“What’s the best tool or resource available to learn Arabic?”
If you’re learning Arabic, you’ve likely asked yourself that question over and over again.
The answer to that question will vary for each individual.
But the best answer is simple: the best tool to learn Arabic is the one you will use the most.
It’s the one you will have the most fun with, and fun learning is indeed possible.
So, the better question to ask would be, “Which Arabic language learning tool available is the best one for my needs and my learning style?”
Ultimately, you’ll want to choose a few that work for you: maybe one primary one and perhaps two or more supplemental resources that will best suit your needs.
To answer the question of which resources to choose, however, you need to know what’s out there.
You’ve heard of different programs and seen different videos.
But what are they?
How do they differ from one another?
And which ones are best for you?
Let’s explore 9 great options together.
9 Great Arabic Learning Tools and Resources to Consider
Living Language: Can I Just Take the Traditional Approach?
One useful tool to learn Arabic is the Living Language Arabic program. This course takes a traditional approach to learning the language as if you were building block upon block in a college course. It uses vocabulary and grammar exercises to build the basis for reading and comprehension.
The approach is systematic: First you learn words, then enough grammar to make a sentence with those words, then enough combined sentences to form a paragraph, etc.
The product itself comes with several options. You can get the basic “Essential Edition,” which will get you started with general language needed for travel: food, airports, hotels, etc.
It’s interesting to note that the “Essential Edition” contains an additional valuable resource for new learners: Besides the general book and accompanying audio discs, the product includes a reading and writing guide to the Arabic script. This resource is one of the most thorough tools available on the market today for learning the Arabic script. (As a bonus, check out these YouTube videos for learning the Arabic script as well. They’re valuable tools to help you get started with the alphabet.)
The “Living Language Arabic Complete Edition” includes the “Essential Edition” and two additional books with audio discs to develop your language skills far beyond the mere necessities for traveling. Anyone serious about learning the language should invest in the “Complete Edition.”
For enthusiastic learners, there’s also a “Platinum Edition” available which includes the entire “Complete Edition” and online access to native speakers. This may be helpful, but it’s useful to keep in mind that it will take a lot of time and effort before speaking with a native becomes possible if you use the Living Language approach.
Depending on what you’re looking for, it may be better (and cheaper) for you to just type “Arabic speaking chatrooms” into Google and explore your options from there. Okay, to be serious, the person you will be connected with through the program is actually a trained professional who will be able to answer your specific language questions. So, the investment is worth it if you’re serious about developing your Arabic to advanced stages of fluency.
And if you believe the traditional grammar and vocabulary way to language learning is the best approach, then Living Language Arabic is probably the best tool on the market for such an approach to learning Arabic.
Pimsleur: Can I Learn Arabic Without Actually “Learning” Arabic?
Maybe you feel that learning a language is more about communicating with people than it is about investing precious time into boring, outdated grammar and vocabulary drills.
The idea of “learning” a language makes your teeth cringe, especially one written like this: اللغة العربية الفصحى.
Additionally, you’re very busy. The demands of work coupled with the kids make studying a list of vocabulary words a burden not worth the effort.
If that’s the case, there’s a perfect Arabic learning tool for you: It’s the Pimsleur Arabic program.
This program is strictly audio. It has three levels, each containing 30 lessons. You can play it in your vehicle during a commute. You may not have the chance to go abroad, but with Pimsleur you can surround yourself with Arabic at least in your vehicle. And one of the most effective methods for learning is to surround yourself with the language.
With Pimsleur, there are no books, no studying and no homework. Pimsleur allows you to start speaking Arabic immediately. This course will not teach you to read or write, but it will have you speaking and understanding conversational Arabic from day one.
Each lesson is about 30 minutes. After you master about 80% of the content on one disc, you move on to the next. The next lesson will review and add new building blocks to what you learned in the previous lesson.
You’ll be able to hold an Arabic conversation with a native speaker after just the first lesson! Okay, you probably won’t be able to discuss pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis with them, (but then again, most of us couldn’t even discuss that in English). Yet you will be able to hold a conversation. And speaking with someone in real life after working through the Pimsleur Arabic program will boost your confidence even more. It will make you want to progress in your Arabic studies.
So, if you’re bored with traditional approaches to learning languages or simply don’t have the time to sit and study as if you were taking a college course, then Pimsleur Arabic may just be the perfect tool for you. At the time this article was published, there was a 30% discount offer for seasonal spring savings. Be sure to check out what they're currently offering, you might score these materials on the cheap!
Rosetta Stone: Does It Work for Arabic Learners?
With Rosetta Stone holding the number one rank for most hype, one must consider if it’s the right product to use.
To know if it’s right for you, you must understand its approach to language learning.
The Rosetta Stone course views language learning in its natural form. In other words, it approaches second language learning as if the learner were a baby learning his or her first language, because kids are great language learners.
It doesn’t use your native language as a base from which to build. Instead, words come with representative images.
So, for example, when Rosetta Stone teaches you the word for “dog,” it will not first say “dog” and then say الكلب (dog). It will show you an image of a dog, then say the word in Arabic. This is simple enough for “dog.” Then, when it shows someone’s facial expression and you hear the word حزين (sad), you must guess whether that word means sad, confused, depressed, anxious, etc.
This may be very effective with languages such as French or German, where many words sound or look at least somewhat similar to their English counterparts. The only potential concern, therefore, is not with Rosetta Stone. It’s more with Rosetta Stone for Arabic specifically.
Rosetta Stone is a wonderful program that has helped many people progress with their language learning goals. And it may be a fit for you. Just note that for Arabic specifically, it may cause confusion at times. But if you’re up for the challenge and feel that learning a foreign language should be done the same way you learned your native language, then it may be the perfect tool to suit your learning goals. If you’re not sure yet, go to their website to try the free demo!
Arabic Singers: So, Who Are Amr Diab and Tamer Hosny, Anyways?
Arabic has several sounds that are completely foreign to English speakers.
There are, for example, three different Arabic letters that all sound different but are all transliterated into English with the letter “h.” Come on, really? How many different ways can you pronounce an “h”? Well, the three sounds are quite distinct to native Arabic speakers.
So, how can you perfect your accent and learn to speak Arabic like a native while having a blast in the process?
The answer is with Amr Diab and Tamer Hosny. Both are Egyptian singers. Amr Diab is a pop legend in the Middle East, especially to older generations of people. And Tamer Hosny is “the new kid on the block.” Both of them sing catchy-sounding songs that blend traditional Middle Eastern music with modern pop.
But how do you listen to music and learn Arabic? It just sounds like a bunch of strange noises to the uninitiated.
The secret to actually learning Arabic while listening to these artists is to search for the lyrics online. Most websites provide the Arabic script of the songs, the English translations and the transliterations of the Arabic words into an “English” script. Listening to the songs while following along with the words will train your ears to hear the proper sounds that accompany the Arabic letters. This will then have a great impact on your pronunciation.
A good slower song to begin with is Amr Diab’s “Osad Einy.” When you’re ready to pick up the pace a little, you can try his most famous song, “Tamally Maak.” And when you’re ready to really speed things up, Tamer Hosny’s “Ana Wala 3aref” is a great place to begin.
It’s important to note that both singers are Egyptian and do sing in Egyptian dialect. But nobody sings in Modern Standard Arabic, which is what most of your books and traditional resources teach. (That would be like a modern pop singer performing in Shakespearean English. Funny, perhaps. But not something you’ll hear on this week’s top 10 music countdown.)
Of all the dialects, however, Egyptian is the most commonly known and is understood in all parts of the Middle East because Egypt dominates the film and music industry of the region. This is not the case with other dialects, which are in fact incomprehensible from one another.
But if you learn Arabic with Amr Diab and Tamer Hosny, you’ll be learning Egyptian Arabic, which everyone will understand regardless of what dialect they speak in their local region. And once you get started, you’ll find many other songs and artists you’ll enjoy. Even some who sing in other dialects.
Just be sure to download the lyrics and let your family or roommates listen to you pronounce those three different “h” sounds from the other room while you sing Arabic songs in the shower.
“The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Arabic” and “Arabic for Dummies”: Do These “Dumb” Books Work for Smart People?
It’s hard to feel like an intelligent linguist or an advanced polyglot while holding “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Arabic”or “Arabic for Dummies” in your hands.
And you may not know a lot of Arabic right now, but these two resources are really good ways to make sure you’re not an idiot or dummy when it comes to speaking Arabic.
The funny thing is that the books’ main potential advantage and downside revolves around the same issue: The books offer a lot more than just Arabic language guides. There are plenty of cultural notes and long explanations that take a while to read through before you get to the actual study of the language.
The potential downside, therefore, is that you spend a lot of time with these books reading things that don’t necessarily have a direct effect on learning the language. The good thing about that, however, is that the information in the books is very helpful to the learner who is seeking an overall cultural experience.
In other words, if you not only want to know Arabic but want to understand it in its cultural context, then these books are a perfect fit. They’re fun to read, easy to understand and packed with humor.
They are basic, however, and don’t delve deep into grammar, history or culture. They provide more of an overview. The exception to this is vocabulary. Both books are excellent resources for developing a strong foundation of words. They present vocabulary in chunks of words centered around a topic, which is a great way to learn vocabulary words.
If, however, you’re at an intermediate level or higher, then these books are not for you. But if you’re just getting started and want to laugh while learning Arabic, then these two resources are definitely worth your consideration.
And just think, after you’ve mastered the contents, you’ll be like a “Complete Genius’s Guide for Other Idiots Who Don’t Know as Much Arabic as You.”
Apps: Is There One for Arabic?
In today’s society, there’s an app for almost everything. And learning Arabic is no different. There are a lot of apps you can use to learn Arabic.
The fact that there are a lot of them creates a double-edged sword: there are plenty of bad ones available, but there are some gold mines as well. The key is to find out which apps are good and which ones aren’t.
Here are 6 of the best apps for learning Arabic available at this time.
In addition to those, there’s one really cool app you can use to have lots of fun. It’s Arabic Spy: Damascus Ops. This app sends you on ops missions throughout the Middle East to save the Syrian president and the rest of the world. You get to develop your skills while detonating bombs, decoding encrypted messages, shooting targets and stopping assassins.
Oh, and you get to learn Arabic while doing it!
(Note that the app is set in a fictitious world that has no correlation to the real Syrian conflict or other actual events in the world.)
Another great app to consider is Learn Arabic – Salaam. Considering it’s free, this app is packed with resources and learning tools. It’s an excellent app for developing good pronunciation. In addition to having both a beginner and an intermediate level, it delves into phonetic areas such as isolated consonants, glottal stops and even modified letters. So it certainly packs a big punch for the whopping $0.00 you have to pay to download it.
The reason using apps may be better for you than the other resources suggested on this list is because of convenience.
Having your Arabic study program in your pocket encourages you to learn more throughout the day. An app on your phone comes in handy when waiting in the checkout line, sitting at the DMV or using it under your napkin while your crazy uncle rants about something at the dinner table.
College Courses: Do I Really Have to Go to School?
You may be considering taking a college course to learn Arabic.
There are actually a few pros and cons with this option. First, let’s look at the pros.
Unless you go to an Arabic-speaking country or live in an area where you have the opportunity to interact with native Arabic speakers, this is probably your best option to get exposure to the language from somebody in person. You’ll hear the language spoken for several hours a week and will be able to ask your questions rather than dig through endless pages of books to find your answers. Additionally, you’ll have the accountability that the in-classroom environment provides.
Furthermore, Arabic is an extremely difficult foreign language to learn comparatively. Learning Italian, which uses the same Latin alphabet as English and is a phonetic language, is manageable on your own. But Arabic adds a whole new dimension of difficulty to learning foreign languages.
So, having a professor available for several hours a week would be a huge benefit to progressing in your Arabic studies.
If you’re interested in this approach, you’ll want to attend a university with a reputable program for learning Arabic. Three good options are the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and the University of California in Los Angeles.
The reason these are some of the best options is because not only do they offer courses in Arabic, but they offer degree programs in Arabic. That means that at least one of the teachers will hold not just a Masters but a Ph.D. And several professors will teach different classes rather than just one instructor who teaches a couple of classes in Arabic.
The variety makes the programs in these three universities some of the best options available for those interested in this route.
There are some cons to taking Arabic classes at a university, however.
The first is finances. What you spend on just one course (which is not enough to truly learn Arabic), you could use to buy probably every other resource on this list and then some. The return for the financial investment may just not be worth it.
Unless, of course, you feel that you need to have a professional teach you in person. If that’s the case, then spending money on any resource other than taking a college course would be a waste of cash. For most learners, having someone available would be helpful, but is not necessarily essential.
Additionally, studying Arabic three hours a week in class and then doing about three hours of homework a week is a loooooooong road to mastery. Of course, you could bypass this con by using some of the other suggestions from this list.
But if you can learn from those, then you probably don’t need to pay a university your firstborn child (including additional fees that pop out of nowhere) to teach you Arabic.
YouTube: Why Pay for College Classes When This Is Free?
There is a way to listen to someone explain the Arabic language and teach it to you without going to college: YouTube.
In fact, most of the videos will teach you in modern ways that relate more to you than a professor would anyways. And it’s free!
There are some great reasons why using YouTube to learn Arabic is a great option.
The first reason this option is great is because many YouTube videos are fun, engaging and easy to understand. Additionally, videos are offered in different Arabic dialects. Most of the Arabic learning resources available are in Modern Standard Arabic. But if you want to learn a specific Arabic dialect, YouTube is full of selections. Check out these 14 mind-blowing YouTube channels that are great for learning Arabic to see the best options available.
One really great channel is Arabic Alphabet Made Easy. This is a clear, straightforward way to learn the alphabet and then to develop some basic, common phrases.
Additionally, the Learn Arabic 500 Phrases for Beginners channel is excellent for quickly learning some of the most important phrases if you need to learn to speak Arabic quickly. You won’t learn to read and write the Arabic script because the words are taught using English transliteration. But if you need to go to Dubai next week for business (Well, let’s be honest. It’s not business. Who needs the “business” excuse to go? It’s Dubai!), then this channel will give you a foundational vocabulary of phrases to survive the trip.
Depending on the YouTube videos you use, the approach may not be systematic unless you follow one channel that uses a very organized approach. If you take a college course, use immersion software, etc., the programs are designed to build one thing upon the previous thing. Relying solely on YouTube is more of a scattered approach. You will learn something here and something there. The only problem is that you could end up with big chunks without any glue to connect them as a whole.
To work around this pitfall, it’s probably a good idea to use YouTube as a supplement to one of the other main options mentioned in this post.
Think of it as the icing on the cake. Or since it’s Arabic we’re talking, the hummus on the pita bread. (No, that’s not a real expression in Arabic. But since we’re speaking English, it will have to do for now.)
Which of the resources on this list are best for you? The ones that best fit you are the ones from which you will learn the most.
So, pick a few of your favorites and have lots of fun on your journey while learning Arabic.
بالتوفيق (Good luck!)
Aaron J. Daigle is a polyglot with a passion for languages. He also publishes inspirational books and blogs while traveling extensively as a public speaker. Here are his other resources.