Arabic Language: Complete Guide

Updated: 20. Sep, 2022

Learning a new language is a daunting task. There is no easy way to put it. However, it is certain that if you invest time and commitment, there is no obstacle you can’t surmount, including learning a language.

For an English speaker, it may be challenging to understand Arabic grammar and terminology. Still, focus, time, and commitment to the learning process will help you make progress by leaps and bounds. 

In this article, we will walk you through a guide to help you find your starting point where learning the Arabic language is concerned. 

Overview Of The Arabic Language

Arabic (al-‘arabiyyah, العربية) is largely recognized by many as a macrolanguage. It is the largest member of the Semitic branch of the Afro-Asiatic language family. Arabic includes all descendants of Classical Arabic spoken primarily across the Middle East and North Africa. 

The closest languages to it in age are the Hebrew and Aramaic languages. The term Arabic can mean several things. It can be used as a generic term that includes all the varieties of Arabic. Also, it can refer to several regional varieties associated with the language. 

Regional varieties are typically called spoken or colloquial Arabic. The language as a whole became a written one in the 6th century AD. 

Over the years, Arabic has altered many languages it came in contact with. Some of these languages are Indo-Iranian languages like Persian, Pashto, and Kurdish; Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi, Bengali, and Urdu; Turkic languages and African languages like Swahili and Hausa. 

These languages took up the Arabic script and borrowed a large repository of Arabic words. This means that words originating from Arabic can be found in many different languages worldwide. 

Arabic has 30 variations and an estimated 223 million speakers. A portion of those speakers can also comprehend Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), the official language of all Arab countries. 

The MSA is the only form of Arabic taught across all levels of education. Hence, if you want to learn the language to bolster communication with most Arabic speakers, it is best to devote your energy to learning MSA.

Dialect 

Your Arabic knowledge level is characterized by your proficiency in the language’s colloquial variety and MSA. Note that the MSA and colloquial varieties have specialized functions.

The complementary roles they play may differ from country to country. In the next couple of paragraphs, we will list and explain the different complex dialects that make up the Arabic language. 

Modern Standard Arabic (MSA), al-fuSHaa , الفصحى

As earlier stated, MSA is the universal language of the Arab world. It is regarded as the direct descendant of Classical Arabic and is used in formal speaking scenarios, including sermons, lectures, news broadcasts, and speeches.

It is also used in all formal writing, such as official correspondence, literature, and newspapers. MSA has no native speakers, unlike some other Arabic dialects. A majority of the educated Arabs learn it through formal schooling. However, many Arabs that don’t have formal schooling in MSA can comprehend it to a certain degree. 

MSA serves as a lingua franca for speakers of various colloquial dialects. Therefore it is viewed as a bridge that makes communication possible between those who are unable to communicate with each other due to their distinct dialects. 

Classical Arabic

Classical Arabic is the written form of the Arabic language. It is a part of the language that has seen little change since its invention in the 7th century AD. 

This Arabic dialect covers the written Arabic of the Qur’an and the literature of the early period. It is the language of scholarship and religion, thanks to the spread of Islam. 

The relationship between classical Arabic and the modern spoken varieties is likened to that of Latin and the modern Romance languages. Classical Arabic is commonly regarded as the language of religious practice all over the Islamic world. It is usually learned formally in school.

Colloquial (spoken) Arabic, العامية (al-)`āmmiyya (East) or الدارجة (ad-)dārija (West)

It refers to the regional varieties that have been integrated into everyday communication and popular culture. Colloquial Arabic are words used in movies, dramas, and sometimes literature. 

They are typically the first language mastered by children and are made up of numerous spoken dialects that differ based on geographical, socio-economic, and religious lines. 

No matter the varieties, Arabs from different regions can usually communicate effectively. However, this largely depends on their geographically close regions and their knowledge of MSA. 

Some factors that differentiate colloquial varieties include:

  • The original language in the area prior to when the Arabs arrived.
  • The impact of languages from neighboring areas.
  • The prestigious role of the languages of the colonial powers.

Writing

To master the Arabic language, the first thing you need to do is to read the alphabet and numbers. It is important to note that the Arabic alphabet is read from the right to the left. Also, almost all the letters in an Arabic word are linked like handwriting. Of course, not all can be joined due to their shape. 

All Arabic varieties are written with the Arabic script, which has its root in the Nabataean alphabet used to write the Nabataean dialect of Aramaic. The oldest Arabic inscription can be traced back to 512 AD. 

Since then, the script has been modified several times, and its present form (Naskh) initially appeared in the 11th century AD. It has been in use ever since, especially for print.

The Arabic writing uses 29 characters, most of which are consonants with the same consistency, i.e. no capital or small letters. The vowels are separate marks added on top or beneath the letters. 

Each letter may have four forms that can easily be confused with each other. One form is when the letter is written by itself. Another is when it comes at the start of a word. The third one is when it appears in the middle of a word, while the last is when it features at the end of a word. 

Arabic Numerals

The Arabs are not the actual inventors of the Arabic numerals. The numerals were initially created in India around 400 BC. They ultimately found their way into Persia, where Arab traders learned and mastered them.

The Arabic numeral system utilizes a variety of symbols that can be separated into two major groups. West Arabic numerals were created in the Maghreb, while East Arabic numerals were developed in the area now known as Iraq. 

Unlike the Arabic alphabet, you can read the Arabic numbers from the left to the right. An important rule to remember when dealing with Arabic numbers is that after numbers one through to ten, the figures gain a suffix added to the base number. 

For example, Arabic Numbers starting from ten through nineteen have the suffix “tashar” added to the base number.

Different Methods That Can Help You Learn Arabic Fast

Before you decide to learn the Arabic language, there are some important things you need to be mindful of to avoid failure. One is that there are many variations, as mentioned above.

This means you must decide which dialect you wish to learn before running headlong into the learning process. Making that decision early is crucial because it is impossible to learn them all at once. It is advisable to learn MSA as it is easier to learn and spoken by most people in Arabic nations.

Other steps you can take to increase your chances of becoming fluent in the Arabic language are as follows:

1. Take An Online Arabic Language Course

You should consider taking an Arabic language course if you’re dedicated to learning Arabic and want to do it in as little time as possible.  It will aid you further as you start learning, and there are many programs out there that offer a wonderful learning experience. 

The advantage of taking a course is that the whole process will be organized. The tasks will be in order, and most programs break down the lessons in effective 30-minute intervals that are flexible enough for any kind of schedule. 

There will also be space to retake a lesson to ensure you understand what you are learning. Hence, you are confident of successfully mastering the language. Three types of courses you should know about before you opt into one include: 

  • The Arabic Language course is crafted solely for beginners. 
  • The professional Arabic language course that can help you develop excellent skills
  • The Egyptian Arabic dialect course is important for those who wish to communicate fluently with locals.     

2.  Learn Arabic In The Classroom

Arabic is studied in many school curriculums, and there are even schools dedicated to teaching students the language worldwide. Learning in a classroom with other students is a good way to learn a language quickly.

It facilitates thorough learning since both the teachers and the students are usually under the same roof. They can have more thorough discussions and also correct any errors the students may make during the learning process.

Teachers are expected to be fluent in the language already, which means they will be able to spot those mistakes as soon as they happen. There is also the option of the students practicing with one another as they learn.

This will provide many benefits for the students as they can help each other grow as a collective. 

3. Watch Arabic Films And Shows

The importance of listening while learning a language can not be overemphasized. It is a great way to acquire new vocabulary that fits the circumstances. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime can help you find a lot of high-quality entertainment in all genres and for all levels. 

Movies can be great for training your ears to pick up Arabic fundamentals. This is especially true since the MSA dialect is mostly used in shows and movies. This means that a student with a good ear will find watching such shows and movies very educative.

If the adult movies are too much to handle, beginners could opt for kids’ shows that are easier on the ears and then slowly work their way up as their proficiency increases. 

4. Listen To Podcasts Or Read Books

People lead busy lives, and sometimes it is hard to create time for learning a language. That’s where podcasts come in. 

With podcasts, you get to learn on the move. Arabic-speaking podcasts are available but are usually best suited to advanced learners who have mastered the basics and want to strengthen their grip on the language. 

Podcasts can cover a wide variety of themes; some will even guide you through the Arabic language learning process. 

5. Read Arabic Books

Intermediate students may use beginner or even advanced Arabic textbooks to get a grasp of the basics. You can also choose between fiction and non-fiction books published in Arabic. However, it is advisable to go for a book appropriate for your level of proficiency. 

Reading a book can help you by bolstering your reading skills and understanding of how Arabic works. However, you should remember that different dialects are used in different writings. Reading will allow you to learn at your pace.

Don’t forget to equip yourself with a dictionary. If it is necessary for you to pause the reading to look up a word, do so and consult the dictionary. This will help you widen your vocabulary and ultimately develop your speaking skills.   

6. Make a Friend

This is a very practical way of learning. Having a friend who speaks Arabic can accelerate learning because they can act as a practice partner. 

Thanks to some innovations, students can now interact directly with native speakers on various online channels. Some apps can help you locate a group of native Arabic speakers in your vicinity. Afterward, you can start attending their oratory events.

7. Enable Arabic on your phone

By changing the language displayed on your smartphone to Arabic, you can completely immerse yourself in the language. This is an excellent learning hack that can help you gain proficiency within a short time. Doing this will make you keen to know the words and what they mean. 

This trick can help you acquire new terms gradually. However, you need to have a basic knowledge of the language before doing so. 

A note of caution: The last thing you should do when studying Arabic as a beginner is to buy a number of books and attempt to start learning on your own. Many of these books claim that you can use them to teach yourself. However, this is usually not the case.

You need a medium to long-term course with lots of hours, adequate instructions, and practice on your end. You may choose the course or the book you need but never try to do it all by yourself.

Conclusion

Learning a language successfully is a very satisfying thing to do but can also be frustrating. During the learning process, there will be times when you hit a wall of difficulties that will tempt you to give up.

However, if you persist and are able to leap past the walls, you will see results. That feeling of success or ability to communicate using what you learned lives long in the memory. Eventually, you will be happy that you never gave up on your learning journey. 

With everything you know now, you should be able to make informed decisions about to learning the Arabic language. Good luck!

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