Learn Arabic Language Skills More Efficiently and Effectively

Gary Greer 1/19/2020
About Arabic language

Tips, hints, hacks or tricks – whatever you call them, you asked for the best way to learn Arabic easier and faster, so without mincing words, here are 10 ways you can do just that:

Fun with Phonics

If you are learning Arabic for beginners, you might ask yourself, “Where do I start?”

Well, the answer to that question is easy – start where you would start with any language and that’s with the “phonemes”,  a fancy word linguists use meaning  the sounds of letters or group of letters together (for example, the two letters “ph” in English produce the phoneme or sound of “f”).  This is the whole premise behind the phonics learning technique, and it can be used in any language, including Arabic.  In other words, the best place to start is to learn Arabic alphabet letters and their pronunciation, and though the letters look a bit different than the ones you’re probably used to, it’s really not difficult at all to learn them.

The Arabic alphabet contains 28 letters – 25 consonants and 3 vowel sounds, and unlike other languages such as English or French, they sound exactly how they should with no tricky exceptions. This is because the Arabic alphabet is phonetic, making it much easier to learn. You can learn the letters and sounds through online videos, or better yet, through one of the many Arabic language learning apps available for download today like the Kaleela Arabic language learning app – a free app that actually has a whole course designed to teach you the Arabic alphabet and Arabic pronunciation. Get it from kaleela.com.

Learn Without A Shadow of Doubt

Today’s world demands a lot of your time. As a result, you may find it doesn’t leave you a lot of time to learn Arabic;  however, today’s technological advances offer many solutions to the problem of time by learning Arabic on the go. Of course, one solution mentioned in tip number one is to download the Kaleela Arabic language learning app to your mobile. Since you carry your phone everywhere, learning Arabic is always there at your fingertips.

On the other hand, you can also benefit from something called the “Shadowing” technique developed by the famous polyglot Alexander Arguelles. This advanced learning technique requires you to listen to a text in Arabic and then speak it aloud at the same time as your listening to the Arabic speaker.

Before you start, you’ll need some sort of audio player (your mobile, a CD player, mp3 player, or if you’re really old-school, a cassette player),  a pair of headphones, and an audio recording of something in Arabic at your level of expertise in the language. Ideally, you’ll want around one page of content to listen to that’s spoken at natural speed. Choosing something that you’re interested in will help make the technique more engaging for you, and remember: Absolutely no English (or whatever your mother tongue happens to be)!  Some excellent resources for audio in Arabic are إقرأ لي (Read to Me), المرقاب (The Monitor), and  “ألف ليلة وليلة” (1001/Arabian Nights).

Now you’re ready to follow the basic techniques of shadowing:

  • Listen to the text once. If you have no clue whatsoever of what’s being said, trying choosing an easier topic at a lower level. You might only scarcely understand the content on first time you play it, but if the text is at your level of Arabic comprehension, you should be able to work out the meaning of most words and sentence patterns after hearing it over and over again.
  • Listen to the text a few more times. Once you’re confident that you understand most of what’s being said, don’t worry about what you don’t yet understand; you’ll be able to figure the context through  listening to the text again later.  Don’t look up any vocabulary or grammar until you repeat the text several times.
  • While reading the transcript listen to the text again and look up any words that you’re still unsure of what they mean.
  • Listen again and again, repeating each text aloud until you’re confident that you can read it at the same speed as the recording, then do it once more and move onto the next text. By this time you should know every word and its meaning by heart. If you don’t know the text from memory, then you haven’t repeated it enough.

Learn the Words You’ll Actually Use First

When you study Arabic, and especially when you’re a beginner, you’re going to learn many, many words. The problem is that, with the thousands of new words you learn,  you only need about 300 of them to understand 65% of both written and spoken texts at the beginner level in Arabic. Only 625 words will take you beyond the beginner level and 1500 of them put you at the advanced level. As an Arabic language learner, that means you can cut your work in half by learning the everyday words you’re actually going to use first.

You can start with 1000 most common Arabic words . Learn all of these and you’ll be able to communicate in just about any situation. You can learn to speak Arabic very well even if you only know half of them!

Can You Loan Me a Word?

Since some of you have already had the opportunity to learn basic Arabic words, so you might already be aware that Arabic has loaned some words to English (“sugar”/ سكر / sukkar and “alcohol” / الكحول / alkuhul come to mind), but did you know that English has loaned its fair share of words to Arabic as well?  Knowing these words can make learning Arabic just a little bit easier and faster. Here are a few:

English Transliteration Arabic
computer kompyooter كومبيوتر
mechanic mikaniky ميكانيكي 
microwave maycrowayf ميكرويف
million milyoon مليون 
telephone telifone تليفون

Eeni, Meeni, Miney, Mnemonics!

Do you remember how you learned the English alphabet when you were young? That Alphabet song is probably still stuck in your head years after pre-school. Learning and memorizing things through song is just one example of mnemonics  – those fun, little tricks that you can use to help memorize almost anything, including the Arabic language.

One way you can learn Arabic vocabulary, for example, is through word association. For instance, let’s look at the Arabic word أول / awl which sounds very similar to the English word “owl” and means “first”. You can remember this word by imagining that your “first” pet was an “owl”.

Then there’s أحفظ / ihfath which means “memorize”. You know fathers are forgetful when it comes to birthdays, anniversaries and such. Here you can pretend Apple has just released the new “I-fath” that helps them “memorize” his anniversary, his kids’ birthdays, Mothers Day, and all the things Dads tends to forget.   These are just a couple of ways you can remember words and work on your Arabic pronunciation through mnemonics. Use your imagination and come up with your own to make learning Arabic easier and much more fun.

Write those Words Down!

Speaking of memory, nobody has a perfect one, so when you learn to read Arabic, or when you hear an unfamiliar word while you are speaking to someone, stop and write that word down. Carry a small notebook and pen in your pocket or purse so you can be ready (or better yet, use your mobile since, again, you carry it with you everywhere) because chances are you won’t remember that word when you get back home.

If you’re the type who likes to learn from flashcards, download one of those flashcard creating apps to your IOS or Android device and transfer your new vocabulary words to the flashcard app. Now you’re ready to review those words anytime, anywhere!

Go Back to Your Roots

Much like English has root words which you can use to guess the meanings of English words, Arabic has root letters that can help you learn basic Arabic words. For example, if you see the Arabic letters “س ل م ” (s l m) which means “peace” you know that if you see these letters in this sequence like اسلام (Islam) and سلام (salam), the word has something to do with “peace”. 

Likewise, if you see the letters ح ب (h b) which has the root meaning of “love”, you can guess that the words أحبك (ahibuk) or أنا أحبه (‘ana ‘ahaba) you know it has something to do with love. In this case its “I love you” and “I’m loving it”, respectively.

Once you understand how roots work, then you can create nouns, adjectives, verbs and so on from the same root letters, thus making it much easier for you to learn vocabulary.

The Scriptorium Technique

We’re going to return back to famous polyglot Alexander Arguelles and another brilliant technique he created that enhances both your writing and your speaking skills at the same time. He calls it the Scriptorium technique and here’s how it works: 

  1. First, read a sentence in Arabic out loud.
  2. Next, write the sentence down, saying each word aloud again as you write it.
  3. After you’ve written it, Read the sentence aloud again.

This exercise helps you focus on slowing down and becoming detail oriented as you check any vocabulary or grammar that you’re not sure about as you come across it. Mastering the Scriptorium technique means slowing down, paying attention to details, and practicing  until your perfect.

Watch More TV

Movies, TV series, music videos, books, periodicals, websites…just about anything you can find in Arabic to read, watch or listen to is beneficial when learning the language. I remember once in Amman there was a taxi driver who had such a great American accent when he spoke English that I was sure he had lived there. So, I asked him where he was from.

“Tla’ Al-Ali,” he replied.
“No, I mean where are you from in America. I mean, judging by your accent, you’ve lived there haven’t you?”
“No, sir, I’ve never been out of Jordan.”
“Where did you get such a good accent then. You sound American,” I pressed, really amazed at how American he sounded.
“Oh, thank you, sir, but I don’t know. I watch a lot of American films and TV shows, especially ‘Friends’. Do you know it?

Of course I know it, and I was impressed that he learned that accent just by watching American films and TV series. You’ve probably already heard some of the same stories where people have taught themselves a language by watching movies or playing video games. Well, believe it or not, you can do the same thing when learning Arabic.

When you read, watch TV, or even listen to the radio. it does marvelous things to your brain as it tries to make new connections between what you are hearing and seeing and then forming new words and structures out of it. Essentially, you learning without even trying and later you’ll even find yourself using new words and structures that you didn’t even realized you learned. Whether it’s “Friends” dubbed in Arabic or راجل وست ستات /  rajil wst satat (A Man and Six Women) starring famous Egyptian actor Ashraf Abdel Baqi, or even listening to Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram, you can learn Arabic in a very fun way without even realizing you’re learning anything (with the extra benefit of also being exposed to some Arab culture).

Travel Without Actually Going Anywhere

It’s a fact that many people learning Arabic aren’t in a situation where they can just pack their bags and fly over to the Middle East, so what to do?

Find as many ways as you can to immerse yourself in the Arabic language on a daily basis. Find people online who live in Arabic speaking countries on social media and speak to them as often as possible. Write them short messages on messaging apps. Visit Arabic restaurants or community social centers where both Arab-Americans and native Arabs mingle together. Listen and sing along to Arabic music (there are many radio channels which can be found through using search engines). Subscribe to online Arabic news sites and read them aloud. Whatever you choose, make sure you enjoy it enough to interact with Arabic every single day.

Try each of these ten tips or come up with ideas on your own. Find a technique that is the best way to learn Arabic for you, and if you have a method that you use that we didn’t mention, please share it with us. We’d be happy to hear from you.

If you’d would like more tips on how to learn Arabic or want to know more about Arabic dialects such as Levantine Arabic, Modern Standard Arabic, Syrian dialect or Iraqi dialect, visit our website now. While you’re there, don’t forget to download the Kaleela Arabic language learning app to your iOS or Android device.