BBC Talk Arabic (book review)

This course is excellent for speaking and listening, and, as the whole book is in transliteration (ie. in Roman alphabet, not in Arabic script), it’s handy for a traveller to the Arabic world who hasn’t got time to learn the script. It focuses on the Arabic of the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, Palestine/Israel, Jordan), but you would probably get by in Egypt and the Gulf if you have done this course. Even in North Africa it’s better than no Arabic at all.

The topics covered include: greetings, introducing yourself and giving personal details, saying where you’re from, giving your phone number, introducing friends and family, talking about jobs, ordering food and drinks at a cafe and restaurant, asking directions, shopping at a market, checking into a hotel, buying tickets for public transport.

I have taught colloquial Arabic with this book and have recommended it to students to supplement their study of Standard Arabic. We’ve always found it very well laid out and easy to use: all the vocabulary is built up gradually through the chapters, and you are given the words you’ll need at the start of each page for the next 3 or 4 listening exercises. It is mainly about listening, but it is easy to build into role play and communication exercises in class for students to practice using the phrases in spoken activities.

Every chapter has one page focusing on the alphabet and the patterns that lay behind how words are formed in Arabic, but if you’re more interested in learning to read and write than in learning to speak, then Mastering Arabic or Alif Baa is more suitable for you.
This course is by very experienced and inspiring Arabic teacher Jonathan Featherstone, CASAW instructor of Arabic at the University of Edinburgh, and is published as part of the excellent BBC Active languages series. You can buy the book & CD set from Foyles / Amazon / Waterstones or your local bookshop.

About Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

Literary translator from Arabic, German and Russian into English
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