The Three Levels of Studying Arabic

Learning Arabic consists of three steps:

  1. Learning basic language skills (can take 1-3 years depending on student)
  2. Studying Arabic as a science (can take 2-4 years depending on student)
  3. Intensive Academic expertise/research (Lifetime)

First Step

For the first step, the entire step consists of one word: Practice. Practice, Practice, Practice your reading, listening, speaking and writing skills as much and as often as you can to get to to fluency. It can take 2-3 years to obtain full fluency (or more) don’t despair. The key is consistency in practice, even if its only 1/2 hour everyday (although more is better).

Important books for this are:

Do not cross over to the next stage until you have achieved at least 80% or so fluency. Ask around for additional resources for practice.

(Update July 2019): If you want to study online with a teacher at a very low price, then I would suggest Institute of Linguists. This is the institute that I am currently studying in right now to develop fluency in Arabic. I must say that it has been a great experience! I’m in my sixth month with them right now (intermediate level) and I strongly recommend studying with them if you are able. How does it work? They set you up with a native Arabic speaker from Egypt to advance you through your Arabic studies from beginner to advanced level. They will work with you to develop a schedule that both you and the teacher are comfortable with. They require 2 hours a week minimum and classes are done live via Zoom application. My reading and listening comprehension have tremendously improved! I’m becoming more fluent by the week!

Learning with a live teacher is the best way to learn Arabic without any doubt. The best part is that they are very affordable. Most institutes charge far more than what these guys are charging. Literally anyone can afford it. So in order to help readers on my blog, I reached out to them requesting a discount for readers of my blog and they are willing to offer anyone who signs up using my affiliate link a discount so that you save even more money! This is what you will get if you sign up with them using my link:

  • 20% off the first month
  • 30% off if you join 3 months in advance
  • 2 weeks free after completing at least 6 months

In order to take advantage of the discount, type in my name (Rameez Abid) and ambassador code (SAF006R305) when signing up. I strongly suggest that you take advantage of this opportunity. As for their prices, please see the chart below. The prices are hourly based and represent pounds and dollars. The prices mentioned in the chart below are before the discount. Their prices even before the discount are really low:

Second Step

Studying Arabic as a science – this should be done with a teacher.

If you are a natural at languages, any teacher who has studied these texts will suffice, otherwise a teacher skilled and fluent in these sciences is highly preferred (doesn’t have to be a specialist in the Arabic language though, some scholars of fiqh and hadith can also teach language very well).

There are 4 sciences – Nahw (grammar), Sarf (morphology), Balagha (prose/rhetoric/style) and Adab (literature).

The most important books are:

In Nahw:

  • – al-Ajrumiyyah (with a lot of basic I’rab practice)
  • – Qatr-ul-Nada (With I’rab practice from the Qur’an)
  • – Qawa’id ul-I’rab (with I’rab practice from the Qur’an)
  • Alfiyyatuibnu Malik (With I’rab practice from the poem that forms the text of the book).
  • – Mughni al-Labib

In Sarf:

  • – Imam al-Taftazani’s explanation of Tasrif ul-Izzi – (with some basic practice in I’lal and Ibdal)
  • – Lamiyyatul-Af’al – I prefer the sharh of the author’s son for the student – although the teacher can use others to reference from.
  • – Alfiyyatuibnu Malik (with a lot more practice in I’lal/Ibdal etc)
  • – Taysir-ul-I’lal wal Ibdal – can be studied on one’s own after the alfiyyah – excellent book for practice.

In Balaghah:

  • – Durus-ul-Balaghah – an easy, comprehensive introduction
  • – Al-Balaghatul-Wadihah – Important to learn Balaghah on a practical level.
  • – Sharh Mukhtasar Sa’d (or Mukhtasar-ul-Ma’ani) – Very important text to study, will really make the connection for you between logic and balaghah, as well as opening up advanced balagah texts for you.

In Adab:

  • – Any text in Urud/Qawafi with a teacher.
  • – Sharh Mu’allaqat al-Sab’ or Ashr
  • – Selected study from al-Mutanabbi
  • – Maqamat Al-Hariri – extremely important for building vocabulary
  • – Al-Umdah – a comprehensive text on the sciences of poetry. I forgot the author but I think his nasab was al-Qazwini.

Third Step

Intensive Academic expertise/research – a specialist in the Arabic language will know way more than I do.

In Nahw –

  • – Other explanations of the Alfiyyah such as Imam al-Ushmuni’s, Abu Hayyan, al-Shatibi, Ibn-Aqil
  • – Explanations of Imam ibn Malik’s Tashil – Abu Hayyan’s is a famous one and his students rebuttal is not bad either.
  • – Imam al-Zamaskhari’s works (and their explanations)
  • – Kafiyatu-ibn-il-Hajib and its famous explanation.
  • – Kitab-al-Sibawayh if you’re feeling adventurous.

In Sarf-

  • – Shafiyyatu-ibn-il-Hajib and it’s explanation.
  • – Al-Munsif
  • – Al-Mumti by ibn Usfur.
  • – Al-Mustaqsa by Dr AbdulLatif alKhatib

In Balaghah-

  • – Abdul-Qadir al-Jurjanis books
  • – Mahmood Shakir’s books
  • – Muhammad Abu Musa’s books – I wonder if anyone has tried to teach from these instead of classical texts?
  • – Tafsir Al-Zamaskhari
  • – Tafsir ibn Ashur

In Adab (better to ask a specialist)

  • – Maqamat al-Hariri (yes again)
  • – Imam al-Jahidh’s books especially Al-Bayan wa al-Tabyin
  • – Al-Kamil by Imam al Mubarrid.
  • – Al-Khasa’is of Ibn al-Jinni


This list seems dauntingly long, but the question you need to ask yourself as an Arabic learner is: Why do I want to learn Arabic? If you want to become a scholar, the whole list applies. If you don’t then the length of the list varies depends on what you want to achieve. For those who want only a basic grasp of the Qur’an in Arabic so they can read small tafsirs on their own, or to engage in Modern Arab culture, then the first stage will suffice.

Source: Samir Hussein

14 thoughts on “The Three Levels of Studying Arabic”

  1. Salam alaykum

    Nice post. I believe I’m at the end of step one. And, I’ve followed almost the same things you listed in step 1. However, my teacher is not very proficient, although he is an Egyptian. I would like to move on to someone else to start step 2. Do you know people who would teach online through skype or some other online program?

      1. Sorry, I missed that. I don’t have a Facebook account. Can you please ask on my behalf if you have an account?

  2. Pingback: The Three Levels of Studying Arabic | Accessing the Quran via Bayyinah Access

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  4. Assalamua’leikum,

    Thanks for your reply to my enquiry on studying at IOU. I eventually did take the plunge, and I must say it’s been a fulfilling journey so far.

    I downloaded the resource you suggested – An Introduction to the Arabic Language through Islamic Texts by Syed Iqbal Zaheer – and couldn’t be more fascinated by the contents already. May Allah increase you in goodness.

    JazakAllah khairan wa Assalamu’aleikum warahamatullah wabarakaatuh

    1. The Thinking Muslim

      WS warahamatullah wabarakaatuh,

      That is great to hear! May Allah make easy your journey! I’m so happy for you.

      1. Salaam alaikum, brother
        With regards to the book mentioned by the brother above, any idea as to how one could get the keys/solutions to the exercises to aid learning? Would really appreciate your help.


  5. Brother, In’sha’allah we meet in this dunya and the next and Allah (swt) bless you for this information. I have begun my journey and your information has clarified a lot for me.

  6. Assalaamu alaykum

    Brother are you enrolled in the MSA course or ‘Special Courses’ at IOL? If you’re enrolled in the MSA course how different is it than a course on classical Arabic? Do they not have a classical Arabic course? One more thing, do they evaluate you and place you at the right level or do you have to start from the beginning.

    1. WS,

      I am in MSA. It is standard classical Arabic fundamentals. They evaluate you first and then put you at a level suitable for you.

      1. Thank you brother! I’m not a beginner’s student. Probably intermediate. Can you please tell me what you study and how the course is conducted? Do they use a certain textbook? How do they make you practice? Are there exams, etc? Appreciate your help.

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