These are the resources that we recommend for learning or brushing up on your Levantine Arabic.
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In this guide…
- The best books (which are all e-books) for learning Levantine Arabic
- Where to find the best online tutors for Levantine Arabic
- How to learn Levantine Arabic by repeating sentences
- Use Anki for flashcards (free)
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Quick Summary of What We Recommend for Levantine Arabic
Without all the fluff, this is what we recommend.
- For beginners/those brushing up/adapting from another kind of Arabic: Colloquial Arabic. It is an excellent and easy book to use, affordably priced, available as an eBook or physical book, and all the audio is online.
- To build a lot of vocabulary: Matthew Aldrich’s Levantine Colloquial Arabic Vocabulary. So many words, all with phonetic pronunciation, Arabic lettering, and even an audio guide to listen to every single word and sample sentence in your own time! He has lots of books; I also like his interviews with regular people speaking Levantine Arabic, which helps you talk about yourself (which we all do a lot), in Shwayy ‘an Haali.
- To find experienced teachers to speak with and book time with them without all all the fuss of finding time with language partners, or going to schools: italki. Great teachers become our friends; we learn so much more than language.
- To practise a ton of sentences from a sentence bank: Glossika. Listening and repeating is awesome!
- Use Anki for spaced repetition flashcards. Any serious language learner uses Anki. It’s free. Here’s our guide to getting started with it. You can also buy some pretty good pre-made card Levantine Arabic decks for Anki (from Matthew Aldrich too).
More detail on all this below.
What do we know about learning Arabic?
Well, we know a lot as learners. Obviously not as authors or teachers. We owe everything we’ve learned to teachers, authors, and software makers who helped us learn quickly, so we want to share what was most effective.
We speak Arabic, and have studied both Levantine and Egyptian Arabic.
A word of caution: There are other websites that just list every language resources. Or just list whatever makes them money even if they don’t work. (For example, Rosetta Stone makes a bunch of money. But it’s no good for learning Arabic. I’ve met people who’ve used it, and they don’t speak Arabic.) Some of those authors never even learned Arabic. Beware! We’re sharing experiences as people who’ve studied the language and tried the tools as serious language learned.
The Best Books for Learning Levantine Arabic
Books — especially electronic books that I can search on my computer — are my favourite way to get started with learning a language. I have consistently used books for many languages, now on my ninth (Swahili).
A good introductory book that isn’t boring can totally transform the learning experience. I’ve used books for ten languages and swear by them. My favourite series is the “Colloquial” series by Routledge publishing. I also like the “Teach Yourself” series, but they don’t cover as many languages. For example, the Colloquial Arabic series includes separate books and audio for Egyptian Arabic, Levantine Arabic, and Gulf Arabic.
The other thing I love about the “Colloquial” series is that all the audio is online, and you can download it as mp3s!
I also love all the books by Matthew Aldrich. He’s an old hand on Arabic language learning and has published guides I’d kill for in many other languages. All of the books he writes are useful, but the ones below are the most useful.
Colloquial Arabic by Mohammad al Masri
We really like the Colloquial Arabic book by Mohammad al Masri (never mind that his name means “Mohammad the Egyptian”!)
Like many books from the Colloquial series, the thematic approach with a gentle introduction to grammar makes learning Arabic much easier.
The dialogues are interesting, and the audio (which you get online from the Routledge site, either to stream or download) is very clear.
Levantine Colloquial Arabic Vocabulary (Paperback and Kindle) by Matthew Aldrich
As Matthew says in his preface, knowing a language sometimes just feels like knowing a lot of words, and knowing them REALLY well.
That’s why I love his vocabulary books. I also love it how he’s made thematic Anki decks for all of them! Grab the books first, start listening to the audio, and if you like them, get the Anki decks from his site (Lingualism). He also has awesome resources for Egyptian Arabic, a few other varieties of Arabic, and some ones he’s producing on Russian.
Shwayy ‘an Haali (Paperback and Kindle) by Matthew Aldrich
I could keep recommending books by Matthew but I’ll stop here… his book Shwayy ‘an Haali (“a little about myself”), like his Egyptian Arabic book Shwayy ‘an Nafsi (same meaning), is a really interesting way to learn how to speak about yourself.
It’s a whole bunch of conversations, done in an interview style. You’ll hear people of different ages, genders, and backgrounds, talking about who they are, their names, where they’re from, what they like to do, and expressing basic opinions.
The reality of language learning is we often have the same conversations over and over again. Where are you from? Where did you learn Arabic? How long have you been learning? Do you like football? And so on.
Very occasionally we’ll go much deeper, and that’s where teachers and advanced courses shine.
To practise basic conversations books like Shwayy ‘an Haali really shine. I wish books like this existed in more languages.
Best place to find Levantine Arabic Tutors Online: italki
We’ve tried a few ways of finding tutors online, and still like italki the best. (We also occasionally have in-person tutors, but it’s not great.)
It’s just so convenient. Find a well-regarded teacher with lots of reviews and a face you like, book a time and pay.
My favourite thing is how it’s like speed dating. People want to impress you.
Occasionally we’ve stayed with a teacher in a country, and then within 5 minutes we know “this guy talks too much”, “this person is a terrible teacher” or even just “I don’t like this person”. It’s so frustrating. That rarely happens on italki, and if it does… we just don’t book another lesson. Easy!
And our best teachers become our friends, people I’m glad to have spoken to, and know well. We even meet some in real life if we’re lucky.
Sure it’s a few too many clicks, but it’s wonderful that people just show up on Skype at the appointed time.
Sign up here for $10 credit for your first lesson (with your first purchase). Lessons are usually $5-15 (or more, but don’t spend more than that). Note, the cheaper teachers can be great, and more expensive ones aren’t necessarily better. If you want more info on how to get the most out of italki, read our complete review of italki here.
Memorise Levantine Arabic Sentences with a sentence bank: Glossika
We also like walking around and muttering sentences to ourselves!
Sometimes we make our own sentences, like I did with Swahili and with Hebrew (this is me speaking after learning sentences for a month). But a really convenient system is to use Glossika.
Glossika is a pre-built sentence bank, with spaced repetition built in. It’s kind of like swimming in a river… you won’t remember everything, but over time, you start hearing patterns in the things you hear, and you learn it.
Still, I did write a guide to getting the most out of Glossika. They key is to listen and learn actively.
Sign up for a 7-day free trial here, and see if you like it. Please use the trial to actively listen and see how effective it can be. I still remember sentences from Glossika better than from any other source.
What to avoid – Bad resources for learning Arabic
We’ve tried lots of websites and different software. Here’s what we don’t like:
- Duolingo for Arabic: It’s only useful for learning the basic letters. Do not use it past that point. Note that Duolingo only has Modern Standard Arabic
- Memrise for Arabic: same as Duolingo. Only useful for basic letters. Past that point you’ll learn ineffectively and sometimes outdated or incorrect things
- Most online courses: With respect to the creators, we haven’t found any other than Rocket Languages that are as useful as a teacher and books. We’ve tried Mango, Rocket Languages, LearnLanguages101 courses, and TalkinArabic. While we could easily recommend a bunch and make money off selling them, we’d prefer you spend less money and get more out of the resources above.
What is “Levantine Arabic”?
Levantine Arabic is the kind of Arabic spoken in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan.
It’s also known as
- Palestinian Arabic (referring to the people)
- Lebanese Arabic
- Jordanian Arabic
It’s also the kind of Arabic spoken by the Arab population of Israel (or “that part of the world“) and the occupied territories of Palestine.
Levantine Arabic obviously varies a little between those regions, but it’s a colloquial variation — like the difference in French between France and Switzerland, for example. It’s nearly entirely mutually intelligible, except when things get very local.
Levantine Arabic is also mostly mutually intelligible with Egyptian Arabic and Iraqi Arabic. It gets a little harder if you’re from the Peninsula or other Gulf states, and a lot harder if you’re speaking to someone from North Africa.