Arabic: more accessible than you think

Here’s the link to an article I recently wrote for the British Council blog series about world languages: Arabic – more accessible than you think. Enjoy and please do leave a comment. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts!

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

Untranslatable idiomatic expressions

I’m preparing to teach an intensive colloquial Arabic course starting in November, so you may hear more from me again in the coming weeks as I delve back into my teaching archives and shake off old worksheets that I haven’t touched for almost 18 months. Looking forward to getting back into it.

Particularly excited that my student wants to focus on Levantine dialect, with a concrete goal of wanting to be functionally conversational after two months. We’ll see what happens! It’s very hard to know precisely what kind of level a course like this will result in as so much depends on the student’s previous experience of learning a language and their motivation, but I have high hopes and know I’m going to be pushed to the test.

I’m going to be teaching mainly with the wonderful spoken Levantine course BBC Talk Arabic, but with a range of other authentic audio sources such as the films Caramel and West Beirut. It’s a delight to note down some of the lovely idiomatic expressions that come up in just the first 5 minutes of Caramel, especially the first one, na’eeman (نعيماً). I remember this coming up so early on in my first ever Arabic course and being astonished at what a bizarre thing it was to say. Literally it means “ooh, smooth!” and you say it when a friend has just had a shave at the barber’s or a haircut. I needed to check that I really did understand it, and found a great blog post on Baraka Bits about untranslatable Arabic expressions and another one in Thaqafa Magazine. I really recommend both of these lists of fascinating Arabic idioms!

What are your favourite intrinsically Arabic phrases?

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Nour Festival of Arts, London

This year’s Nour Festival has already kicked off in Kensington, West London, but there are loads of wonderful Middle Eastern events going on until 30 November. Highlights for me would be Syria Speaks and Souad Massi, a fabulous Algerian singer I’ve seen a few times and absolutely adore. Events are hosted at a wonderful mix of venues including several cinemas and theatres, The Mosaic Room,  the Science Museum, the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Royal Albert Hall.

See the full programme here. Enjoy if you are in London and manage to go along! Please do post links below if you write any reviews or blog posts about the events!

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Arabic films this month

Lots of opportunities to see Arabic cinema in the UK in September.

Screening at Encounters Short Film Festival

Date: Sunday 21st September, 2014 
Time: 3:00 pm
Venue: Watershed, Bristol

Our Souls Are Palestinian is a programme of short artists film works which look at Palestine from various perspectives, external, embedded and provocative. The two films which anchor this programme are ‘They Do Not Exist’ by Mustafa Abu Ali  (1974) and ‘Future Archaeology’ (2009/10) by Armin Linke & Francesco Mattuzzi (part of the project Decolonizing Architecture).

More info on Bristol Palestine film festival website

Safar Film Festival

Date: Friday 19 September and Thursday 25 September 2014; vintage film exhibition from Tuesday 2 September until Sunday 5 October 2014.
Venue: ICA, London

The only festival in the UK solely focused on programming popular Arab cinema, Safar includes UK premieres alongside classics of the Arab silver screen. These will be accompanied by Q&As, special introductions and a day-long forum which will bring together some of the most significant figures in Arab cinema. Safar has expanded its scope this year to include an exhibition of vintage Arab movie posters, memorabilia and contemporary art inspired by film, all shown in the UK for the first time.

View the full programme here

And coming up in Nov and Dec…

Bristol Palestine Film Festival, 2014

Date: Friday 28th November – Tuesday 16th December, 2014

The dates, programme and details of Bristol Palestine Film Festival will be announced by the end of September. We anticipate the event running from 28 Nov – 16 December, with the two main weekends being 28-30 Nov and 5-7 Dec. Follow us on FaceBook or sign up toour newsletter to stay up to date.

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Learn Arabic on Twitter

twitter arabicGreat twitter accounts to follow if you’re learning Arabic. In no particular order…


Good News from the Middle East |

أخبار سارّة من الشرق الأوسط


Rotating account with tweets by a different Arabic learner/teacher each week. Run by the people behind the website

@4ArabChildren المفكرون الصغار / Little Thinking Minds

Producers of high quality Arabic educational audio-visual products from DVDs, CDs to Apps for children to inspire a love for the language


Arabic Language Training For Professional and Apsiring Linguists. Excellent resources focussing on news and current affairs vocabulary by using current media articles.


Tweeting about creativity from the arabic speaking world. Visit the blog for more info. Created by designer & arabic language learner Susan Carey.


A continually updated list of free Arabic learning resources for adults and children. Twitter feed by a provider of Arabic classes in Southampton, UK.

twitter arabic 2@arabiclanguage

Official Twitter account for the Transparent Language Arabic blog. Learn the language with free resources, social media, and research-based software.


EU-funded online course of Arabic for students, pupils and businesspeople.


They say: “The best place to learn Arabic in a way you can use it in everyday conversation, writing and reading.”


The Story of an Expat who learns/shares Arabic via tweets | Blog: |


Christopher Neil is an Arabic linguist, global citizen, and supporter of liberties and human rights, and blogs at

arabic twitter 3

Don’t forget you can change the language on twitter to Arabic on the account settings menu, so that you can read Arabic every time you log on. Don’t forget how you did it in case you need to change it back again!

Which other twitter accounts would you recommend for Arabic learners? Let me know!

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Thanks to all our followers

A huge thank you to everyone who’s followed the blog and contacted me about it over the past year… And a huge apology for letting it languish all this time!

imageIt’s been a busy time as I’ve been off on maternity leave with my second son, who has of course had a thorough introduction to the sight and sounds of Arabic with baby board books and classic Levantine nursery rhymes.

imageI’ve been back at translation work over the summer as my husband took some paternity leave to help out as I started translating my first Arabic novel commission: The Bride of Amman by Jordanian author, blogger and civil rights activist Fadi Zaghmout. It’s a fascinating, controversial and very moving story of 5 young Ammanis, whose lives and fates, and love lives, intersect in surprising ways. It was a bestseller in Jordan and I hope you’ll enjoy reading it when it’s out in English in 2015.

Before I started work on that, I squeezed a couple of other Arabic projects into my ‘keeping in touch’ days:


Children’s songs from around the world in nine languages!









I had my first ever experience in a recording studio with my Babel Babies colleagues, recording our first multilingual CD of children’s songs from around the world. Get a copy to hear our rendition of Incy Wincy Spider in Arabic!

wpid-birka-228x228.gifI edited a fantastic new Arabic textbook for complete beginners: Al Birka introduction to Arabic letters and sounds, from the brilliant Spanish publisher Albujayra. They produce really beautiful, colourful and engaging Arabic textbooks so I hope this will be just the first of many to make the transition into English.

So all this is just by way of an apology for my silence for so long! In future my posts will be less frequent than before as publishing work (translation and editing) has definitely taken over and I spend less time teaching these days.

If you’re a teacher of Arabic and are interested in helping produce resources for this blog, please do get in touch!

Thanks as always for reading,


Posted in Arabic in primary schools, Beginners, For kids, Listening, Literature/poetry/fiction, Music, Teaching resources | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nour Festival of Arts, London, Oct – Nov 2013

There’s a great line-up of Arab and Middle Eastern cultural events at the Nour Festival this year, including some fascinating talks, exhibitions, gigs, dance performances, films and workshops. Plus, for the foodies: cuisine from Iraq and Qatar, and a chance to sample the cooking of Sami Tamimi, co-author of the Jerusalem cookbook with Yotam Ottolenghi.  See the Nour Festival website and links below for more details.




Posted in Film, Literature/poetry/fiction, Music, Performing arts, UK events | Tagged , , | Leave a comment