What are you reading in Arabic?
The news? Classic literature? “100% قطن” (cotton) on the inside of your jeans?
“Real” Arabic texts can seem at opposite ends of the spectrum—either requiring full fluency (and a BA or PhD in linguistics) or being pointlessly simple.
What about the middle?
Plenty of your online reading for your hobbies besides studying Arabic (remember those?) takes place on blogs. You may have thought Arabic blogs are too hard for a learner, but not all blogs are equally forbidding. Some of them contain keys that allow you to access meaning—from helpful hints all the way to full translations in English.
Reading Arabic blogs is a chance to learn about topics you love from perspectives you won’t often hear in English.
Not to mention, you’ll be honing lots of key language skills while reading blogs, too!
The Best Reasons to Read Arabic Blogs
- Outgrown your textbook readings? If you’ve been studying Arabic for a year or two, you may find that the readings in your curriculum feel limited or constructed. Authentic materials will truly expand your horizons and get at topics that matter to you.
- They’ll really cement in key terms. Repetition is key to learning new words in any language. While there’s debate on exactly how many times you need to encounter a new word to remember it, regular updates from the same blog author will expose you to vocabulary activated in their chosen topic.
- They’re a stepping stone to literature. Almost all Arabic literature is written in الفصحى (Modern Standard Arabic), but even if you’re focusing on MSA instead of dialect, you’ll have to work for many years before you can read the classics. One native speaker described MSA to me as Shakespearean English, except 10 times more removed (read: harder) from contemporary language. You can cram vocab all you like, but without seeing it used—and repeated—in a context, those words will fall right out of your head. Plenty of blogs employ formal Arabic to describe elevated topics, and you’ll notice your Arabic smarts go up as you practice reading them.
- Get a primer in politics. There’s a lot of uncertainty in Arabic-speaking parts of the world right now—will repressive governments continue with business as usual, or will the public finally get a bigger say? So much of that discourse about the future is happening online. If you want to be able to read the tweets of influencers like Bassem Youssef and Rasha Abdulla you’ll need to pick up some political vocabulary and colloquial expressions. Tweets don’t come with translations, but as you’ll see, many blogs do.
How Can I Dive Into Reading Arabic Blogs?
Tweak your usual study habits to make sure you’re learning from the Arabic blogs you read.
- Make your own vocab lists. Unlike reading the news on Al-Jazeera Learning, these blogs won’t come with a vocab list for each entry. Look up any new words you see, but only take notes to review words you expect to use in the future. For the love of falafel, don’t study every single new word. Some of them will literally never come up again, and you’ll overwhelm yourself, waste time, resent your life, etc. It’s your language study, so personalize it.
- Watch out for idioms. Remember not to rely on Google Translate or your own literal interpretation of words that don’t seem to make sense together. مع ذلك doesn’t mean “with that,” it means “however.” Look up phrases on your favorite idiom sites, or ask for help from a tutor or language forums. Idioms you think you’ll use, throw into your flashcard app or preferred spaced repetition software.
- Beyond reading. There are four language skills—reading, writing, speaking and listening—so make sure you’re engaging the rest of your linguistic brain while studying written materials. Record yourself reading a paragraph aloud to practice speaking. Listen to your recording a couple days later without the blog in front of you to practice listening—find out if you still understand the text after it has left your short term memory. Copy the article yourself longhand or by typing. Through re-writing, you can pick up some of the author’s style to use to express your own ideas.
- Expect MSA, but look out for dialects. Written Arabic is considered inherently formal in a way that isn’t paralleled in written English. You should anticipate that most Arabic writing will be in MSA. However, be on the lookout for indications that something you’re reading is in dialect, such as verbs beginning with the letter ب, terms you know that are more common in dialect (يعيش instead of يسكن to say “he lives”), or Arabizi—using the Roman Alphabet to write in Arabic (e.g. da mish 7ilu instead of ده مش حلو to write “that’s not nice”).
15 Awesome Arabic Blogs at 4 Different Difficulty Settings
Start browsing some blogs that Arabic learners can actually read! Here’s a progressive approach, beginning with the types of blogs that’ll give you plenty of support, through to blogs that’ll engage even an advanced skill set.
Fully Bilingual Arabic-English Blogs
If a full screen of Arabic text makes your brain start to shut down, don’t worry! Bilingual resources can be the helping hand that invites you into reading Arabic.
Check out Will. Speak. Arabic, a learner’s blog with short sentences in English, Arabic and transcribed Arabic for pronunciation. This blog from 2014-2015 is easy to follow and showcases a great concept. Consider creating your own Arabic study blog based on this example!
A step more advanced, MJ Codez is a Tumblr blog with inspirational quotes from around the world written in English and Arabic. This blog is also easy to digest because each post is just a sentence or two long.
Another great Tumblr account is Arabic Language In Maine, which posts inspirational quotes as حكمة الأسبوع (Wisdom of the Week), as well as short essays written by hand, typed, and read aloud by both a native speaker and an Arabic student.
Micro-blogging on Facebook or Twitter is a common way you’ll find Arabic writers expressing themselves—more so sometimes than formal blogs. Based on the highly popular Humans of New York, ناس عمّلن (Humans of Amman) pairs a daily photo of a resident of Amman, Jordan with a statement they made to the photographer about themselves or whatever was on their minds. This is written in Jordanian Arabic, and features a natural (not literal) translation in English. These portraits provide humble yet powerful cultural insights.
It’s easy to access the news in Arabic, but getting a full translation of a given article can be tough. The Arabist does exactly that for the purpose of providing the English-speaking media with articles about the Middle East from non-English publications. You can pick up on insights about the region while studying language. Look for post titles that begin with “In Translation”—these are professionally translated into English, and the link to the original Arabic article will be located in the post.
Roughly Bilingual Arabic-English Blogs
With a little confidence, you can move beyond the safety of fully bilingual blogs and begin exploring blogs that have a more playful relationship with the two languages. These blogs are a venue for bilingual and bicultural writers to express themselves authentically.
The words don’t have a one-to-one relationship between the two languages, but the insights you can gain from these sites regarding natural expression in both languages is quite rich.
Ansam is a Kuwaiti blogger who loves food and travel. Her blog is bilingual by paragraph, but not slavishly so. She describes Twitter in English as “the channel where I express myself freely” and in Arabic as من قنوات التواصل الاجتماعي اللي أحس فيها براحة (“among the social media channels that I feel at ease in”). Those are obviously the same concept, but expressed naturally—and therefore with slight variation—in the two languages. This is very interesting to study for subtleties like specificity, sentence structure, vocab… welcome to the feast.
(29 Letters Blog)مدونة ٢٩ حرف is a Lebanese design firm that mingles English and Arabic on their blog and in their work. Much of the professional world in Arab countries conducts business in English, so the blog presents some concepts in the language that the staff would use to speak to one another or to clients. But even if a given post isn’t written in both languages, there are large-scale pretty pictures throughout lifted from their beautiful bilingual brochures.
Looking for professional vocabulary? This job board lists openings for English-Arabic translators, but some of the posts are in English, some Arabic and some both, depending on how the employer chose to write them. The publishers of the site aren’t worried about a fully bilingual site, so take a loose approach yourself when reading it. If you can’t figure out the meaning of a word, it’s likely to turn up in another post later on… or not! Roll with the imperfection.
Arabic Blogs with Context Clues
There’s one more intermediate step before we get to fluent reading—blogs with supporting materials that help you understand their points. This can take the form of photos, English text that isn’t a direct translation of the Arabic text or text using of a lot of familiar words and cognates from English.
Members of my Arabic Conversation Meetup group taught me to use Duolingo for Arabic by telling the app I’m a native Arabic speaker learning English—at least until Duolingo roles out their Arabic course for English speakers. Take a similar sneaky approach, and read the lessons on the Learn English blog, aimed at Arabic speakers.
There are a lot of lessons! Click through the menu to access them, even if you don’t understand the name of the lesson. English appears in vocabulary lists or as example sentences for grammar. Look for the link that says التالي (next) at the bottom to advance through multi-part lessons.
Photos can explain a subject when grammar throws you for a curve. مدوّنة مصورة (A photoblog) like Dalal Al-Dhobaib’s shares discussion of being a professional photographer in Saudi and insightful top 10 lists of pointers for succeeding within her craft. If understanding the words is a struggle, there are plenty of expressive photos to rest your eyes on.
English speakers have a leg up in that other languages reference concepts and companies originating from our colinguals. This makes it a lot easier to read Arageek, a nerdy blog that’s all in Arabic, discussing techie concepts familiar to netizens anywhere. If you can sound out انستاغرام (Instagram) you’re well on your way.
Fully Arabic Blogs
The breadth of the contemporary contributions of Arab minds opens up when you don’t need assistance reading a full blog entry.
You can immerse yourself in the perspectives of digital marketer Hailah on her productivity blog. She reviews her favorite tools and shares tips for time management.
Keep up to date on the Jordanian arts scene and read cultural commentary with 7iber (حبر or “ink”). The topics covered are broad but the articles are written in a voice of candor.
Bloggers from around the Arab world voice their views on society, religion and reflections on life itself in Arablog’s curated platform. The initiative’s aim is to encourage excellence in the Arab blogosphere, so look for new contributors added each year via competition.
Contemporary poetry-lovers can read (banned) works from Sampsonia Way literary magazine. Both its editors and contributors are writers exiled from their homes or living in danger because of their controversial statements. The magazine and the non-profit it represents are a haven for their works (and their physical selves).
Once you start reading these Arabic blogs, you’ll notice links and references to other blogs that you can add to your purview.
Even if you’re not ready for this level of challenge, glance through these blogs just to see the goal you’re working toward. Nurture your intermediate skill set with study materials at the right level—challenging but do-able.
There are better reading options out there than the IKEA furniture labels!
When people ask if you’re fluent already, you can answer with confidence, “No, but I do follow some cool Arabic bloggers.”
If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Arabic with real-world videos.