Please note that the following is not a complete list of beneficial materials out there on the topic. It is only a reflection of my own personal experience and things which I’ve found beneficial. It is also assumed that the reader does not plan to study Arabic in the Middle East. For those who do plan or are currently studying Arabic overseas, then please refer to this great article on the topic.
Arabic Grammar (video courses)
I personally believe Arabic grammar should be learned under a teacher for best results. However, if you have no other access to learn the language, then following video courses may be very helpful for you. The only way to learn Arabic is through a longer term consistent program (2+ years). There is no other way around it. Therefore, if you are going to go through one of the following programs, then make sure you finish it.
Medina Books – A popular three series book to learn Arabic grammar. This is free.
Al-Arabiyya Bayna Yadayk (Arabic Between Your Hands) – Another popular three series book to learn Arabic grammar. This is free.
Both of the above books focus on teaching Arabic to non-Arab speakers.
Introduction to Qur’anic Arabic – This is a three level course and is completely free. The goal of the course is to teach the student the fundamentals of Qur’ānic Arabic and its grammar. The only requirement is that the student should have basic Arabic reading skills (i.e. they should be able to read the Qur’ān). There is little focus on conversational Arabic, which is left aside for later study. Instead, there is a keen focus on the grammar and vocabulary of the Qur’ān. The course avoids technical Arabic grammar terminology when possible and clarifies challenging Grammar concepts in simplified and clear examples. Lectures are filled with numerous examples taken directly from the Qur’ān. They claim that the student who successfully completes Introduction to Qur’ānic Arabic, Levels 1 and 2 should gain the ability of basic Qur’ānic reading comprehension (with the help of a Dictionary). Furthermore, the student should also be able to translate Ḥadīth and Classical Arabic literature at a basic level. Nonetheless, these students should continue to learn and develop their Arabic skills and take a higher-level Intermediate Qur’ānic Arabic course. If your a complete beginner, it may be good to start Arabic from here and then jump into one of the previous two courses mentioned above.
Bayyinah’s Access Online Program – This is a new initiative by Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan and is geared towards those who cannot travel for Arabic. It is all online based. The course is about four months long. It looks very promising. However, it is not free. It is divided into three semesters. It focuses on Grammar (Nahwu), Word Morphology (Sarf), and a study of Surah Yaseen (chapter 36).
Studio Arabiya – I’ve personally never studied with them but I’ve heard good things about them. They are not free so there is a monthly fee involved. The main feature about them is that they connect you with native Arab speaking instructors online to teach you Arabic live. They offer a trial period as well so you can test it.
A good dictionary is the most important possession of a foreign language student. If you are not constantly looking up Arabic words, then I’m not sure if you’re properly learning the language. Following is what I personally use to look up words in Arabic.
Note 1: If your using Android apps for some of the following, make sure you turn on the Arabic keyboard feature in settings. You can alternate between English and Arabic keyboards. This will let you type in the words directly in Arabic in the apps.
Note 2: When I am speaking about root words below, I am mainly referring to Arabic verbs that are conjugated in different forms and knowing their roots.
Google Translate – Hard to believe, but yes it does carry some legitimacy. This is a great tool to use for modern Arabic especially in the beginning phase of learning Arabic. The neat feature about it is that you do not need to know the root, it will give you the translation regardless. You can just copy and paste a word or type it up using it’s handy Arabic keyboard. The translation/definition is quite accurate when it comes to individual words, especially if you know the root [though there have been exceptions], but when it comes to complete sentences, then it would be better if your more familiar with the language because it tends to give very odd translations at times. I’ve had to modify translations multiple times for complete sentences. Another great feature is that once in a while, I’ll come across a word that I cannot find the root for anywhere [mostly due to my still learning the language and getting use to it] and Google Translate will translate it literally, which has been very helpful. However, sadly this is not always the case. I also have this as an app on my Android. I used this app heavily on Hajj to communicate with locals. I downloaded the Arabic offline Android package for it [so you don’t have to be connected to the internet to use it]. Again, you need to be familiar with the language enough to be able to modify sentences it gives you for it to be grammatically correct. Also, I don’t recommend Google Translate to be used with classical texts or the Qur’an because it gives very odd meanings unless you know what your doing. It’s best used for modern Arabic.
Al-Mawrid – This is perhaps the most popular dictionary with beginner level Arabic students. However, it is mostly helpful if you know the root word. Since students focus on root words in the beginning, they tend to rely on this dictionary a lot. It is important to note that the Arabic language is based on its root words. Once you recognize the root words, the language becomes much easier to digest and you can figure out the meaning of any word. I recently found an app for Android that has this dictionary and I have to say, I have been using it a lot! It’s made my life easier because I can just type in the root word and it goes right to it. Not sure if Apple has it on itunes or not. If you find it, let me know in the comments section.
Al-Maany (Arabic-English) – This is the dictionary I resort to when the above two fail. It’s starting to become my default dictionary. However, you must know the root, otherwise, it can be useless. I love this dictionary because it gives you many ways of how a word is used differently in the language with its various meanings. It’s been very helpful with translations of classical texts. There is also an Android app for it. The app is partial, the website has more words. There is a feature in the app that takes you directly to the website to look it up if the app doesn’t find it.
Al-Maany (Arabic-Arabic) – This is the dictionary I resort to when even the above one fails. This is an Arabic only dictionary. This is only useful if you know Arabic to a certain extent, otherwise, it may not be very helpful. The best feature of this dictionary is that you do not need to know the root. You just type in the word and it will give you the root with its definition in Arabic. I use this dictionary all the time to find roots of words so that I can look them up in Al-Mawrid or Al-Maany (Arabic-English). There is an Android app for it. The app is partial, the website has more words. There is a feature in the app that takes you directly to the website to look it up if the app doesn’t find it.
Verb-Ace-Pro – This is a good dictionary if your willing to pay for it. It offers a trial period. I stopped using it once my trial was over because of the other dictionaries above but it’s a good tool. The key feature of it is that you can download it onto your desktop and just copy and paste words and get the translation. You can also just highlight words in Arabic on websites and it gives you the translations for them. It does the same for English websites to translate words into Arabic. It’s kind of like Google Translate but only that it is more accurate in translation of words. I don’t recall it being able to do complete sentences. It only focuses on individual words.
Arab Speakers in Your Community – There will be times when all of the above will fail. I cannot recall how many times I’ve gone up to local imams, shaykhs, educated Arabs familiar with fusha and asked them to help me understand a word or sentence because I cannot wrap my head around it. Take advantage of such people in your local mosque and/or community. Don’t be shy, they will love to help you. They really appreciate that your looking to understand the language. I’ve had one Syrian brother sit with me for an hour explaining to me an Arabic article that I had printed.
Arabic Almanac – Intermediate and advanced level students will appreciate this page. It allows searching in Hans Wehr, Lane’s Lexicon and J. G. Hava all on a single page, 20 root based arabic dictionaries in 6 different languages.
Arabic Grammar Made Easy – This is one of the earliest books that I studied in Arabic language. It was very helpful and easy to understand. If you can find someone to teach it to you, it will really help you grasp understanding over the basics.
501 Arabic Verbs: Fully Conjugated in All Forms – This is a very useful book. The key feature of this book is that it has collected 501 of the most used verbs in the Arabic language. Not only that, but it also conjugates them in all its forms (past, present, future, command, active, passive, singular, plural, dual, etc.). I memorized a few conjugations from this book and it really helped. These verbs really are common in the Arabic language. I’ve seen them over and over again. I hope to one day memorize every word with at least two conjugations (past and present) from this book. Also, it gives you the English meaning of the word and provides sample sentences. The only fault with this book is that there is no English-Arabic index in the back, so it’s really difficult when your trying to write English to Arabic sentences. I actually went through the whole book and created my own index.
Go Speaky – This is a very useful free tool to utilize. It brings together native speakers of different languages from all over the world who wish to practice another language. It’s a sort of pen pal system, where you send each other messages back and forth to become more efficient in the language. It’s just a way to practice what your learning. For example, you can speak to someone in Morocco, Egypt, or any other country whose native language is Arabic and speak with them in Arabic. At the same time, they will want to speak to you in English because they want to practice their English. When I use it, I write in both languages and my pen pals do the same. So, I’ll say for example:
Where do you study English? / أين تدرس النجليزية
i am studying in an Islamic University on the internet / أنا أدرس في جامعة إسلامية على الإنترنت
Another benefit is that some of the pen pals are willing to set up a Skype conversation with you so that you can speak to each other and practice the language. The only fault with this tool is that many of the users are not consistent. They create their accounts and speak to you a few times and then disappear completely never to be heard from again. But if you can find a consistent user, then this is very helpful. Also, just take precautions and never give personal information away. If you feel someone is too odd, then don’t engage with them.
iTalki – This is a website that allows you to find an online teacher for personal language lessons. The teachers are usually native speakers. However, it is not free. The teachers do require a fee. You can browse through and select a teacher that fits within your budget. The teachers vary in their price. Some are willing to do it for cheap while others charge more.
Qisas an-Nabiyin – After 1.5-2 yrs of Arabic, you should go through this book. This is a very helpful book to practice your Arabic. It is basically stories of the prophets written in the Arabic language. The main objective of it is to teach proper Arabic to children. Your main goal should be to go through it and look up all of the words that you don’t know and then memorize them. Many Arabic institutes use it to teach Arabic to students. There is an English translation of it as well [which I have not yet reviewed], if you want help with defining certain words or see how they were translated. If your serious about Arabic, then use the English translation only to compare the translation with your own and see if your way off on certain words. You need to build the habit of figuring out the language on your own.
Arabic Keyboard – This is a good tool I used to write short Arabic essays for my class. It’s very easy to use.
Learn Arabic w/ Al-Jazeera – This is a good tool to use to practice Arabic reading. The neat feature about it is that it focuses on modern Arabic and discusses current events in the news. It also has quiz features to help you measure how much you’ve actually comprehended from the story. It also gives you a vocabulary list on the side of the articles and a link to the main article. Another cool feature of it is that it has short Arabic animation videos as well and you can choose to display the English/Arabic at the bottom of it in text format so you can follow along. I’ll be honest, I haven’t played around with this site too much because of my other occupations but it’s a great tool.
Note Cards – If you don’t have a process in place where your constantly writing down words that you don’t know, memorizing them, and continuously reviewing them, then your wasting your time with Arabic. Note cards are one of the most efficient ways to memorize vocabulary. One of my main mistakes in learning Arabic was that I didn’t pay much attention to vocabulary. I put too much focus on concepts and grammar rules. I used to memorize vocabulary for only my short term memory so that I can pass the exams and move on to the next level. I didn’t pay any more attention than that. This mistake is still hurting me today and is one of the main reasons I’m still not fluent in the language. You must memorize vocabulary for long term memory usage from the very beginning. Arabic is not just about mastering the grammar but also mastering the vocabulary. Once you start memorizing vocabulary, the language will begin to seem more and more fluid and easy to you because words are repeated constantly in the language. Focus particularly on memorizing root words and their meanings. The whole language is based on it. I now have whole stashes of note cards with 1000+ words which I go through constantly on a weekly basis. You need to have a process in place where you memorize new words and review old ones. As an example, I have five stashes of note cards and I go through each stash everyday, hence, I am reviewing all my vocabulary every five days. Once, the stashes get larger and larger, I will separate them into more days (so reviewing vocabulary every 7, 8 9, ….20, etc. days). I add about 20-25 words to my vocabulary every week, which I then memorize everyday for seven days by repeating it 20 times (a total of 140 times over seven days) and then I add them to my stash of review vocabulary. You can increase or decrease the number of times you repeat a word on a daily basis based on the strength or weakness of your memory. This is my method. Your welcome to try it or try something else of your own. But the point is that you need to be memorizing vocabulary for the long term. You need to be able to recall Arabic words with their meaning at first look wherever they may appear.
Practice Using TED Talks – This is a really nice article on how to use TED talks on the web, which are completely free, to learn a new language.
Materials written in Arabic w/ English counterparts – There are books available that have been translated from Arabic. You can buy both the Arabic book and its English translation and practice with it. Try to figure out the Arabic yourself and then check your translation with its English equivalent. You can also check the English translation if you get stuck on a sentence or word and can’t figure it out. A good example of this would be Tafsir-Al Jalalayn. It has been translated into English and is also available in Arabic. I believe both are available online somewhere as well. However, this is just one example. There are many examples like this. It is your job to find them. You can also refer to websites like Islam-QA. Once there, you will find that every question that they have answered, there is an “ar” label on top of the page. Click on this to get its Arabic equivalent. This is a great feature for you to be able to see how Arabic is translated. Practice with this website. Print out some Arabic fatwas and try to translate them. Then compare your translation with theirs. A great feature about this site is that it quotes heavily from classical texts. So you get a bit of exposure to both, classical and modern Arabic. I know this website is controversial especially in the West but you are using it to learn Arabic and not necessarily trying to follow everything they say.
Qur’an – This is your main objective to learning Arabic: to be able to understand the Qur’an without translation. Make sure you are constantly reading it and trying to figure it out. If you can figure out the Qur’an, you can figure out any Arabic text because the Book of Allah is the epitome of eloquence in the Arabic language. All of the grammar rules in Arabic are derived from the Qur’an. After 1.5+ years of Arabic, I suggest you pick up the Qur’an and start trying to figure it out. Any vocabulary that you do not recognize, write it down on note cards in the method described above and memorize it for longer term. Afterwards, read it and review that portion of the Qur’an over and over again. The good thing about it is that there are many Qur’an specific dictionaries already available in the market. The research has already been done for you. I personally recommend The Easy Dictionary of the Qur’an [start from page 69 (Fatiha) of the pdf] By Shaykh Abdul Karim Parekh but there are also others available in the market, such as, The Quranic Arabic Corpus, Meaning of Noble Qur’an Word for Word, Word for Word Meaning of Quran, Noble Quran Word-for-Word, and many others.