Arabic is one of the world’s most beautiful and poetic languages, spoken by over 400 million people worldwide across 26 stunning and diverse countries. However, it’s also undeniably one of the most difficult languages to learn, particularly if you’re trying to learn Arabic at home or online without a structured course or a teacher. But like any other language, if you’re committed and open to trying different methods and techniques, mastery of Arabic is both possible and incredibly satisfying.
The following tips and hacks will help you to build an Arabic study habit into your daily routine. It’s up to you whether you want to try and apply all 10 or just pick the ones that work for you (this will depend on your goals, your level of ability and how much time you want to dedicate to your Arabic practice).
These tips will be most beneficial for those who can already read the Arabic alphabet and have a basic knowledge of the language. However, if you’re just starting out, don’t worry – there are plenty of tips and resources below that will help anyone, whether you’re a fluent linguist looking to practice or a total beginner simply looking for a place to start.
Quick tip – If you’re just starting to learn Arabic, you might want to think about whether you should learn Modern Standard Arabic or a local dialect. Don’t miss our blog post which explains the difference between them and will help you decide what’s right for you!
Here are our top 10 tips on how to learn Arabic at home, for free:
1. Set goals that are trackable and achievable
Before you do anything, make sure you get clear on WHY you want to learn Arabic. Maybe it’s because you have plans to travel the region and want to be able to converse with the locals; perhaps there’s a specific country in the Middle East that you want to visit; or maybe you need to learn for work. Everybody’s WHY is different – get clear on yours and write it down somewhere you’ll see it regularly. This will give you the sense of purpose you need to stay motivated and keep moving forward when things get tough.
Set goals that are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound). For example, setting a goal like “I will improve my Arabic” is too vague – get clear on what exactly you want to improve – is it your reading? Vocabulary? Speaking, listening, or writing…? And don’t overcommit – if you know deep down that you won’t have time to study for hours every day, don’t tell yourself you will!
A good goal might look something like, “I will expand my vocabulary by learning 20 new words in Jordanian dialect every week for 2 months”; or, “I will improve my comprehension skills by listening to BBC Arabic for 30 minutes every day for a month.” Your goals should be personal to you – they must reflect your WHY, and take into account the time and effort you know you can put in.
Once you’ve settled on goals that feel right to you, WRITE THEM DOWN! Did you know, studies show you’re 42% more likely to achieve your goals when you write them down? It’s also proven that people who share their goals with others are also more likely to achieve them, so tell your friends, or perhaps find an accountability partner who can hold you to your commitments.
You should review your goals regularly and be flexible if things don’t turn out exactly as you planned. It’s better to move the goal posts slightly and KEEP GOING than to give up because you’ve fallen too far behind to catch up. Finally, make sure you celebrate your wins, no matter how small. Those little moments of success along the way will keep you moving forward!
2. Use a language learning app
There are many smartphone apps available to help you build an Arabic study habit and learn on the go, many of which offer a great service for free. Here are a few we recommend:
Drops: Drops allows you to learn and practice vocabulary from a wide variety of topics with their fun and interactive, game-style app. With their free plan, you can play for 5 minutes a day.
Duolingo: Duolingo is one of the most well-known and widely-used language apps, and its Arabic offering is great to help you practice at home or on the go. Unlike Drops, Duolingo offers a little more in the way of grammar and sentence structure, and there’s no time limit on their free plan although you do need to watch the occasional ad.
Quizlet: The Quizlet app offers plain and simple vocabulary flashcards rather than a structured course or interactive games. However, it’s one of our favourites because it allows you to create your own sets of flashcards and use other people’s. It’s also great for subject-specific lists and dialects.
Memrise: Memrise goes deeper than most other apps, offering more complex grammatical and sentence structures as well as subject-specific vocabulary. However, you can only complete a small part of their courses on their free plan.
You might decide that one of these apps sounds more up your street than all of the others, or you may want to download them all and try them out for size – you’ll likely find a combination that helps you meet your specific needs. For example, we love Drops for practical, day-to-day vocab, Duolingo for general practice, and Quizlet for more niche or dialect-specific vocabulary practice.
3. Watch Arabic news and documentaries
If you want to focus on your listening skills, try watching videos from mainstream Arabic media outlets like BBC Arabic, Al Jazeera and Sky News Arabia. If you’re interested in a specific region or dialect, use Google or social media to search for local news and media platforms. Short news videos are great if you only have a few minutes to spare.
If you have a little more time, you can also find hundreds of documentaries either produced or dubbed in Arabic on YouTube – try following BBC Arabic, Al Jazeera, Vice Arabia (a brilliant and edgier outlet which covers more unique, and sometimes controversial stories than other networks), Nat Geo Abu Dhabi, and DW Documentary.
4. Read a news article every day
We can’t understate the importance of reading for improving your Arabic! There are few things more effective for improving your Arabic than simply reading a little bit every day. Depending on your level, that could be a couple of lines of an article or a Tweet, or if you’re up to the challenge, you could try reading an article a day or even an Arabic book (if you can get your hands on any).
We highly recommend trying to read an article a day, even if you don’t get past the first paragraph. Reading helps you expand your vocabulary, grasp key grammar concepts and improve your comprehension, and you’ll quickly see results across other areas of your language learning including speaking and listening.
Again, BBC Arabic and Al Jazeera are great resources, or if you’re more advanced you may want to compare and contrast articles from different outlets with different political outlooks or perspectives (for example, it’s always interesting to compare stories from Saudi news outlet Al Arabiya and Qatari channel Al Jazeera when it comes to regional politics). Or for something lighter and a little less political, you could try Vogue Arabia or regional cultural platforms like Sekka Mag.
And NO, it’s not cheating if you have Google Translate open in the next tab, but make sure you’re noting down new vocabulary! We also recommend using ReadLang – simply install in your Browser and translate words and phrases you don’t know as you read!
5. Keep a vocab diary
This is such a simple and effective way to keep track of what you’re learning and make sure you don’t forget any new words. Set yourself a target for each week and create a list as you read or watch videos. You can even pick words from subject-specific vocab books (we recommend Elisabeth Kendall’s pocket-sized books of vocabulary on different topics such as the media, technology, politics etc.) to make sure what you’re learning is relevant to you and your why (see section 1!). Either write them down in a notebook or create your own flashcards using Quizlet (see section 2).
Top tip for learning vocabulary!
We recommend using a vocab list with 6 columns. In the first column, write the Arabic word and in the second column, write the English translation. Then, take a separate piece of paper and cover up column 1. See if you can translate the word in column 2 from English into Arabic. Write it in column 3. If you get stuck, leave it blank and check it at the end. Repeat this daily until you’ve successfully completed all 6 columns. This is a great way to ensure you’re revising new words daily until they’re stuck in your mind, and that you’re practicing translating both English to Arabic, and Arabic to English.
6. Listen to Arabic music and radio
Listening to Arabic, whether spoken or sung, is a great way to immerse yourself in the language and passively absorb words and phrases – particularly colloquialisms that you may not learn in a book or formal course. And with a smartphone and a few of basic apps like Spotify, TuneIn Radio and Podcasts, you literally have a whole world of Arabic music and broadcasts at your fingertips.
BBC Arabic is great for listening to the news, and most of its content is in Modern Standard Arabic (fusha). Or you can choose from hundreds of Arabic radio stations from all over the region through TuneIn (download the app or listen through your browser). Top tip: if you’re learning a dialect, try listening to local radio stations using the ‘search by location’ function on TuneIn!
There are also a ton of brilliant Arabic language podcasts available, covering various topics from books and culture to politics and society. We recommend Kerning Cultures or the Hakawati network for their wide range of Arabic podcasts.
If you prefer music, try listening to these 7 Arabic music playlists on Spotify playlists to help you immerse yourself – there’s something here for every occasion or mood! You can also find plenty of Arabic music on YouTube and Apple Music.
7. Watch Arabic TV shows and movies
Watching TV series and films in Arabic is a great way to improve your listening skills – and the best part is that it requires very little effort! Netflix has a range of binge-worthy Arabic boxsets – here are a few to get you started:
- Fauda – politics/action, Palestine/Israel
- Al-Hayba – politics/action, Lebanon
- Jinn – Cultural thriller, Jordan
- Six Windows in the Desert – Culture/society, Saudi Arabia
We also highly recommend Baghdad Central, now streaming for free on All 4, and Oscar-nominated documentary film, For Sama.
For more recommendations, make sure you follow us on Instagram – we frequently post what we’re watching and reading, along with other useful online resources.
8. Follow Arabic speakers on social media
Most of us have been guilty at one point or another of scrolling through social media when we’re supposed to be working or doing something productive… Following Arabic speakers on social networks is a great way to keep Arabic in your head, while simultaneously easing the guilt when you go down Instagram rabbit holes!
There are millions of creatives, public figures, celebrities and influencers from the Arab World using social networks to connect with their followers, so it’s easy to fill your feed with Arabic speakers so you can learn as you scroll! You can strategically follow people from different countries to expose yourself to local dialects, or from different industries and backgrounds if you’re looking for subject specific language.
There are also a handful of Western Arabic speakers based in the region who have learned the language and are showing off their skills on Instagram and YouTube – check out these 3 Western influencers whose Arabic skills will blow you away! Following them will keep you inspired and remind you of what’s possible.
9. Find an online language partner
If you have friends or contacts in the region, why not ask around and see if they or someone they know, would be interested in a language exchange? For example, if someone wants to improve their English, you could agree to a video call once a week, speaking in English for half of the session and Arabic for the other half. That way you get to improve your conversational and listening skills without paying a penny!
There are also hundreds of groups on Facebook focused on learning Arabic, along with Arabic and English exchange groups where you can post a request for a language partner. Try searching ‘Learn Arabic’ or ‘Arabic English exchange’ and filter for groups.
If you’d prefer a more formal arrangement and are happy to pay, you could also try using an online platform like NaTakallam, which partners Arabic students with refugees in the region. They offer both Modern Standard Arabic and some local dialects.
10. Use your smartphone settings to help you learn
Why not try switching your phone language to Arabic? Let’s be honest, we all know our way around our phones pretty well, so this will likely be easier than you think. Or if you’re not quite confident enough to do that, you could start by renaming your app folders (for example, you could rename your ‘social media’ and ‘news’ folders with the Arabic words, so you get used to seeing this vocabulary every day.
And if you haven’t already, make sure you add an Arabic keyboard on your phone (easily done in Settings) so you can get comfortable typing in Arabic. And don’t forget, just like in English, you can dictate in Arabic when typing or writing messages – this is great if you find typing in Arabic too slow or you’re not comfortable with spelling!
We hope we’ve given you plenty of ideas to make learning Arabic part of your daily routine! Remember, there’s no one-size-fits-all way to learn, and the most important thing is that your practice is tailored to WHY you’re learning the language. Pick and choose the tips from this list that work for you based on your WHY, your current level of Arabic, and how much time and effort you can commit to a regular practice.
We believe that learning foreign languages increases our understanding of people who are different to us, making the world a more peaceful and tolerant place. So if we can help you on your Arabic learning journey, let us know! Leave a comment and share how you’re putting these tips into practice and let us know if you have any questions or suggestions for how we can help you.
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