They say a picture is worth a thousand words.
In that case, a cartoon must be worth millions of words—and funny, colorful words at that!
Cartoons are designed to tap into a child’s innate way of learning. And what works for children can work for adult language learners as well.
Some cartoons are made to teach simple lessons about things like letters, numbers and shapes. Others are meant to impart cultural knowledge or life lessons. Still others tell stories by playing on cultural details.
Just like “The Simpsons” captures many facets of American society—exaggerated though they may be, at times—Arabic-language cartoons also present you with a true slice of modern Arab life.
By watching a short, funny episode of your favorite animated characters, you can come closer to the cartoon’s country of origin. You can develop better pronunciation, a sense of wordplay and knowledge of new vocabulary over a bowl of sugary cereal and a cute cartoon episode.
Why Learn Arabic with Cartoons?
The Arabic-speaking world has recently begun realizing the importance of producing their own animated series, rather than just importing them from elsewhere. This burgeoning production of cartoons means that you’ll gain a lot of insight into the Arabic-speaking world and how people wish for children to be raised. After all, cartoons for children can be another method of education. There’s a real, positive influence that cartoons have in the education, evolution and advancement of a nation’s youth. Cartoons help them understand the world around them from a young age.
Since cartoons are vital for teaching language lessons to children, it’s better to create cartoons in their native language than to translate cartoons from elsewhere—the messages and the language is never quite the same after translation. Watching Arabic cartoons will thus expose you to natural, authentic Arabic.
Many of the famous Arabic cartoons that we watched as kids in the 80s and 90s are actually Arabic adaptations or translations of Asian cartoons. This is an interesting thing to explore, if you’re going to start watching cartoons to improve your Arabic. But, as noted above, the Arabic-speaking world realized the importance of local television production by the 21st century. This was something that meant a lot to both Arab children and adults—especially because there were many complaints that foreign cartoons had the power to indoctrinate children with the beliefs, values and behaviors of another culture.
This is understandable. It’s true that animation has a magical effect on children with its delightful colors, cheery sounds and friendly characters, not to mention the funny, interesting stories of the characters. Lessons slip by unnoticed while you’re enjoying all the sights and sounds. Arabic-speaking parents knew this, and grew concerned about what lessons were slipping by in cartoons. Luckily for you, your parents won’t stop you from watching any cartoons, since you’re all grown up. You can watch Arabic-language cartoons of any origin, and you’ll quickly see how a charming cartoon makes learning Arabic effortless!
Oh, and they’ve even begun to produce more mature cartoons for adults, much like our “Family Guy” and “Futurama.” Somehow, having cartoon characters bring up racy or controversial topics really softens the message—and the creators can also get more imaginative with settings and situations.
So, now you can learn Arabic as easy as a pie, with the untroubled, uncomplicated scripts made by professional writers to teach deeper understanding of Arabic language and cultures. By watching cartoons from different regions, you’ll quickly start to pick up on differences in cultures, accents and social norms. Approach these cartoons like an anthropologist, trying to glean what you can about their regions of origin.
The animated series I chose for you as a learner of Arabic are accessible through the links in each title. And to make your language learning effortless, I have included different types of animated series from each part of the Arabic-speaking world. Now you can have insight into whatever your favorite country or region may be! We will be starting with Levantine Arabic, passing by Egyptian Arabic and moving along to the Maghrebi Arabic spoken in Tunis and even Al-Fusha (literary Arabic).
5 Arabic Cartoons to Laugh Your Way Through Language Learning
1. “الببغاء يتعلم الهجاء” (The Parrot Learns to Spell)
The show was produced in 2007 by Magic Selection, a media company in Kuwait.
Baghbagh, the protagonist of the show, is a young ببغاء (parrot) filled with curiosity to learn how to pronounce words correctly and to pick up the basics of Arabic. Although the episodes are very short—each one lasting eight or nine minutes—the show not only introduces the letters and their shapes, but also explains how to articulate each one, shows their usage in words and gives many examples.
This is extremely important for foreign learners of Arabic because, in general, there tends to be some trouble pronouncing letters correctly. The Arabic language houses many sounds and letters which are totally strange to foreign ears. If you have never learned Arabic, you might never have come across these beautiful sounds that the human voice can produce.
The episode I have linked to above is the second of the show, where the parrot meets the first letter in the Arabic Alphabet الهمزة- ء (Al-Hamzah) on his way to find الياء- ي (Al-Ya’a).
2. “كليلة و دمنة” (The Panchatantra)
The Al Jazeera Children’s Channel adapted the famous Indian tale of “Kalila and Dimna” as an animated, educational series for children, as a celebration of the channel’s first anniversary in 2006.
If you’re not familiar with the original Indian story, which was translated from Sanskrit into Arabic in the 8th century, it’s about the wise philosopher Beidaba and his attempt to pass wisdom, love and justice to the heart of a haughty king, Dabshalim. He decides to write a book full of stories and lessons, personifying animals and giving them speech.
As he made the dialogues spin on the lips of the animals, he avoided the wrath of the king and secured his mercy. “Kalila and Dimna” is one of the first prose narrative texts in our global literary heritage. It was originally written down in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India.
Later on, the tale was translated into Persian during the reign of Khosrow I, philosopher king of the Sasanian Empire. Later it was translated—with some adjustments—by the famous Abdullah Ibn Al-Muqaffa’a into Arabic. In this final step, a new chapter and four new sections were added onto the Persian text for Arabic-speaking readers.
3. “تونس 2050” (Tunis 2050)
This cartoon is geared towards a more mature audience. In it, a group of friends live in futuristic Tunis—the city of Tunis in the year 2050. The characters range from a hardworking lawyer to a young model and an egocentric wife. The show is presented in colloquial Tunisí and goes through the lives of those different characters in the future with funny and down-to-earth language.
Interesting lifestyles are presented in the show, portraying Tunisia as a slightly different country and society from the rest in the Arabic world in general, a more open society with freedom and personal liberty. This is actually a reflection of the true social differences that you can find if you move around geographically in the Arab world.
4. “المفتش كرومبو” (Detective Korombo)
If you live for investigations, crime scenes and intelligence, this cartoon is definitely your pick of the litter!
Korombo is the most famous detective character in the Arab world. When he first came to light on T.V., everyone fell in love with his intelligence and wit.
Inspired by Los Angeles homicide detective Columbo, the Egyptian Haitham Hamdi created Korombo as an animated Egyptian detective. This cartoon was a model of interactive television, providing quizzes with prizes for whoever solved the featured crime. It’s no surprise that Korombo won the prize for the best Middle Eastern cartoon character in 2009 and 2010.
“Detective Korombo” was later translated into Moroccan Arabic due to the wide fame received by the original. Click here to watch a more recent adaptation in Moroccan Arabic titled “المفتش كانبو” (Almofatich Kanebo) if you’re interested.
5. “ هموم متحركة” (Animated Troubles)
Here’s another more mature cartoon—a modern, Palestinian cartoon that spotlights, criticizes and demystifies many key social issues in Palestinian society ranging from police corruption, vices and intellectual resistance.
Subhi, the protagonist of the show, is famous for his big lips, wild hair and the troublesome life he leads. He was created by Amer Shomali in 2007, and the show was broadcast on Palestinian national T.V. in the same year. If you’re interested in the true life and language of Palestinians, this is a great cartoon to check out.
Here’s one interesting episode about Christmas in Palestine. Although silent, it’s perfect for foreigners learning about Palestine without ever once being there.
As an added bonus for today’s article, allow me to also suggest the animated movie, “النبي” (The Prophet), which is based on a famous Arabic book by one of the most renowned authors in the Arabic canon: جبران خليل جبران (Gibran Khalil Gibran). Salma Hayek served as both a producer and voice actor for this one, so you know it’s good! The story, the characters and the actions are, to the very root, purely and entirely Arabic, but the movie is in English. To pick up some Arabic, you can watch with Arabic subtitles or find a dubbed version.
Thus, this is another way animation could bring culture, language, traditions and ideas to you as an Arabic language student, whatever your level of Arabic may be.
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