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

On the anniversary of the Balfour Declaration

The Balfour Declaration was a letter written in 2017 by British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to Walter Rothschild, a prominent member of the British Jewish community. The letter, dated 2 November 2017, declared UK government support for Palestine to become “a national home of the Jewish people”.

In the run-up to the 100th anniversary of the ‘declaration’, there is mounting pressure on the UK government to make a formal apology to the Palestinian people, for the failure to ensure “that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” as Balfour put it in his letter.

Further reading…

In Arabic

In English

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The Lord’s Prayer in Arabic 

I’ve been asked to help a student of Arabic who is preparing for a visit to a church community in the Middle East. She wants to learn to follow the Lord’s prayer in Arabic. So I thought I’d share my notes for her here too.

This is the clearest reading I’ve found on YouTube, with fully voweled Arabic subtitles. What I have copied below is without the vowels. I’ve broken some of the lines up to make it clearer which bits match the English version.

أبانا الذي في السماوات.

Our Father who art in heaven 

ليتقدس اسمك

Hallowed be Thy name 

ليأت ملكوتك.

Thy kingdom come

لتكن مشيئتك

Thy will be done

كما في السماء كذلك على الأرض.

On earth as it is in heaven (Ar: in heaven as it is on earth)

خبزنا الذي للغد أعطنا اليوم.

Give us this day our daily bread

وأغفر لنا ذنوبنا

And forgive us our trespasses 

 كما نغفر نحن أيضا للمذنبين إلينا.

As we forgive those who trespass against us

ولا تدخلنا في تجربة.

And lead us not into temptation 

 لكن نجنا من الشرير.

But deliver us from evil 

بالمسيح يسوع ربنا 

In Jesus Christ our Lord 

لأن لك الملك والقوة والمجد

For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory

 إلى الأبد.

For ever and ever




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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.



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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