when compared with Quranic arabic.
However in my opinion if you are looking to really engage with arabic speakers then pursuing the Egyptian dialect is the most useful as that can be understood by many arabic speakers.
A good book I can recommend is:
This is just the first book in a series of 4 books of increasing mastery. But I will stress to get a copy with a CD as a lot of the exercises aren’t interactive enough without something like real audio to bring the dialogue alive.
Speaking Modern Standard Arabic
When learning arabic I find that there are three issues in general that are interconnected but can be tackled individually, though progress in one area helps to improve the other areas as well. These issues are: Dialogue (that is how to put words together intelligently that conveys what you want to say), vocabulary and finally grammar (how to say things correctly and to understand written arabic).
A quick way to start learning how to have proper conversation in arabic is to learn from a book that specifically teaches that. Luckily the book is available free as a PDF which you can find with a google search. It’s called “Arabic between your hands”.
If you can’t get the PDF, there are free youtube videos where arabic teachers read the dialogues out: Arabic between your hands chapter 1
I highly recommend getting the following book: First Thousand Words in Arabic. If you know even 300 or 400 words and understand the basics of verbs and their conjugations you can start to speak with Arabic speakers though you may have to frequently look up words, which is all part of the learning process. ^^
I personally think that learning verbs is more important than learning nouns. You can learn two to three hundred nouns which could be sufficient but even knowing 1000 nouns, you’d be stuck without knowing the verbs to connect the nouns.
In my honest opinion learning grammar is what really activates the arabic language for me. Just learning vocabulary (though important) is perhaps 40% of the language (maybe even less) but understanding grammar really unlocks the structure of the arabic language as a whole and can help tremendously in vocabulary acquisition.
The book itself covers about 4000 words and covers words that would be used in the modern day and even makes note of certain usage of words in ancient times which are not in use anymore. It’s also very easy to follow and understand and very comprehensive. Both of these books can be found for free as PDFs or in the ArchiveLibrary.
To understand the Quran
For me, I learn arabic to understand and reflect on the Quran myself. I also believe there isn’t a better use of your arabic knowledge other than teaching others arabic. But learning to understand the Quran requires a different, more direct approach.
The first thing you’ll need is a reliable english translation of the Quran. The Quran’s translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali has been an invaluable resource to me. His commentaries have given me insights many many times and his translations tend to be roughly word for word. The Holy Qur’an: English Translation, Commentary and Notes with Full Arabic Text: 2. In addition I would recommend this kindle book as an additional resource or even as an alternative to Yusuf Ali (though you will miss out on his great commentaries) Holy Quran with Word-for-Word Translation: Easy to Understanding.
The next important element is to memorise the Quran. Yes, we should all really be committing to this noble goal. The benefits of doing so are immeasurable but it will go a long way in helping you retain simple vocabulary. If you want to understand the Quran, then the best way to do so is to directly study what each individual word means in each verse and to memorise the verses you studied in order to retain that vocabulary.
The Quran surprisingly has only a few hundred unique words. This means once you’ve come across a word in one sura, then that word and its other forms become easier to recognise in other suras. If you know enough words then you can start listening to Quran or reading it and being able to follow the narrative.
A really great app on your smart phone that helps you memorise each word of the Quran is “Quran Flash Card”. The app goes through most words of the Quran from the beginning right to the end, and each word is a flash card, with the word in arabic on one side and on the other its english and urdu translations. All the flash card words are split up into 30 lessons, with each lesson containing 10 chapters and each chapter contains 25 words. So there are a total of 7500 flash cards. In actual fact there are some repeating words so the actual number of new words would probably be around 7000 or less. The good news is that once you know at least a thousand of these, the whole Quran becomes much more familiar, and of course it’s not very difficult to acquire the rest of the vocabulary to gain mastery.
The grammar book Arabic Through the Qur’an (Islamic Texts Society) focuses on grammar to help the student understand the Quran. That’s why even the words that are introduced are those found in the Quran.
The book is a little bit hard to follow and isn’t very interesting so, you will need discipline to keep working through the book.
The final thing I wanted to mention is this particular short book about arabic grammar written in arabic rhyme called Al-Ajrumiyya. Centuries ago, it was written to help the arabs memorise the rules of Arabic grammar and luckily for us there is a whole series of videos where an American who studied the language and Al-Ajrumiyya and teaches his class the verses of the book and teaches the meaning of the verses along with the gems of grammar in the verses.
Getting an Arabic Teacher
One thing I always wanted was my own Arabic teacher who I can be mentored by and I’m so grateful that I have one and his name is Sam Burr. He has a youtube channel called “Arabic with Sam” and he even has an extremely cheap and affordable (£4.99 per month) online course that has videos on “Foundations of Arabic“, with a new video every week.
While I believe every student should be self-disciplined enough and confident enough to master something on his own, I really enjoy having a “master-disciple” relationship or even the “teacher-student” relationship so I recommend seeking Sam out and making him your teacher, or anyone local that you can trust. We will have questions that might not be answered in books so it’s useful to have a teacher who might have come across the question in his own studies.
I hope you have found the resources mentioned in this article useful and accessible in your arabic language learning journey. ^^ Please don’t be afraid to reach out to me for help and share your thoughts and please like the article to show me you found it useful. 🙂