In this article about Arabic for beginners, I'll provide some helpful information for choosing which Arabic dialect to start learning, some basic tips for learning Arabic, and how to best approach Arabic pronunciation and writing to help you learn most effectively.
Arabic Language and Dialects
MSA (Modern Standard Arabic)
Standard Arabic is the origin of every word used in the various Arabic dialects. We don’t use the standard in our daily life, instead, we speak to each other in our own dialects. For example:
- Egypt: Egyptian Arabic
- Morocco: Moroccan Arabic
Standard Arabic is used in books and some TV programs, and you can find some movies and series that use it, too. Its most important use is in the Qur’an, because the Qur’an must be read in Arabic. For example, Muslims who don’t speak Arabic should read the Qur’an in Arabic, and use the translation to understand the verses. Alternatively, they can learn a small amount of Arabic, because it’s not necessary to learn grammar to understand the Qur’an.
In addition, learning Arabic means learning everything about the language, like its grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. Knowing Standard Arabic can help you to understand other dialects, because we usually pronounce words differently according to our dialects. If you don’t understand Standard Arabic, this can be confusing. Starting with Standard Arabic is a good choice for beginners learning Arabic.
The Dialects اللكنات أو اللهجات
Arabic has many dialects. In every Arab place, you’ll find a certain accent or dialect that people use in their daily life. The real question for Arabic learners is, “Should I start by learning an Arabic dialect, or is that the wrong way to start?”
In my view, I think it’s possible to start learning Arabic by learning a dialect, especially if you live somewhere predominantly Arab or meet someone who speaks that dialect. After all, learning a dialect is like learning vocabulary in a particular dictionary; there are some people who start by learning an Arabic dialect and can communicate with native speakers with no difficulties, then when they begin studying standard Arabic, they find it very easy to learn. Since they have a wide vocabulary, all they need to do is focus on grammar.
Arabic for Beginners: Tips and Advice for Learning Arabic بعض النصائح
- Never start by learning grammar rules. When you begin, you don’t have a big enough vocabulary for the grammar to be useful.
- You have to know how to read Arabic letters, because Latin letters don’t make the real sound of the Arabic letters. Additionally, Latin letters can make you confused about the words in Arabic. For example, كتاب can be romanized (written out using Latin letters of the alphabet) as both kitaabun and kitaab. If you use the Latin alphabet, you’ll think both words are different, but if you use the Arabic letters, you’ll understand they’re the same.
- Learn words by using pictures or anything else except for the translation, because there are many Arabic words that have no direct translation in other languages.
- Learn Arabic for fun, not because you have to! If you’re not enjoying Arabic, you’ll never continue learning.
- Choose a good person who is honest and serious about helping you to help you learn Arabic.
- Make a plan. Don’t say, “Well, when I am free, I’ll learn something new,” because doing it like that makes it very easy to stop after a short time. Instead, make a learning schedule. You can plan one hour for every Sunday, for example.
- Contact someone who teaches, because learning Arabic by yourself is really hard, specially for beginners. Even if you do understand what you’ve learned, after a short time, you’ll lose that understanding. There are many qualified Arabic teachers on italki.
Pronunciation and Romanization of Arabic words
Why doesn’t Arabic use a specific kind of romanization like how Mandarin Chinese uses pinyin?
In Mandarin Chinese, the characters change forms and some tones in some special situations. In addition, pronunciation isn’t related to grammar. Arabic, however, has no official system for the letters. The letters in Arabic are all consonants, and the vowel sounds are all written as “marks”.
As you know, for most other languages except Hebrew, the sounds of the words aren’t related to grammar. For instance, if I say, “This student learns French at school,” the word “student” will never change its pronunciation. Even if I change the order of the words in the sentence, like in the phrase, “learning French with this student,” the word “student” is still pronounced the same.
In Arabic, this is different. Let’s see:
This student learns َArabic
Hathaa tilmeethu yata’alamu l-’arabiyah
Learning Arabic with this student
Ta’alamu l-’aribiyah ma’a hathaa tilmeethi.
As you see, when romanized, the words tilmeethu and tilmeethi don’t look the same, even though they mean the same thing.
Now let us try using Arabic letters. Read the English sentences from right to left:
هذا التلميذ يتعلم العربية
Arabic learns student This
تعلم العربية مع هذا التلميذ
student this with Arabic learning
So, as you see, the word “student” is still written the same in Arabic, but is read slightly differently.
I hope this gives you a better understanding of what to consider as you begin learning Arabic!
Hero Image by Aieman Khimji (CC BY 2.0)