Arabic Language Guide
You may have heard people saying that Mandarin and Arabic are “the languages of the future”, and they are not wrong! Being fluent in Arabic will open up so many job opportunities in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, and many other regions where Arabic is the primary language. As very few people from the West are proficient in Arabic, knowledge of this language will certainly make you stand out.
Additionally, knowing Arabic will give you access to an array of fascinating cultures, as you will be able to read books or listen to music in Arabic (without resorting to translations!) or connect with locals on a whole new level. With more than 300 million speakers around the world, fluency in Arabic means millions of possibilities to make new friends.
And while learning Arabic can be a real challenge, it can be done in an almost effortless way with motivation, patience, and an experienced tutor by your side. If you need resources, tips, tools, or you just want to discover some of the benefits of learning Arabic for English speakers, we are sure this Arabic language guide will be of help!
How Many People Speak Arabic and Where Is it Spoken?
Arabic has more than 30 different varieties (which are most of the time not mutually intelligible!), so it’s considered to be a macrolanguage with over 300 million speakers. This means you cannot learn “Arabic” as you would learn French or Italian. Rather, you’ll need to carefully choose which dialect you want (or need!) to acquire. The countries where Arabic is an official language include:
Also, Arabic is a minority language in Cyprus, Iran, and Turkey and is widely spoken in Europe. Did you know that 4% of Belgium’s and 1.5% of the United Kingdom’s population speak Arabic as their mother tongue? The United States is also home to over 1 million Arabic speakers, which means you’ll be able to interact with people in Arabic no matter where you go.
As noted above, most of these regions speak their own version of Arabic, which means that people living in North Africa will probably not understand the dialect spoken in the United Arab Emirates. And you may have heard about Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), a language that is not actually spoken by anyone (except for very formal settings) because it’s rather a standardized version of the Arabic used for reading and writing.
So, what type of Arabic should you learn? The definite answer is… the one you need the most. If you are moving to Saudi Arabia soon, for instance, it makes sense to start studying that particular variety, as you’ll be well-equipped with everyday vocabulary and expressions and cultural knowledge essential to communicate fluently with locals.
But if you are not sure of what type of Arabic you want to learn yet, you should consider that MSA can give you a solid foundation in the language’s grammar, vocabulary, and pronunciation and make it easier to acquire other dialects in the future. Learn more about the top dialects of Arabic by reading our article and make an informed decision today.
The Arabic Writing System
One of the most challenging aspects of learning Arabic is acquiring their writing system (which looks nothing like our Latin alphabet!) and learning to write from right to left. But don’t feel discouraged: it’s actually not that difficult to learn, especially if you set your mind to it and practice a bit every day.
Some features of the Arabic writing system include:
- There are 28 letters and they change depending on their position within a word.
- Vowels are not written (unless they are long).
- Writing from right to left instead of left to right.
These are the 28 Arabic characters:
You will only find 3 long vowels in Arabic:
U as in book
A as in can
I as in with
But they are typically omitted when writing. This omission can be hard to master at the beginning, especially because you may fail to recognize which vowel is being omitted. But as you progress with your language journey and learn more vocabulary and grammar, you'll be able to guess the missing vowels and write and pronounce the words correctly.
Another important feature of the Arabic writing system is that uppercase letters do not exist. Yet, this does not mean that letters are always written the same. These are the four different forms they can take:
- Initial (at the start)
- Medial (in the middle)
- Final (at the end)
- Isolated (all by itself)
These shapes do not change so much and make it easier to connect the letters in different words.Learn the Arabic alphabet with a native tutor
Learn the Arabic Grammar System
Contrary to what most people think, the Arabic grammar system is quite straightforward and easy to learn. For example, there’s no neuter gender, the definite article is always the same, negation and possession are done through a prefix in most dialects, and the verb system follows a consistent pattern for conjugations. Explore the ins and outs of Arabic grammar below!
In addition to writing from right to left instead of left to right, Arabic also uses a completely different word order than ours. While in English you would say “My mom brings a cake”, Arabic uses a Verb-subject-object type of syntax, so in Arabic you would say “Brings my mom a cake”, which may sound weird to you, especially if you are only a beginner.
In Modern Standard Arabic, nouns have three numbers (singular, plural, and dual), two genders (masculine and feminine), and three states (indefinite, definite, and construct). This makes the system a lot more complex than the English one, with just two numbers, no gender, and no state.
For example, the dual form is used to refer to two elements or persons. If you say “I picked up my children from school yesterday” in Arabic and you mean two kids, you need to use a particle that shows the noun is dual. Otherwise, it is implied that the kids are three or more.
I picked my children from school yesterday - Dual
I picked my children from school yesterday - Plural
Arabic verbs are also complex from the start. They are made of three or four consonants that show the meaning of the word (for example, k-t-b means “write”) and vowels are inserted in between to show grammatical functions.
These verbs are inflected for person, gender, number, and tense (past and non-past). The future is marked by adding a prefix such as سَـ /sa)- or سَوْفَ (sawfa) onto the verb.
Most Common Verbs in Arabic
Arabic has thousands of verbs, but here we have compiled some of the most essential you should know as a beginner student:
|to know||يعرف (yerf)|
|to think||يفكر (yufakir)|
|to come||يأتي (yati)|
|to put||يضع (yadae)|
|to take||يأخذ (yakhudh)|
|to find||يجد (yajid)|
|to listen||يستمع (yastamie)|
|to work||يعمل (yaemal)|
|to talk||يتحدث (yatahadath)|
|to give||يعطي (yueti)|
|to like||يعجب (yuejib)|
Some Tips to Improve Your Arabic Pronunciation
Just as in English, the Arabic pronunciation system is made of vowels and consonants. Luckily, most of the consonants you already know from English and very few of them are unique sounds. Here are the basics of the Arabic pronunciation system:
- Arabic has a rolled “R”, very similar to the one used in Spanish or Italian.
- Letters D, TH, T, and S are emphatic consonants which means you have to produce them using your tongue raised up.
- The letter Q is pronounced like “k,” but deeper and in a more guttural way.
- The combination of letters “kh” is pronounced like the Scottish (or German) “ch” as in Loch.
- If you encounter a double consonant, you need to make it last longer than just one sound (same as Italians do! If you have doubts, you can always watch our video and learn how to produce double consonants like a native).
Apps and Websites to Learn Arabic for Free
As you may have gathered from the info above, getting the hang of Arabic requires effort, consistency, and motivation. Train yourself as frequently as possible with varied resources so you develop your skills integrally without getting bored! Podcasts, YouTube channels, newspapers, books… the internet offers an array of materials you can use for free. Find a small selection of apps and websites to learn Arabic for free below!
- If you’d like to improve your reading comprehension in Arabic while being entertained, here are 5 outstanding books to help you learn Arabic.
- Do you love social media but feel like you are wasting your time when scrolling down Instagram? That’s not true if you start following Arabic-speaking influencers on Instagram. This will improve your informal Arabic as you’ll learn colloquial phrases and expressions to address others.
- Looking to enhance your Arabic listening skills using free resources? Have a look at these 3 YouTube channels in Arabic and train your ear! Or you can start watching one of these Netflix shows with or without subtitles, too.
- Music lovers will be happy to know they can capitalize the time they spend doing what they enjoy (listening to music!) and polish their Arabic skills. Find here our tips to learn Arabic with music from the comfort of your home!
- Finally, if you have a hectic schedule and find yourself with very little time to practice Arabic, there’s a solution for you. Many apps, such as Memrise or Anki, have very short lessons for you to learn specific language items in just 5 minutes a day! Anki, for example, focuses on vocabulary about a certain area so you practice using game-like activities while you commute or before you go to bed.
Useful Arabic Phrases
If you are traveling to an Arabic-speaking country soon and your level is really basic, these phrases in Arabic will come in handy! You’ll find the Modern Standard Arabic version, its transliteration to Latin characters, and the English translation in the table below:
|Transliteration||Arabic version||English version|
|Min faDlik.||من فضلك||Please|
|äafwan.||على الرحب والسعة||You’re welcome|
|Ana asif||أنا آسف||I’m sorry|
|SabaaH alkhayr.||صباح الخير||Good morning|
|Hal tatakalam bil injilizia||هل تتكلم بالإنجليزية||Do you speak English?|
|Ismy Marrie.||اسمى مارى||My name is Mary.|
|kayf halikm?||كيف حالكم؟||How are you?|
|Hal yumkinuk attaHadduth bibuT'.||هل تستطيع ان تتكلم ببطء اكثر||Can you speak more slowly?|
|anaa laa afham.||أنا لا أفهم||I don't understand.|
Some other resources that will be of use to you include:
- 10 Arabic survival phrases for your next trip overseas.
- 10 Arabic slang terms you need to know.
- 10 must-know Arabic proverbs!
Is Arabic Hard to Learn?
We are not going to lie: Arabic can be a real challenge for English speakers to learn. There are many reasons for this, including the writing, pronunciation, and grammar systems, vocabulary, culture… there’s almost nothing similar to English. Plus, you have to add all the dialects of Arabic and that being fluent in Modern Standard Arabic does not guarantee you’ll be able to communicate with another speaker of Arabic, namely Egyptian or Moroccan.
However, certain elements of Arabic are not so hard to learn. One great example is the pronunciation system, which shares many sounds (almost all consonants) with English. Also, you’ll benefit from the fact that Arabic is a phonetic language, so every word is written as it sounds and all syllables are equally stressed. If you are still not convinced, find here more reasons why Arabic is actually easy to learn!
Although you should have in mind that the path of learning Arabic won’t be quick or easy, the effort will certainly pay off. You’ll sharpen your mind, expand your global family, and increase your chances of being hired by international companies that use Arabic as their working language. If you feel ready to get started with Arabic, contact us today! We will prepare tailor-made lessons that consider your learning style, needs, and preferences.
Meanwhile, you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram and take a look at our blog, where we publish interesting articles for language students every week.
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