As a follow-up to our blog post “Everything You Need to Know About Levantine Arabic” (which you should definitely read!), we’ve created a complete guide to help you learn and master the Levantine Arabic dialect. Whether you’re learning for pleasure, or for work this article will guide you through the process of learning Levantine Arabic, and some of the principles here will apply to any foreign language as well!
The “Levantine Dialect”
As if learning Arabic wasn’t already hard enough, you’ll want to be mindful of the regional dialect you wish to learn. While the differences between Palestinian Arabic and Lebanese Arabic (both Levantine accents) isn’t as large as Levantine Arabic and Saudi Arabic, there will be some textbooks that specifically focus on one accent over others.
North Levantine (Syrian, and Lebanese Arabic) are the more popular accents, than South Levantine (Jordanian and Palestinian Arabic).
Choosing Levantine Arabic vs. Modern Standard Arabic
If you’re just starting out with learning Arabic, and you’re contemplating whether to learn Levantine Arabic or FusHa here is a simple flow chart you can use as a guide:
- If you want to speak with people immediately, learn Levantine Arabic
- If you want to listen to music in Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese, etc., learn Levantine Arabic
- If you want to watch movies, learn Levantine Arabic
- If you want to read books and explore Arabic literature, learn FusHa
- If you want to listen to the news and radio, learn FusHa
- If you want to learn the basics of Arabic and then move to a dialect, learn FusHa
So the interesting thing when it comes to choosing between MSA (FusHa) and Levantine Arabic is that they are both used in the media, depending on the formality. For instance, a casual radio show or podcast will likely have speakers speaking their regional dialect. Meanwhile, news stations and some TV shows will likely have content in MSA.
So now the question is, do you want to immerse yourself in the day-to-day lifestyle or overall Arabic culture?
If You Choose Levantine Arabic, Don’t Worry About the Alphabet
If you choose Levantine Arabic, don’t worry too much about the alphabet, assuming you haven’t dabbled with the alphabet already. This is because one, you won’t be doing much writing or reading, and two, native speakers use English when texting and making quick notes in their dialect.
- 7 is used for ح (H sound, like when you produce fog on a window)
- 5 is used for خ (kh sound like in Bach, softer in North Levantine)
- 3 is used for ع (‘ayn, which sounds like you’re swallowing the “ayn” sound in “mine”)
- 3′ is used for غ (ghayn, which has a gh sound like when you’re gargling)
Some people also use the 9 to represent the ص (s sound) and 3′
Example: Bte7kee 3rabeeye would be بتحكي عرَبيّ (I speak Arabic)
For More Experienced Language Learners, Try Learning Both!
If you’re more of a polyglot or language enthusiast then you might want to take up the challenge of learning MSA and Levantine Arabic. You’ll get a feel for how native Arabic speakers acquire both variants.
That being said, the way children acquire langue is different than how most adults will learn. There are benefits and disadvantages to being young and old.
If you plan to study Arabic (both a dialect and MSA) for 30 minutes a day, I would experiment with learning Levantine Arabic for 15-20 minutes, and MSA for 10-15 minutes. MSA would be a little less, simply because you’re reading this article to learn the Levantine dialect not the standard version.
Listen to different podcasts, and label your house with post-its to fully immerse yourself in the language.
Choosing Levantine Arabic vs. Other Dialects
You didn’t come to learn Yemeni Arabic, or Egyptian Arabic, but keep in mind that Levantine Arabic isn’t the most popular dialect out there. If your aim is to speak with a wide variety of people, you’re best bet is to learn Egyptian Arabic. Egyptian Arabic has roughly 55 million speakers while Levantine Arabic has around 30 million. This is still a good amount, but just keep in mind that you won’t be hitting the same variety of people.
This is one of the reasons why we’re creating content on Levantine Arabic, since it isn’t the most popular dialect!
Setting up the Right Study Plan
In one of our articles “How to Learn and Speak Yiddish“we talked about the importance of setting up a study plan and routine. When it comes to learning Levantine Arabic, the importance is still the same. You need to have a clear and defined process to acquire your target language.
When it comes to learning a language, you want to hit the big three: auditory, visual, and verbal exposure. In fact, if you study 30 minutes a day, you can hit all three in one session by breaking them into chunks of 10 minutes.
It really doesn’t matter which you start with, but I always like to start with some audio. You can look up Eastern / Levantine Arabic recordings, dialogues and or conversations into Google and you’ll get tons of great results! Here is a good video to get you started: https://youtu.be/ppmMqvZ77Zs
Also try listening to music in Levantine Arabic. Labense and or Syrian music is always bussin’!
For the first week or two I would focus only on listening and pay close attention to rhythm of the language and the tone being used. Mindfulness while listening will go a LONG way!
The next important step is visual exposure. Ironically this isn’t super important since reading and writing aren’t popular in Arabic dialects, but it’s still a good practice to write words down whether in the Arabic or Latin scripts. For this, you will want to utilize spaced repetition. You’ll be able to space out word that you are familiar and comfortable with, and focus on the ones you struggle with the most.
Remember to always WRITE DOWN the word, don’t just type it on your computer. Studies have shown how writing down on a piece of paper the item you are trying to remember will be more effective than typing it out!!
The next step is to get verbal exposure, or practice speaking the actual language. You may opt to do this upfront and just dive straight into the conversation practice. For this you can find great teachers on iTalki for around $4-$9/hour many of whom are very friendly and supportive!
You can also practice reciting words in the shower or while driving!
The Best Resources to Learn Levantine Arabic
If you’re serious about learning Levantine Arabic, you’re going to want to grab a few resources that are designed to help people acquire the language. I’ll make a large list of resources in the future, but for now here are some of the best resources I could find for learning Levantine Arabic (some of which I used personally when dabbling with the language).
- Colloquial Levantine Arabic
- Pimsleur’s Eastern Arabic (Phase 1)
- Memrise Eastern Arabic
- Listening to Eastern Arabic
- Learn Levantine Arabic YouTube Channel