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The Arabic language can be difficult to learn for speakers of English or other European languages. An added challenge is the existence of many different dialects of Arabic, with the two major subcategories being Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Colloquial Arabic (dialects specific to individual countries). Those new to Arabic are encouraged to learn MSA because it is widely spoken and understood and is not specific to any one region or country. The resources recommended below focus primarily on MSA, and we've clearly identified those that teach Arabic from a particular country.
If you are just starting to learn Arabic, the best way to begin is by listening to spoken Arabic and learning simple every-day vocabulary in context. At this stage, it's best not to worry about learning the script and figuring out how to read in Arabic. This will come later - ideally, after a month or so of focusing on listening and repeating Arabic. Get a feel of how the language sounds and how the basic phrases are used in real conversations. Resources below will be a good place to start - pick two or three of them (your learning will progress much faster if you tackle Arabic from several different angles rather than just one), and try to spend at least an hour a day working on them! Many of these tools can be used on the go, making it easier for you to fit learning Arabic into your schedule.
Audio tools - the best way to start learning Arabic
Pimsleur MSA is probably the best tool for beginner language learners I found so far. The Pimsleur method is based on 30-minute audio lessons (best done daily) that get the learner to listen to simple conversations and repeat acquired phrases at specific intervals after being prompted by the instructor. Without even noticing, you are learning and retaining full sentences that you can use pretty much from Day 1. Instead of simply memorizing words and phrases, you become truly engaged in the lessons and can never be a passive listener. By regularly repeating what you are hearing (before even seeing how the words are written), you also learn proper pronunciation (a huge plus!). Quizzes and short exercises at the end of each lesson help you visualize the material learned and practice it. Their mobile app works great on the go, and you can easily do your daily lesson when exercising, doing housework, taking a walk, or traveling to the office. I've found this to be an excellent app to start conversing in a language very fast, and a great first step in your language-learning journey. Try if this tool is right for you through a 7-day free trial!
Check out also the Pimsleur audio lessons for Arabic (Eastern) and Arabic (Egyptian):
ArabicPod101 (available through a mobile app Innovative 101) is a very good and very comprehensive online tool for Arabic learners. It offers short video and audio lessons organized in "pathways" that are easy to follow and progressively guide the learner through different aspects of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation. The lessons are mostly 5-10 minutes in length (easy to complete on a short break or during daily commute), and offer real, applicable language that you will be able to use in your daily life. Besides audio and video lessons (quite entertaining and engaging), this resource offers flashcards, quizzes, vocabulary lists, and various pathways to take the learner to the desired level. It's also good at breaking down grammar, ensuring that the learner gets a comprehensive overview of the language (instead of memorizing long vocabulary lists). The lessons are narrated by native Arabic speakers and can be played at varying speeds, giving you an extra bonus of hearing different accents and slowing down the dialogues if you find the narrators to speak too fast!
Rocket Languages is another amazing and well-rounded resource for beginner learners. In addition to 20-25 minute audio lessons (somewhat similar to Pimsleur) that you can listen to hands-free, they have intensive pronunciation training (forcing you to pronounce all words and phrases until the voice-recognition software confirms that your pronunciation is 100% accurate), a series of exercises to test your memory and spelling, and solid grammar sections. I like that it forces your active participation and has interactive leaderboards putting you in competition with other users (this may speak to your competitive side and motivate you not to lose your streak). This app is costlier than some others mentioned here, but there are regular promotions - sometimes as much as 60% off - allowing you to get the full course (from beginner to advanced) for less than US$ 180, and for less than US$60 for Level 1 alone. This is a lot less than you would pay for in-person classes to reach the same level. If you actually stick to daily lessons with Rocket, you can make impressive progress in as little as 2-3 months.
Video courses and podcasts
Language Transfer - This free course (available on YouTube, but also on SoundCloud) approaches language learning with what has been coined as “The Thinking Method’ and is a great introduction to Arabic. The course goes in-depth on how the language works, teaching the main grammar points and giving the tools needed to learn independently and intuitively. For beginners looking to learn a language, this course is an effective and productive way to start with Arabic without getting too overwhelmed or discouraged.
Podcasts are another great way to learn and improve a language. Their main advantage is that you can listen to them on the go - when you are doing chores around the house, exercising, driving, or going to work. Some of them are really entertaining! Another great thing about podcasts is that you get to hear real people have actual conversations on different topics, training your ear to a variety of accents and introducing you to vocabulary on many different topics. I usually listen to podcasts on Castbox.fm (a free podcast player that has a good mobile app), but you can listen to podcasts on many other platforms (e.g. iTunes, Spotify, etc.)
My favorite Arabic podcasts for beginners are ArabicPod.net and ArabicPod101 (mentioned above). One Minute Arabic from the Coffee Break Academy is another fun choice for beginner learners, although there are only 10 lessons available so far.
Recommended books for learning Arabic
As much as the new technologies are fun for learning a language, good old traditional books are still a necessary and valuable resource for any language learner. If you want to solidify your knowledge and progress, you should have:
A good grammar book (I recommend "Mastering Arabic" by Jane Whitewick)
A good phrasebook ("Lonely Planet Egyptian Arabic Phrasebook" by Siona Jenkins is great)
Frequency Dictionary showing the most frequently used words in Arabic, so you can focus on learning the words that will be most useful to you ("A Frequency Dictionary of Arabic" by Tim Buckwalter)
Fiction in Arabic: you can start from kids' books, but there are also lots of short stories in Arabic available on Amazon and other websites.
My favorite place to get books in Arabic is BookDepository.com - an excellent online bookstore that has a great selection and free shipping!
Recommended mobile apps
While there are dozens of mobile apps available for language learners (and I've tried many of them in search of the most user-friendly and effective), my favorites are still Busuu and Memrise.
Memrise is my preferred app for expanding vocabulary in the early stages of learning a language. They use the spaced repetition method to get you to repeat words before you are likely to forget them. Their app feels like a game, as you are prompted to choose the right answer from multiple choices, translate words from English to Arabic and back, and do speed rounds of vocab tests. You also compete with other users for top scores (making it easier to stick with the app and encouraging you to do more every day). Memrise has a free version, but even their annual subscription is very affordable (if you get the right deal, it can be as low as US$ 30).
Busuu is a good app for learning Arabic grammar in addition to useful vocab. The lessons are structured around levels (From A1 to B2) and a daily lesson can take as little as 5 minutes. Another cool feature is the opportunity to have your exercises checked and corrected by native speakers. It can be intimidating in the beginning, but once you get over the initial shyness, it's quite a great feature.
Mondly Arabic is another good app that can as an excellent study aid for reinforcing basic words and concepts that you learned elsewhere. While it would not be sufficient or effective to be used on its own or as an only tool, it can be a good complement to other tools described earlier. It can help you practice simple dialogues, learn new vocabulary, and see words and phrases in context. There's a limited free version, so you can try it out for yourself without the risk or heavy investment.
Recommended resources for intermediate learners
Glossika is a great tool that helps learners absorb Arabic patterns and speak Arabic naturally without heavy memorization. It relies on spaced repetition where the user listens to sentences spoken by a native speaker and then repeats what was said. By doing this on a daily basis, you should be able to naturally pick up on things like grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, and more. Although it can be a decent resource for those looking for some added Arabic training, it’s best used in combination with another resource.
Beelinguapp - This fun app helps you learn Languages with Audiobooks and Music. The app shows the exact same text in two languages, side by side, so you can compare the two and learn the language in context. At the same time, it is an audiobook, and with its unique karaoke reading, you follow the audio in the text on both sides. The texts go from fairy tales and news to science papers and novels, and new ones are added every week. You can listen to a native speaker narrate at your preferred speed (even with your phone locked or while offline) and take tests to assess your comprehension. This is definitely one of the more fun apps, and it makes learning entertaining as you are reading and hearing real stories and songs.
Language Learning with Netflix - this Chrome extension lets you watch shows with two sets of subtitles on at the same time, so you can visually pair translations with dialogue and learn new vocabulary in the process (this only works with your Chrome browser, not on your TV, unfortunately...). It’s a clever service that makes use of Netflix’s massive catalog and all of the major languages in which it already offers subtitles, including Arabic (but also Danish, Spanish, Dutch, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, French, Swedish, Turkish, and many others).
The tool works best as a supplement for people who already have some basic understanding of the language they’re learning. There’s a vocabulary-highlighting feature that grays out less common words, which is adjustable to match your vocabulary level. Hovering over a word produces a pop-up dictionary, and clicking the word lets you hear it. You can also slow down the dialogue or automatically pause playback at the end of every subtitle, so you can learn line by line. There’s even a catalog of recommendations for movies and shows that are good to study.
Face-to-face lessons with a personal tutor
NaTakallam offers award-winning, high-quality language services and courses delivered by refugees, for all levels in Arabic. It connects displaced people — including refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Venezuela, and beyond — with students around the world, to provide affordable, flexible, and tailored language practice, intercultural exchange, and experiential learning opportunities over the internet.
italki - this site has hundreds of online tutors available for private one-on-one classes at a time convenient to you, and starting from as low as US$ 5 for a 30-minute session. You can test a few different teachers before you find the one you love! At this level, it's really important that you start speaking with native speakers, and an iTalki tutor will be a great option for your conversation practice, explanation of tricky grammar points, and pronunciation training. Scheduling regular classes with a tutor will also help with accountability and will force you to stay on track and be prepared for classes!
Recommended resources for advanced learners
If you've made it to the advanced level in Arabic - CONGRATULATIONS!!! This must not have been easy, and you should be proud of yourself! Many people who reach this stage, however, feel frustrated by struggling to achieve even marginal progress. They feel that they are stagnating, going in circles and sometimes even regressing, losing some of the language skills they've learned over the previous months and years. If you feel that way too - that's perfectly normal. This often happens because you may still be using the tools and techniques you've been using earlier - at beginner and intermediate levels. These tools, however, are usually not well adapted for advanced learners. So what can you do to take your language skills to the next level and get closer to near-native fluency? Let us give you some ideas...
One of the best ways to rapidly improve your language skills is taking an immersion course in a country where the language is spoken. Even if you do just a two-week immersion where you take advanced classes, speak the language during the day with locals and classmates, and experience the life lived entirely in a foreign language, you'll discover that you will start thinking in the language, stop translating it in your head, pick up lots of local expressions and feel so much more comfortable speaking the language. This is something that is very hard to do when you take lessons in your home country and are surrounded by temptations to switch back to your stronger language(s). So why not spend your next holiday actively learning a language instead of lounging by the pool?
LanguageCourse.net is the best site I've come across to find a good language school in your country of choice. It allows you to search for Arabic-language schools in Arabic-speaking countries and filter your search by cost, city, type of classes, and type of living arrangements (e.g. you can seek family-stay or live in a student housing). It also offers school reviews from former students, so you can see for yourself what other learners had to say about their experiences. Many of the schools suggested on this site also offer extracurricular activities (always in your target language), such as cooking, dancing, or sports, and that is another great way to practice the language in context, beyond classroom walls.