5 short novels about Palestine and Israel

If, on the 99th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, you’d like to read more fiction from Palestine and Israel in English, here are a few suggestions for readers short on time. The first two are particularly suitable for teenage readers and students of Arabic at A-level who would like to read a short novel in Arabic alongside the English version.

where-the-streets-had-a-nameWhere the Streets Had a Name by author Randa Abdel-Fatah. This great novel about 13-year-old Hayaat is available in Arabic as حينما كان للشوارع أسماء. “There are a lot of things I admire about this book but it’s the humor I particularly respect,” says Elizabeth Bird in School Library Journal. “This book is chock full of situations that are not funny. Curfews are not funny. Dehumanization of citizens is not funny. But between these bad times are moments of levity.”


Code Name: Butterfly by Ahlam Bsharat, translated from Arabic butterfly-cover-jpg-englishby Nancy Roberts. The Arabic title is اسمي الحركي فراشة. Described by Arabic teen-lit researcher Sousanne Abou Ghaida as “Full of humour, brave and honest… by far the best young adult novel from the Arab world I’ve ever read,” this short novel spans a summer in the life of a teen in the West Bank


Khirbet Khizeh by Israeli writer S Yizhar. A haunting novella of the 1948 war and one which “still stirs intense controversy” – review in The Guardian of the English translation from the Hebrew by Nicholas de Lange and Yaacob Dweck



Men in the Sun & Other Palestinian Stories by Ghassan Kanafani – in English translation by Hilary Kilpatrick. The 1962 novella Men in the Sun was the basis of the film المخدوعون (The Deceived or The Dupes) by Egyptian director Tawfiq Saleh

touch-adania-shibliTouch, by Adania Shibli – a novel set at the time of the Sabra and Shatila massacre but from the perspective of a young girl. Described by ArabLit blogger Marcia Lynx Qualey as “a gorgeous novella from a young Palestinian author Ahdaf Soueif says is the ‘most talked about’ writer on the West Bank.”


But why stop at 5? Check out this list of recommended fiction and poetry by Palestinian authors on ArabLit blog

Posted in Israel, Literature, Literature/poetry/fiction, Palestine, Reading, Reviews | Leave a comment

20 strategies for becoming a fluent Arabic speaker

Very pleased to come across this detailed and very encouraging guide to mastering spoken Arabic: https://betterworld2100.me/2016/04/27/20-strategies-for-becoming-an-extremely-high-level-arabic-speaker/.

I particularly like that Nathan starts out by confronting the arbitrary Ammaya/Fusha divide – it’s a convenient division for academia but in real life, things are more muddled than that, learning Arabic really means learning standard Arabic and a dialect (or simplified version of a dialect) at the same time. When I’m teaching Arabic to beginners, I teach both right from the start, and in my experience students are more able to differentiate between the two varieties of Arabic better than the traditional teaching approach would give them credit for.

And I love his idea of getting physically in ‘the zone’ when you’re going to speak Arabic. I completely agree – when you’re learning another language, there’s a lot of acting involved, pretending to be more confident than you really are, and taking on a new person and a new way of using your brain and your body – a  kind of physical and mental work-out.

“Switching from the Written-Mental to the Physical-Spoken mindset can be difficult.  It certainly doesn’t happen automatically. You have to get in “The Zone” to be effective.”

Nathan offers so many creative ideas about how to find the time to practice, as every conversation you have (where you push yourself out of your comfort zone and make yourself confront new situations) adds up to the golden 250 hours that is about what it takes to get truly comfortable.

I think this fascinating 20-point report on strategies could prompt 20 blog posts as all are really interesting ideas I’d love to explored further. More later in the summer inshallah!

Thank you to Nathan Field (twitter @nathanrfield1) for this article on his impressive Arabic learning blog. He writes from the perspective of someone who has studied Arabic formally and now works in the Middle East speaking Arabic regularly. You can subscribe to his blog by email or follow him on Twitter @nathanrfield1

Related links

Please add any comments below if you have any top tips for improving your speaking skills in Arabic, whatever the dialect.



Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

All about Arabic – celebrating World Arabic Day

It’s 18 December and it’s World Arabic Day! To celebrate, here’s a 4 minute video packed full of great phrases and handy facts about our favourite language. You can turn on subtitles in English, although they’re a bit dodgy and don’t always make sense. See what you can understand without them 🙂

 .اليوم هو18 كانون الأول / ديسمبر وهو اليوم العالمي للغة العربية


More great resources if you’d like to know more about Arabic:

Arabic: more accessible than you think – my piece about Arabic on the British Council blog

Arabic resources on the BBC languages website including 10 Arabic language facts

Learn Arabic on Twitter

* Introduction to Arabic on Omniglot

Posted in About Arabic, Beginners, International events & special occasions | Tagged | Leave a comment

Top 10 Free Levantine Arabic Resources (and a few more besides…)

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, SabahNancy 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 blogLoads 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

Posted in About Arabic, Beginners, Book reviews, Colloquial Arabic, Film, Grammar, Listening, Music | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Places you should visit in Jordan

This is from the brilliant Aamiya Arabiya series on YouTube – short videos which provide a nice intro to Jordanian and Lebanese colloquial Arabic

  1. What is the plural of the word مكان (place)?
  2. What is  البحر الميت?
  3. Fill in the gap with one of the comparative adjectives below:

هو … نقطة في العالم

أكثر ملوحة – saltiest أعمق – deepest
أخفض – lowest أجفّ – driest

4. What is المدرّج الروماني?

5. She says it’s أي شاء كتير أثري. What does she mean?

6. What is Hashim’s?

7. What 2 other places should you visit? (they’re not restaurants!)

Posted in Colloquial Arabic, Listening | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Jordanian clip from Aamiya Arabiya

Thank you Summer over at Foreign Language Arabic blog for highlighting this wonderful series of colloquial Jordanian clips on YouTube. It’s called Aamiya Arabiya and it features young Jordanians talking about everyday subjects such as going to the cinema, using social media, their daily routine, their family, favourite foods etc. I’ve been teaching with a few of them and over the next few days/weeks I’ll be posting some of the resources I’ve made to go with them.

This is Hiba talking on the phone with a friend. I think she’s talking to someone Egyptian because at the beginning she uses the Egyptian phrase for ‘today’ = نهار دا؟ (literally, ‘daytime this’). Later on she uses  اليوم.  There are a couple of exercises below.

  1. Here are some of the phrases she uses but listed here alphabetically. Print them out and chop them up, then rearrange into the order of appearance in the conversation.

  الحمد لله منيحة

أوكي ماشي

باي بع سلالمة

تجي ع بيتي نتغدّى مع بعض ونتعشّى مع بعض

تجي عندي

ما بأقدر أطلع هلا

ما بيضبط اليوم

ما راح يضبط

ممكن بكرة او بعد بكرة

نهار دا؟

ولا سوري انا كتير مشغولة

يلله بأحكي معك بعدين أوكي؟

يمكن بكرة او يوم السبت انا فاضية الساعة ستة

  1. How would you say…?

Come to mine and we’ll have lunch together

I can’t go out now

I’m very busy

I’m free at six o’clock

It’s not going to work today

Posted in Colloquial Arabic, Listening | Tagged | 3 Comments

Nancy Ajram – Shatir Shatir

This kids’ song by Lebanese pop singer Nancy Ajram is great for learning with your little ones but is also perfect for adult beginner learners of colloquial Levantine Arabic, as it’s full of useful everyday verbs. Shatir is what you’d say to a child to mean ‘well done’ or ‘clever girl’ or ‘nice job’ etc. Literally it means ‘clever’ or ‘smart’.

We hear the same structure repeated throughout, using present tense verbs and the relative pronoun ‘yalli’ = he who. This word ‘yalli’ can also be pronounced ‘illi’ and in fusha it is iladhi الذي. Note the silent ق . I’ve broken up the lines to make them easier to follow against the English but actually they flow together more as you will hear.

PS. Only realised after posting this that it’s Lebanese Independence Day today. مبروك يا لبنان!

يالى بيسمع كلمة اهله

شو بنقله

شاطر شاطر

He who listens to his parents –

what do we call him?

(shatir shatir)

يالى بيقعد عاقل وحده

شو بنقله

شاطر شاطر

He who sits thinking by himself –

what do we call him?

(shatir shatir)

يالى بينجح بمدرسته

وما بيزعل معلمته


وبنظل نقله شاطر

شاطر شاطر

He who succeeds in his school

and never annoys his teacher

we love him

and give  him the nickname shatir

(shatir shatir)

يالى بيساعد رفقاته

شو بنقله

شاطر شاطر

he who helps his friends

what do we call him?

(shatir shatir)

يالى ما بيكذب بحياته

شو بنقله

شاطر شاطر

he who never tells a lie in his life

what do we call him?

(shatir shatir)

يالى ما بيكسر العابه

شو بنقله

شاطر شاطر

he who doesn’t break his toys

what do we call him?

(shatir shatir)

وبياكل ما بيجوى ثيابه

شو بنقله

شاطر شاطر

he who eats without making his clothes dirty

what do we call him?

(shatir shatir)

انت شاطر

انا شاطر

I’m a clever girl

you’re a clever boy

Full song here but just a few cheesy photos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_yAuBqFzmQ

Just first couple of verses but has the video too: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTEiEuffrnk


So, how would you say…

  1. he listens to his parents/his family (this word ‘ahl’ = the same word as in ‘ahlan’ = hello)
  2. he breaks his toys
  3. he who/ the one who annoys his teacher
  4. he lies to his family/parents (use li for ‘to’)
  5. the one who gets his clothes dirty
  6. the one who helps his teacher
  7. he eats by himself
  8. he sits with his friends

For more Lebanese music (grown-up pop too!), check out the brilliant blog Arabic Music Translation and also this fantastic mix tape of Lebanese folk and pop classics produced as part of the Noor Festival of Arabic culture in London, Nov 2014.

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