When you think of textbooks, do you think “old school”?
Even if you do, old school can be pretty cool.
Textbooks are some of the most traditional—and effective—tools for learning foreign languages.
They provide us with the basic mechanics of a new language as well as explanations of those mechanics in our own native language. This gives us the solid framework we need for the rest of our language learning journeys.
If you take a formal foreign language class at a school or other institution, undoubtedly the teacher will be structuring their lesson plans to a certain extent around the format of the textbook they are using. Unless the teacher is especially devoted to composing all their lesson plans entirely from scratch, as my own French teacher was, they will most likely be relying on a textbook to provide exercises and homework assignments.
But the use of textbooks does not necessarily need to be confined to the classroom. They can also be excellent resources for the solo learner of a foreign language. Using a textbook helps to give you that classic classroom experience. In addition to online resources, I myself am using a handful of textbooks as I teach myself Persian right now.
Using textbooks on your own may even be more constructive than using them in a classroom. You have the say when deciding which textbook is best for you, rather than being forced to go along with a specific textbook that is fixed for a class curriculum.
The Benefits of Using Arabic Textbooks
Textbooks are especially important when learning languages such as Arabic that utilize an unfamiliar writing system. Not only are new phonologies and syntax being introduced, but we basically have to learn how to read all over again.
Since Arabic is considered one of the most difficult foreign languages for native English speakers to learn, having a comprehensive Arabic textbook that breaks apart the language into digestible pieces makes life a whole lot easier and more enjoyable.
Arabic textbooks can also benefit the learner by explaining deeper linguistic concepts that a native speaker of Arabic may know instinctively, but that they maybe cannot articulate to non-native speakers.
Think of Arabic textbooks as the perfect starting point. Textbooks are necessary stepping stones for mastering the Arabic language, but they are stepping stones that usually come at beginning the language learning process.
After some time studying with an Arabic textbook, it will become imperative to engage with more authentic resources, such as Arabic newspapers, audiobooks, movies, blogs, songs, podcasts and much more.
6 Popular Arabic Textbooks and Series for Your Skill Level
Because the difference between spoken and written Arabic is so vast, there is much debate within the teaching community about how much one should emphasize Modern Standard Arabic versus a specific dialect, and at what level of proficiency should the focus change.
This debate naturally spills over into which textbooks the teacher and/or learner should choose to use.
For the sake of this article, I focused on Arabic textbooks that are primarily designed to help the Arabic learner master Modern Standard Arabic. There are countless Arabic textbooks out there devoted to specific dialects like Egyptian and Palestinian, but that list would require its own article entirely—stay tuned!
1. “Alif Baa”
“Alif Baa” is an introductory textbook that teaches newcomers how to read and write the Arabic alphabet. While learners practice writing the Arabic letters with this book, they also learn basic words and greetings.
One interesting feature is that “Alif Baa” writing lessons use arrows to help the learner visualize how to properly write the curvilinear script.
This textbook heavily emphasizes dictation exercises and practice sessions for connecting letters to familiarize students with Arabic script and sounds, especially those that have no English counterparts.
The third edition deviates from the second edition in how it exposes learners to not only Modern Standard Arabic but also Egyptian and Shami (Levantine) Arabic.
2. The “Al-Kitaab” Series
The “Al-Kitaab” series is hands down the most widely used series of Arabic textbook at American universities. Its influence also extends to many study abroad programs for English speakers in the Arab world, making the transition between locations much easier as the learner continues their Arabic studies.
One criticism of “Al-Kitaab” that I have heard from both learners and teachers is the seemingly arbitrary vocabulary lists. I can personally attest to this. For example, in “Al-Kitaab” Part II, I learned the word for “caravan” (قافلة) before I learned the simple word for “bad” (سيئ).
However, having less emphasis on the basic linguistic necessities for everyday life comes with a wonderful plus side. “Al-Kitaab,” especially Part III in the series, is excellent for learning how to talk about deeper, more abstract cultural and political issues in Arabic-speaking regions.
3. The “Ahlan wa Sahlan” Series
“Ahlan wa Sahlan” is the second most widely used Arabic textbook after “Al-Kitaab.”
There is a general consensus that “Al-Kitaab,” for a Modern Standard Arabic textbook, has slightly more emphasis on conversation whereas “Ahlan wa Sahlan” is more focused on mastering the grammar.
So, if your future focus is going to be on reading Arabic literature, “Ahlan was Sahlan” is more up your alley. If not, then you may want to go with “Al-Kitaab.”
Despite this focus on reading and grammar, “Ahlan wa Sahlan” has been praised for having more pragmatic vocabulary lists than “Al-Kitaab.” The key is to consider your needs, interests, goals and preferred learning style when deciding between these textbook series.
4. “Arabic Verbs and Essentials of Grammar”
This textbook is devoted specifically to the syntax of the Arabic language. It covers every possible tense and conjugation, including regular and irregular verbs, negation, non-verbal sentences, dual tense, gender, passive voice and more.
Arabic follows a sophisticated system of consonantal roots and vowel patterns, making nearly every word derivable. This phenomenon remained unclear to me until I picked up this book.
I personally found this book most beneficial in how it very clearly explains the concept of the ten verbal patterns. (There are technically dozens of verbal patterns in Arabic, but it really only matters to master the most common ten.)
5. “Media Arabic”
This Arabic textbook is designed for intermediate learners who have mastered the basics of grammar and are ready to tackle longer Arabic texts.
This book is excellent for providing learners with more authentic Arabic in the form of newspaper articles. Naturally, since the book follows a newspaper format, it serves as a great facilitator in engaging learners with the social and political issues in the Arab world through the Arabic language itself.
One drawback about this textbook is that there is no answer key for the practice questions, and another is that the terms in the vocabulary list are not marked with the short vowels.
6. “Advanced Media Arabic”
This textbook is designed for advanced learners who are ready for true authentic texts. The book consists of authentic Arabic-language articles from BBC Arabic, Al Jazeera, Al-Hayat and more acclaimed news sources.
A unit in this textbook consists of one main article followed by comprehension questions, exercises on specific grammatical concepts, an English-Arabic translation exercise and a free writing exercise.
I personally benefited greatly from this textbook. It covers all the crucial areas of journalism in the Arab world from elections to economy, and will set you on the right course for immersing yourself in authentic Arabic materials.
All of these diverse textbooks, designed for various goals and skill levels, can provide learners with solid foundations to advance them to the next level of proficiency.
Arabic is an old, linguistically-rich language with a mountainous lexicon and a complicated syntactical structure to match. This makes the use of textbooks in the beginning all the more imperative.
Skipping out on Arabic textbooks means skipping out on critical issues of grammar, and that the truly dedicated Arabic learner cannot afford.
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