Category Archives: Books for Arabic Learners

Top 10 Must-Have Books for Arabic Learners!

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1. The Hans Wehr Dictionary

Hans Wehr Arabic Dictionary

Arabic-English Dictionary: The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic (paid link) by Hans Wehr, J. Milton Cowan (Snowball Publishing, 2011)

No Arabic learner’s library would be complete without a copy of Hans Wehr. This trusty dictionary is a culmination of many years of dedication and attention to detail. There are certainly other Arabic-English dictionaries out there, such as the Merriam-Webster’s Arabic-English Dictionary (paid link), but none quite as detailed or exhaustive as the Hans Wehr dictionary, making it an ideal dictionary for academic work.

Beginners of Arabic may find navigating the dictionary a little tricky, since the words are given in alphabetical order by root, not by whole word. As you progress in your Arabic learning, however, you quickly start to see the advantages of having the words grouped by root, since the root letters form the basis of most words in Arabic and largely follow set patterns for different types of words.

2. A Frequency Dictionary of Arabic

Frequency Dictionary of Arabic

A Frequency Dictionary of Arabic: Core Vocabulary for Learners (paid link) by Tim Buckwalter, Dilworth Parkinson (Routledge, 2010)

Click here to read a more detailed post focusing on this book, in which I describe this amazing resource. This book answers the very important question: “Which Arabic words should you learn?” by providing the top 5,000 most common words, in order of frequency!

3. 501 Arabic Verbs

501 Arabic Verbs

501 Arabic Verbs: Fully Conjugated in All Forms (paid link) by Raymond Scheindlin (Barron’s Educational Series, 2007)

Picturing the structure of Arabic as a whole can be very difficult due to its complexity, but this book goes a long way in presenting the most important foundation of Arabic – its verbs. This book covers all of the major verb types found in Arabic, from both regular and irregular verbs, and provides an instant insight into the recurring patterns found in the conjugations of the verbs. It also includes between two to six example sentences for each of the verbs given.

The book does require that you be familiar with the various grammatical terms associated with the verbs and their uses, such as the difference between the perfect and imperfect, the active and passive, the subjunctive, jussive, and imperative. Also, it does not include transliteration for those that are still learning to read the Arabic script. So although it may not be immediately accessible to newcomers of Arabic, it is well worth using in conjunction with a textbook, and is certainly a great resource as you progress in Arabic.

4. Arabic: An Essential Grammar

Arabic An Essential Grammar

Arabic: An Essential Grammar (paid link) by Faruk Abu-Chacra (Routledge, 2007)

To me, the real attraction of this book is its clarity and ease-of-use. It covers all major parts of the Arabic language, including an in-depth section devoted to the script – its form, pronunciation, and rules. It also includes its own reading and translation exercises for the reader to reinforce their understanding of the grammar covered in each chapter.

It may not be as detailed in its analysis of Arabic as you may find in books such as Modern Arabic: Structures, Functions, and Varieties (paid link) by Clive Holes, but it will certainly take you to a sufficiently advanced level of grammar. It also makes use of transliteration alongside the Arabic, for those still learning to read the script.

Arabic: An Essential Grammar is available for purchase on Amazon. I would recommend this book mainly as a supporting resource, used alongside a core language textbook, such as “Complete Arabic” or  “Al-Kitaab” (see below). (paid links)

5. The “Al-Kitaab” Series

Al Kitaab Part One

Al-Kitaab fii Ta’allum al-‘Arabiyya Part One: A Textbook for Beginning Arabic: Third Edition (paid link) by Kristen Brustad, Mahmoud Al-Batal, Abbas Al-Tonsi (Georgetown University Press, 2011)

This two-part textbook series, with a separate introductory book for learning the script, called Alif Baa: Introduction to Arabic Letters and Sounds  (paid link) is simply referred to by most as “Al-Kitaab”, and forms the core syllabus for many Arabic language courses taught around the world, including at Durham University, England, where I first studied Arabic.

Despite the prominence of negative reviews surrounding this book series, it will always remain close to my heart. Even those frustrated with the structure of “Al-Kitaab” cannot help being filled with nostalgia as they remember their first steps in Arabic, made with the beloved “Al-Kitaab” characters, Maha and Khaled.

Students who were used to using the black and white second edition will be impressed by this color version, which includes grammar and vocabulary from the Egyptian and Levantine dialects set out very clearly, as well as a new integration with online resources.

6. Using Arabic Synonyms

Using Arabic Synonyms

Using Arabic Synonyms (paid link) by Dilworth Parkinson (Cambridge University Press, 2005)

From the same author ofA Frequency Dictionary of Arabic: Core Vocabulary for Learners (paid link) comes another tremendously useful resource; Using Arabic Synonyms.

With so many synonyms in Arabic, it can be quite a challenge sometimes to choose the most appropriate word for the context – something which comes naturally to a native Arabic speaker. This book, however, helps Arabic learners get one step closer to the level of a native Arabic speaker by providing key information on synonyms in Arabic.

It provides information on the frequency of each synonym, so you know which is more commonly used. It indicates their use in both MSA (Modern Standard Arabic) and in the dialects, and also demonstrates each synonym in context, providing a lengthy paragraph of Arabic for each synonym. Unfortunately, the example paragraphs given to demonstrate the use of each synonym in context are given only in Arabic and not translated. So the book assumes an advanced knowledge of Arabic vocabulary. This book is ideal, however, for those who are already very advanced in Arabic but wish to push their Arabic to the next level.

7. Media Arabic

Media Arabic An Essential Vocabulary

Media Arabic: An Essential Vocabulary (paid link) by Elisabeth Kendall (Edinburgh University Press, 2007)

This book is the perfect companion for deciphering Arabic newspapers and other media. It lists the most common words and phrases used in the media, making it a great translation resource.

When used alongside A Frequency Dictionary of Arabic: Core Vocabulary for Learners (paid link) these two books combined can give your Arabic vocabulary learning tremendous focus, so that you are learning only the most relevant and useful words for understanding real-life Arabic. 

8. Complete Arabic

Complete Arabic Teach Yourself Arabic

Complete Arabic (Teach Yourself Complete Courses) (paid link) by Jack Smart, Frances Altorfer (Teach Yourself, 2015)

For those seeking a friendly and approachable Arabic course book, which is not as intimidating as others, this book is ideal. Taking you right from the start of the language, Complete Arabic introduces new concepts and vocabulary step by step at a comfortable pace. The book also incorporates MP3 audio support (available separately).

The book’s black and white format and illustrations do feel a little dated, but the course content is of a high quality, and includes clear text in both Arabic script and transliteration for those still learning to read the script. It also contains varying types of practice exercises throughout the book to reinforce the material covered, as well as useful verb tables and a dictionary at the back of the book.

9. Modern Arabic Short Stories

Modern Arabic Short Stories A Bilingual Reader

Modern Arabic Short Stories: A Bilingual Reader (paid link) by Ronak Husni, Daniel L. Newman (SAQI, 2008)

This book is particularly close to my heart because the author, Daniel L. Newman, was actually one of my Arabic professors at Durham University, and it was an honor to be taught by him.

A big highlight of this book is that the Arabic text is printed opposite the English translation, so you can easily compare the original Arabic with its translation as you read through each story. There are also detailed language notes at the end of each story, explaining the translation of specific parts and giving the meaning of individual words in the text.

Naturally this book is geared more toward advanced Arabic learners, who can handle translating whole paragraphs of literature. That being said, even a beginner can appreciate the literature in translation, and can also start to develop a sense of how the Arabic language is structured and what kind of vocabulary is used in literature.

10. Arabic-English Visual Dictionary

Arabic English Bilingual Visual Dictionary

Arabic-English Bilingual Visual Dictionary (paid link) by Simon Tuite (Senior Editor), Samir Salih, (DK, 2015)

This fully packed, pocket-sized visual dictionary makes an excellent addition to any Arabic learner’s library. Full-color, in high-quality glossy print, this dictionary successfully brings Arabic vocabulary alive and engages the visual sense, adding a lively dimension to vocabulary learning.

Clearly labelled alongside illustrations and grouped by category, the Arabic terms and their English meanings also come with transliteration to help with pronunciation. This book is definitely a handy resource for when you are out and about using Arabic with locals in an Arabic speaking country. At the very least you can always find what you are trying to say and point at the picture!




Arabic Learners’ Most Important Question Answered!

Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

Exactly which Arabic words should you learn? Learning a language, especially one as broad and complex as Arabic, is no small commitment. Mastering Arabic, or even just achieving a working knowledge of the language, demands a great deal of time and effort. So it makes sense that you would want to make your learning time as efficient as possible. This can only be achieved if you know with confidence what it is that you should be learning.

Thankfully, there is a book that tells you exactly which words are the most useful to know in Arabic; it is called “A Frequency Dictionary of Arabic: Core Vocabulary for Learners” (paid link) by Tim Buckwalter and Dilworth Parkinson.

Frequency Dictionary of Arabic

Unlike other dictionaries, this book lists the vocabulary in order of frequency.

The dictionary covers the 5,000 most frequently used words in Arabic. It also contains thematically organized lists of the top words from a variety of key topics such as weather, sports, clothing, and family terms.

Something that I have found most useful about this book is that it also includes an index of different parts of speech. So, for example, if I wanted to know what the most common verbs in Arabic were, I can refer to the book’s list of the most common verbs, given in order of frequency. It also lists in order of frequency the most common conjunctions, interrogatives, numbers, prepositions, pronouns, adjectives, adverbs and nouns. For those that wish to use the book more as a conventional dictionary, it also includes a section that lists the words in alphabetical order.

The book focuses primarily on MSA (Modern Standard Arabic), but also includes words from several of the most widely spoken Arabic dialects, and where relevant are indicated in the word entries.

The book’s preface successfully highlights its usefulness when it states:

“Nation (1990) showed that the 4000 – 5,000 most frequent words account for up to 95 percent of a written text and the 1,000 most frequent words account for 85 percent of speech.”

Nigel of Arabia with Arabic Dictionary

I highly recommend this book and consider it an essential part of any Arabic learner’s book collection. A Frequency Dictionary of Arabic: Core Vocabulary for Learners (paid link) is available in paperback, hardback, and in Kindle form on Amazon.