In no particular order, here are my 10 favourite online resources for learning the spoken Arabic of the Levant (Lebanon, Jordan, Palestine, Israel and Syria). Below are a bonus few recommendations of resources you can buy, too.
1. Jordanian Arabic audio course from NMELRC. Great, simple & v useful dialogues with Ammani locals involving an Australian lady with excellent pronunciation. I’m gradually making some worksheets to accompany these and make them a little more accessible, as there are no transcripts provided. For each of the 8 dialogues there is an accompanying vocabulary file, where the speaker rattles through the words that come up and a few others fairly quickly, and without translating into English. This makes this course a little tricky without a teacher, but they’re definitely worth a listen.
2. Aamiya Arabiya youtube channel: Fantastic quality Jordanian and Lebanese videos – teenagers and young Ammanis talking about their everyday lives. Really short and sweet with excellent sound quality.
3. Jordanian Arabic Grammar – an introduction for beginners (from Peace Corps). I’ve just been teaching a beginners’ course (30 hours ta’reeban) of Levantine Arabic and happily I’ve found this reference guide includes everything we just covered. Perfect revision material, though it might be less accessible for a complete beginner to learn from without a teacher.
4. Arabic-language films from the Levant. Many are on Youtube, some with subtitles, eg.
* West Beirut (with English subtitles)
* Paradise Now / الجنه الان (with English subtitles)
* The Lemon Tree (with English subtitles)
* Caramel (can’t find it on YouTube with English subtitles, so buy the DVD instead!)
Which other films would you recommend?
5. Arabic Music translation blog – it’s just amazing. Tags for individual artists or click on Lebanese, Syrian, etc. Good ones to start with include Elissa, Sabah, Nancy Ajram, Fairuz, Majdi el Roumi and Haifa Wehbe. NB. even Lebanese singers such as Nancy do often sing in a more Egyptian way to target that bigger audience, but this blogger Chris is brilliant at pointing out differences in vocab and pronunciation like this.
6. Jordanian course from LangMedia Five Colleges. The videos aren’t great quality but they’re authentic conversations, and there are transcripts in English and Arabic. You can download the videos or watch them online with Quicktime. Good range of topics covered – tourism, transport, shopping, directions, emergencies, socialising, etc.
7. ArabicPod Levantine podcasts – this should perhaps be number one of every list of Arabic resources. Wonderful, very accessible podcasts which focus on a very short dialogue each time and break it down into admirable detail. Just a few Levantine ones but they’re all worth a listen. Transcripts available for paying subscribers but you can listen for free.
8. The Arabic Student blog: Loads of Levantine colloquial activities on this brilliant blog. My favourites for beginners are the Baba Tilifoon kids’ song (warning – highly addictive and irritating earworm) and the Minal clip about champagne from Lebanese MTV’s lovely series of mini videos about everyday life, presented by Al (meen al? = who’s Al?), with simple animations to help with the context. Minal is also all over Youtube :)
9. Dalil USA Syrian Colloquial course (but also Palestinian): pay-to-view lessons, but there are 2 free samples. Was impressed with the Restaurant lesson and the My childhood one (Palestinian man talking about his life, his school, hobbies etc). These are brilliant because the audio comes with a full transcript in colloquial Arabic and an MSA version of the same text
10. Palestine Remembered: the Nakba oral history project. More for the advanced learner than beginners, as some of the interviews are very long, but this is an amazing collection of narratives and memories of villages from which Palestinians were expelled in the 1948 war (known as النكبة, the disaster). Ideal for students who want to delve into the social history and politics of Palestine as well as the language.
Great resources to buy online or in a bookstore near you
1. BBC Active Talk Arabic CD course and book, by Jonathan Featherstone. This is the course I’ve been teaching from recently and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Learn to speak and understand communicative spoken Arabic without needing to learn to read first. Introduces Arabic script in gradual chunks at the end of each chapter so it’s great for complete beginners who will need to learn the basics of how to read but want to focus on speaking first. Well structured with clear, concise explanations and loads of practice.
2. Focus on Contemporary Arabic – DVD and book (Yale University Press) – this resource is fantastic. Proper review coming one day soon!
3. Syrian Colloquial Arabic course by Mary-Jane Liddicoat. Heard lots of good reviews of this course though I haven’t actually tried it or taught from it yet. Costs $45 to download but it’s so comprehensive (450-page illustrated and fully indexed textbook, accompanied by 180+ minutes of authentic recorded conversations!) that I can’t help feeling that it must be worth it. I’ll try and get round to reviewing it soon!
4. Mastering Arabic 2 – there are short introductory snippets of colloquial Arabic in the form of short monologues at the ends of each of the units. The Syrian, Lebanese, Jordanian/Palestinian ones will be particularly worth listening to.
5. Dictionary of Syrian Arabic (Georgetown University Press) – Focuses on “the language spoken in everyday life by Muslims primarily in Damascus, but understandable throughout Syria as well as in the broader linguistic areas of present-day Lebanon, Jordan, and among the Palestinians and the Arabic-speaking population of Israel. Entries include examples, idioms, and common phrases to illustrate usage. The Arabic terms are transliterated into latin script, not in Arabic script.”
And one freebie extra that isn’t specifically about Levantine Arabic but is SO handy:
Word reference forum – so many language geeks online ready to answer your questions, and almost everything you want to know has already come up so just try googling a colloquial phrase + ‘colloquial Arabic’ and you’ll probably find a thread.
And two more special mentions – worth a mention but I haven’t checked them out enough yet to squeeze them into the top 10:
* Damascus Gate language school -colloquial Arabic resources. Great lists of handy verbs and quick introduction to bidd-i/I want, etc.
* Really huge Syrian course from US Defense Language Institute: loads of lessons, with quite old-school vocabulary and grammar drills etc, but good little conversations