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How to become fluent in Arabic

Online dictionaries are great – but there i a price: your memory is not really trained. Here is how the use of dictionaries can boost your Arabic.

Last updated: 1 year ago

We all know the problem. You think that you don't progress anymore, that you still have so many gaps, that you can't find the appropriate books anymore, that texts are either too easy or too difficult.

So, how do we get out of this situation? Some ideas.

The problem of arriving at learning plateaus

Why we all get stuck at some point

You know pretty much all the basics but feel like you are not improving anymore. This is because getting better (in any field, not only Arabic) is much harder once you know the basics.

It is weird but if you are a beginner, it is much easier for you to understand and know what needs to be studied and what not. If you want to improve, you need to address your particular weaknesses.

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”

Henry Ford

I noticed many times that no matter how much you read, watch or listen to Arabic, you feel like you are stuck – that you do not learn much anymore. These moments when you feel like “hey, wow, I am really improving” are getting rare. Why?

The problem of saying “I am fluent”

When people tell me that they are fluent, I always ask: What do you mean by that? Oftentimes, people think that they are fluent when they sound like a native. However…

  • You may sound fluent, but your brain gets lazy and always uses the same vocab and expressions. It is natural to use what you know best and what may be sufficient.
  • You sound fluent, but you probably cannot join a discussion because it is about a topic that you are not familiar with.
  • You may sound fluent, but you cannot describe your feelings or emotions.
  • You may sound fluent, but you cannot explain a simple word like “circle” in Arabic.

How to find out if you are “really” fluent in Arabic

  • You can express difficult stuff related to politics, economics, philosophy, history, religion, medicine in simpler words.
  • You can rephrase any sentence so that people eventually get what you intend to say – no matter what their background is.
  • You always ask yourself: Is there a better way  to express things you already know?

How to become “really” fluent in Arabic by using certain dictionaries

If you read a text in Arabic, using certain dictionaries can improve your understanding of Arabic dramatically.

An Arabic-Arabic dictionary that kids use in Arab schools

al-Majani al-Madrassi – المجاني المدرسي – قاموس أبجدي مبسط

In this dictionary you find 11,000 words explained in a simple language. You will start to learn how to describe and explain words and concepts and things in Arabic.

Furthermore, the dictionary tells you common forms; if you deal with verbs, you will find the and certain verb forms. Big bonus: every word is fully vowelled!

The dictionary follows the alphabetical order and not the root – which saves time if you look up words

book example
Arabic dictionary in Arabic

For example: If you look up the word كتاب, the dictionary will not only give you the vowels but also plural forms and a description in Arabic. These descriptions are one big step if you want to develop eloquence and “real” fluency in Arabic.

A dictionary of synonyms and antonyms

معجم المترادفات والأضداد

IMG 20190715 150410
book example
dict synonyms

This book contains words with similar meanings (synonyms) and words that give the opposite meaning (antonyms) of almost any Arabic word.

  • Authors: سعدي الضناوي and جوزيف مالك
  • Pages: 848
  • Price: around 16 US-Dollar
  • Unfortunately, I couldn't find an ISBN.
  • You can order it at Neelwafurat or Jamalon

A pocket dictionary of synonyms and antonyms

معجم الجيب للمرادفات والاضداد

This pocketbook is great fun to read on a train or bus. In the dictionary, you will find synonyms and words that give the opposite meaning. Fits into every bag.

IMG 20190715 170649
book example
pocket dict
  • Author: مسعد ابي الرجال
  • Pages: 100
  • Price: around 6 US-Dollars
  • You can order it at Sifatusafa or Dar al-Salam

App for mobile phones

معجم المرادفات والأضداد ‏‎

by almaany

This is a great app for synonyms and antonyms for your mobile phone.

You can download it for free at the Google Play store! It is also available for iPhones.

screenshot muradifat app
Screenshot app muradifat

Alternative: There is a website with an online tool that also works okay (the is not that great), but you could give it a try: http://radif.sourceforge.net/

Tips from readers

Some useful suggestions from Kenan (a reader):

I am a bit of a purist, so I like learning each word properly. What I mean by “properly” is that for each noun I learn both the singular and the plural, and for each ثلاثي verb I learn the past, imperfect and the masdar(s).

Many of the -building dictionaries only provide nouns in the singular and verbs in past or present tense, depending on the context. This makes life difficult for the student, who, although he knows how to say “man”, “woman”, “walked” and “street”, cannot formulate a
simple sentence like “Men and women are walking on the streets” :-(.

It is not easy to find dictionaries which are consistent in this regard and which furthermore contain all the harakat to help students acquire the vocabulary correctly.

At this point, I would like to point you to two excellent dictionaries for students of Arabic. Both are tied to specific popular book series (courses) for non-native Arabic speakers, but the vocabulary in them is universally useful:

  1. An Arabic-English glossary of words used in the series “Duroos al-lughah al-arabiyya li ghayri al-natiqina biha” available for free from: https://www.lqtoronto.com/madinaglossary.html
  2. The official Arabic-Arabic dictionary of the “Al-arabiyyatu bayna yadayk” series:
arabiya bayna yadaik

How did you improve your Arabic? If you want to share your ideas, please leave a comment below!

In case you missed it:

Picture credit: Image by ThePixelman from Pixabay

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4 years ago

A really useful post! Thanks!

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