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10 of the best books for learning Arabic

Motivation and hard work alone are not enough to learn a language. The proper kinds of language resources -- well written, accurate, effective, level-appropriate -- are also imperative. We have scoured available Arabic resources and listed only the best of the best here. Any of these books is guaranteed to serve you well on your quest to become proficient in Arabic.


Learn Arabic | Learn the Arabic Alphabet | Learn Arabic grammar
Bilingual Arabic-English Dictionaries
| Learn Arabic vocabulary

TEACH YOURSELF ARABIC

1 Mastering Arabic, book with 2 CDs, by Jane Wightwick and Mahmoud Gaafar, 370 p. (2004)

Among the many books available for Arabic self study, none seem to match the solid approach served up by Wightwick and Gaafar in Mastering Arabic. The book is written for the true beginner looking to acquire a level of Arabic that enables one to communicate basic everyday needs.

The book first teaches users the Arabic alphabet -- a must for any serious student, since transliteration is a crutch that will not be available in authentic situations (though the authors include transliteration through the first few chapters). Each chapter provides grammar lessons, introduces vocabulary and phrases useful in common situations, and offers numerous contextualized practice activities. What makes the book particularly useful for self-study is that answers are provided in the back of the book.

Mastering Arabic comes with 2 excellent CDs that foster learners' aural comprehension skills and teach proper pronunciation. The book also points out the differences between formal written language and spoken language. This text and the accompanying CDs enable learners to gain a basic proficiency in Arabic.


2 Living Language Ultimate Arabic: Beginner-Intermediate, book + 8 audio CDs, 535 p. (2006)

This comprehensive text and audio course is designed to teach the beginning learner of Arabic how to read, write, speak, and understand basic Arabic. The book is organized into 35 clear, well-developed lessons. The lessons each begin with an engaging dialogue, which can be heard on the CDs and can be read in the text. The conversation is followed by a clear and thorough explanation of grammar and its usage as demonstrated in the dialogue. Practice exercises with answers round out each lesson, so the learner can check comprehension of the lesson's material before moving ahead.

Instruction is evenly paced and keeps the learner progressing toward proficiency. A useful feature of this particular program is that it teaches Modern Standard Arabic as well as gives the learner access to the four most common Arabic dialects, namely Egyptian, Iraqi, Lebanese, and Saudi. This allows the learner to acquire not only enough language to be understood, but also to understand native speakers when they respond.

This book/CD package is ideal as a stand-alone self-study course or as a supplement to a formal Arabic language class. With listening, reading, speaking, and writing practice and an introduction to Arabic culture, it is comprehensive. And it closely follows proven methodologies for language learning. This series is highly recommended for anyone who wants to gain a functional knowledge of Arabic beyond tourist basics. It has everything a learner needs to be road to proficiency in Arabic.




LEARN THE ARABIC ALPHABET

3 Alif Baa: Introduction to Arabic Letters and Sounds / Alif Baa Answer Key, by Kristen Brustad, Mahmoud Al-Batal, Abbas Al-Tonsi, 2nd ed., 168 p. & 2 DVDs (2004).

This first volume in the Al-Kitaab program provides learners with an introduction to the alphabet and sounds of Arabic. With this book, students will learn to read and write Arabic letters and -- with the help of the 2 DVDs that are included with the text -- also to pronounce them. The DVDs are included only with this fully updated 2nd edition.

The material is presented in 10 different units with exercises to practice writing letters in various words, giving learners the opportunity to practice the letters in initial, medial, and final positions as well as to acquire a beginning vocabulary of about 150 words. The DVD provides video illustrations of someone pronouncing the letters, which helps learners find the proper mouth and tongue position for correct pronunciation. Each sound is spoken by a variety of people to highlight the pronunciation range that can exist among native speakers of Arabic. In addition, there are video clips of the letters being written and a cultural video for each lesson. Exercises help users learn to distinguish between the sounds.

The program introduces users to Modern Standard Arabic and also some colloquial spoken Egyptian Arabic. This introduction to the sound and writing system of Arabic will give users a solid foundation for further study of the language and culture.

For independent learners, there is also a very reasonably priced answer key available.


4 The Arabic Alphabet: How to Read & Write It, by Nicholas Awde, Putros Samano, 95 p. (2000).

This volume provides a more basic introduction to the Arabic alphabet than that found in the Alif Baa book. After describing the alphabet, the authors present the letters in each of their variations and clearly describe what sounds each symbol represents. Vowels and ligatures are also included.

The material is presented simply, concisely, without technical jargon and in a well-organized manner. This book is not only very accessible to the true beginner in Arabic; it is also very reasonably priced.





LEARN ARABIC GRAMMAR

5 A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic, by Karen C. Ryding, 734 p. (2005).

This handbook provides learners with a thorough introduction to the Arabic language, its alphabet and sounds, and its structure. The 39 chapters introduce topics in a logical sequence and each explains grammar clearly and concisely. Grammar descriptions are detailed, provide excellent examples, and use technical terminology only as needed. Transcriptions are also given throughout to aid comprehension. Several of the later chapters cover the formation of verbs in Arabic, the understanding of which is essential to gaining proficiency in Arabic.

In addition to the wealth of information provided in the chapters, the appendix includes a guide to using an Arabic dictionary, a list of references, and a useful index. This comprehensive yet accessible grammar reference would be useful as a supplement to an Arabic course and is also an excellent tool for independent study.

6 Modern Written Arabic: A Comprehensive Grammar, by Adrian Gully, Mike G. Carter, Elsaid Badawi, 80 p. (1999).

This comprehensive guide is an excellent grammar resource for intermediate to advanced learners of Arabic and nicely complements Ryding's A Reference Grammar of Modern Standard Arabic. Gully, Carter, and Badawi's work is nearly exhaustive in its coverage of the structures of modern Arabic. They provide numerous examples, all taken from authentic texts published since 1990, including a plethora of non-literary texts, thus ensuring good coverage of contemporary usage. While there are several typographical errors in the Arabic examples, the transliterations and translations of examples prove useful to learners.




LEARN ARABIC VOCABULARY

7 Your First 100 Words in Arabic: Beginner's Quick & Easy Guide to Demystifying Non-Roman Scripts, by Jane Wightwick, 704 p. (2003).

Wightwick's book accomplishes what it sets out to do -- namely, to teach the beginning learner of Arabic a basic vocabulary of 100 useful words and to teach the Arabic script in a simple, easy-to-grasp manner. Words taught derive from such everyday categories as clothes, body parts, around the house, animals, and others.

Drawings, flashcards, games, exercises and the meaningful repetition and recycling of words all reinforce learning. The flashcards include words both in Arabic script and in transliteration. The book is a useful learning tool for true beginners or those with only a rudimentary knowledge of the Arabic language.



8 Using Arabic: A Guide to Contemporary Usage, by Mahdi Alosh, 356 p. (2005).

Using Arabic is designed for intermediate- to advanced-level students wishing to refine and expand their knowledge of Modern Standard Arabic. The book briefly touches upon issues of dialect before discussing other types of variations among speakers related to age, gender, status, and origin (Chapter 1). The bulk of the book is devoted to distinctive vocabulary- and grammar-oriented features of contemporary Arabic.

Chapter 2 covers a wide range of vocabulary issues. The author first outlines how words in Arabic are constructed, both linguistically and conceptually, and points out important differences between English and Arabic. Then he goes on to indicate how certain words are used, covering problem areas such as homophones and verbs that change meaning, addressing such special groups as loan words, antonyms, synonyms, personal names, geographical terms, and many others. Chapter 3, which constitutes about 40% of the book, provides a thorough review of Arabic grammar.

The breadth of material in the book is noteworthy, as it explains many aspects of normal usage and also includes any exceptions. Serious students of Arabic will be able to add much to their repertoire of linguistic skills with the help of this volume.



GOOD BILINGUAL ARABIC-ENGLISH DICTIONARIES

9 Arabic Practical Dictionary. Arabic-English / English-Arabic, by Nicholas Awde, K. Smith, 400 p. (2004).

This English-Arabic / Arabic-English dictionary is a handy reference for beginning to advanced students of Arabic. It contains 18,000 entries, arranged alphabetically rather than by root, making it more accessible to the English-speaker. While some dictionaries overlook words in modern usage, the entries in the Awde/Smith dictionary reflect contemporary themes. The Arabic script is clear and transliterations of Arabic words are included. Though not as complete as the comprehensive dictionaries like Wehr, Al Mawrid, or Oxford (each of which has its own advantages and drawbacks), it is much easier to use, contains all the information one needs to use and understand basic Arabic, and costs far less.


10 Arabic-English Dictionary. The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, by Hans Wehr, 1301 p. (1993).

The Hans Wehr Arabic-English dictionary is one of the most popular Arabic dictionaries around. It is most useful for the intermediate to advanced user or for the beginner who wants to learn to understand standard Arabic and not necessarily produce it, as it contains only Arabic-to-English entries. Though the book does include some dialect-specific words and some classical Arabic, as a dictionary of the written language, it mainly contains the vocabulary of Modern Standard Arabic.

The entries are organized by root rather than alphabetically -- an organization more difficult for English speakers to become accustomed to but far more fitting for the Arabic language. Organization by root also promotes further acquisition of Arabic, as learners can pick up on related words more readily. The entries cover multiple meanings of each word and contain the linguistic information learners need to effectively deal with words. They delineate, for instance, common phrases and idioms containing the entry word and indicate which prepositions to use with a verb. Also indicated are such features as genders, plurals, verbal nouns, and more.

Any serious student of Arabic will eventually want to own the Wehr dictionary. For those intending to move beyond the basics, it is among the most useful for English-speaking learners of Arabic.





Learn Arabic | Learn the Arabic Alphabet | Learn Arabic grammar
Bilingual Arabic-English Dictionaries
| Learn Arabic vocabulary


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