I’m a big fan of flashcards as most of my students will know. I learnt my first two foreign languages slowly, writing endless lists of words which I never looked at again and therefore took forever to learn. With Arabic, I initially studied the language on an extremely intensive course where we had a vocab test on 50 new words a week. I would never have been able to take all that in without a very structured system of flashcards.
The best way for beginners, when you’re getting used to writing and reading Arabic as well as learning isolated words, is to chop up pieces of card and make your own. To start with you could have the English on one side and both the Arabic and the transliteration on the other. I would start testing only Arabic>English first, and then later on start testing yourself English>Arabic, which is harder. I recommend a system using envelopes: all words start in envelope 1, and when you can remember the meaning of the Arabic word, move it on to envelope 2. Then you might test yourself on English>Arabic, and if you still remember it, move it on to envelope 3, etc. After an intensive 15-month course of Arabic I had a huge box full of about 30 envelopes, and I knew a LOT of words!
If you find this too fiddly or a waste of paper, then you might prefer online flashcards or apps which you can use when you’re out and about on your smartphone. The best flashcard software uses a system called spaced repeition, where you test yourself more on the new words, and as they get more familiar you don’t need to view them quite so often. You can do this too with the envelope system above – test yourself on envelope 1 every day, but envelope 2 every other day and envelope 3 once a week, for example.
Here’s a few places to find ready-made Arabic vocab flashcards:
* Byki – 124 sets of Arabic cards so far, and best of all these cards include AUDIO! Lots of topic-based sets and some for al-Kitaab. This site is used by the Centre for the Advanced Study of the Arab World (CASAW)
* Iflipr – this is my favourite for its simplicity and was my initial excuse for getting an iphone! There’s a web version too and it’s very easy to upload your own lists from Excel. So far I’ve added GCSE vocab under various topics and others have added vocab for al-Kitab, Eastern Arabic, Rosetta Stone, 1st 1000 Words in Arabic…
* Flashcard Machine – absolutely masses of Arabic flashcards especially for al-Kitaab
* Quizlet – so far people have uploaded vocab from Alif Baa and al-Kitab
* Superflashcard – recommended by Deena; it has vocab sets for al-Kitaab and Madinah (I don’t know this textbook – yet!); sets are clearly structured unlike some of the above
* Anki – software to download, not sure how much Arabic is available so far
Please comment if you would like to recommend any other websites or downloadable programmes/apps which you use for learning vocabulary. I’d particularly like to know of any which include audio.