I’ll never forget the first day I walked into Masjid Tawheed wa Sunnah in Durham, NC. My family had recently moved there and we were just meeting the community for the first time.
Two women were standing around speaking Arabic. Ever so casually, they were having a simple conversation about their day. One of them turned to her daughter and asked her in Arabic, “What did you do today?” The daughter replied, “I read the Quran,” but she misplaced a vowel, changing the meaning of the sentence. The mother laughed and repeated the sentence back to her correctly.
What shocked me was that these were American women speaking Arabic. Not the children of Arab immigrants, just regular old America southerners. And they were speaking Arabic. Comfortably and casually speaking Arabic.
It was at that point that something clicked in my head and I finally thought to myself, “I can speak Arabic. My family can speak Arabic.”
I’d love to say that from that moment on, I was consistent in my Arabic studies. I was not, but I have been able to cultivate a home where my kids find Arabic normal and enjoyable. We speak Arabic. Comfortably, casually, and imperfectly, but we do speak Arabic.
Here’s a system that I’ve come up with to help other moms cultivate an Arabic speaking home. This system makes learning Arabic feel less stressful and more rewarding. It imitates the natural way of learning language.
The natural way to learn a language is to listen, then imitate, then speak, then understand, then read and write, then learn grammar. Most systems actually reverse this order, which is one reason why so many people find learning Arabic so hard.
Let’s get into it.
Step 1: Listening and Imitating
The first step to getting Arabic to be a normal part of your family’s life is to make it a normal part of your family’s life.
Arabic is a language of patterns. Once you learn the patterns, studying Arabic becomes much easier. You can start to become familiar with the patterns by simply listening to Arabic as much as you can and then repeating what you’ve heard.
Here are some ideas for places to find things to listen to. Note: You should view all online resources before allowing your children to view them.
Ages 0-5: Find Arabic language channels on YouTube. Type the name of the subject followed by the words “in Arabic” for example, “colors in Arabic.”
Focus on channels that are all Arabic. Stop the videos often and repeat the words. Repeat everything including any directions or descriptions that the characters give. This will get your children into the habit of repeating Arabic when they hear it. It will also help you become accustomed to the sounds and patterns of Arabic.
Ages 5-10: In addition to videos, add in read-aloud books as much as you can. Asafeer.com has a large library of read-aloud books. Just click any of the books. Try to play each page a few times and repeat after it. If the book has questions and answers, try to answer the questions before you turn the page.
Ages 10 - Adult: Add in Arabic lectures with English translations. Start with topics that you already have studied in English. If your family has read any books of seerah, find an Arabic/English lecture on seerah and listen to each section a few times.
AbdurRahman.org and Muwahideen Publications both have lots of audios that you can use to start listening to more Arabic. Stop to repeat any hadith or other short phrases. Listen for the meanings in English.
Step 2: Speaking and Understanding
As you listen, try to bring more Arabic into your daily life. Start with trying to learn items around the house. If you already know how to read and write, go ahead and make flashcards for the items and leave them around the house.
The goal at this stage is to rewire your brain (and your children’s brains) to accept the Arabic words as equal to English words. This will help you to understand Arabic more easily.
One fun way to do this is to take one room in the house per week. Find a video about that room. Repeat and memorize all of the vocabulary related to that room. Spend the week talking about items in that room only in Arabic.
Once you’ve finished with the rooms in your house, add in the park, the store, or other areas of your life. Start with things and then add in actions and descriptions.
You’ll find that you and your kids will be able to speak Arabic for much of the day after only a few months. Don’t worry about the speed, consistency is key in all of these steps.
Step 3 Learning to Read and Write
You may find Steps 1 and 2 extremely difficult. As adults, it’s often difficult for us to give up our inhibitions and freely imitate and make mistakes. But that’s how children naturally learn languages.
If you find that you aren’t picking up any words or phrases just through listening, reading and writing can help to accelerate your Arabic learning. If you have young kids, you should still focus on teaching them through listening, repeating, and speaking as much as possible.
This step is all about adding an additional way of learning into the mix.
There are tons of online resources for learning to read and write in Arabic. If you’re a complete beginner, give yourself time to learn. Don’t overthink this step. Find a simple and straightforward workbook for reading that starts with letters and builds up to words. The Qaidah al-Nooriniyyah is an excellent classic that you can find read aloud online.
For writing, do the same, find a simple, straightforward workbook that will allow you to start with practicing letter writing and works up to writing words.
For kids, you may want to add a bit more fun to the mix, but I still encourage finding a book that is systematic. You can use Arabic letter toys and games to help keep your kids interested. For pre-writers, Arabic stamps or other tools can be a great way to practice putting words together on paper.
Step 4: Adding Vocabulary and Grammar
Grammar is just a way of explaining what native speakers already know. It will make a lot more sense to you if you save it for a little bit later in your Arabic learning journey. By now, you will already be somewhat familiar with some grammar rules just through listening and repeating.
By now you should be comfortable saying some basic words and reading and writing letters or short words. Now, the world of Arabic is your oyster, bi Ithnillah. If you’re able to start a formal Arabic program, this would be a great time.
The Madinah Arabic books are great for learning grammar and practical vocabulary. If you do it along with your kids, keep things light. Don’t correct them sternly. When they make mistakes, just repeat the words and sentences correctly highlighting the correct grammar with your voice.
You can find the Madinah Books and tons of resources to help you learn it, here. You can find video guides here.
Always remember, the goal isn’t just to study Arabic, the goal is to make Arabic a part of your family’s life. No matter what means you use to study, keep using what you learned at home. Keep listening and repeating as much as possible. Keep labeling items around your house.
Step 5: Dive All the Way In
Mabrook! Alhamdulillah, once you have finished these steps, you have unlocked all the doors to making your home an Arabic speaking home bi ithnillah.
In order to keep what you’ve learned, you’ll need to speak Arabic in your home and read as much as you can. I know that sounds scary right now if you’re just a beginner, but trust me, if you follow these steps, by the time you get to Step 5, you’ll be excited to be using all the Arabic that you’ve learned.
Now is the time to start tackling all the Arabic books that you’ve seen in shops, but always thought you couldn’t read. Once you have a good foundation in vocabulary and grammar, all you need is a reliable dictionary and you can read most books. I love Al Maany, which you can use in English or Arabic.
Try to set a specific time for reading Arabic books. If you don’t have a bookstore nearby, here are some online resources:
Here are a few sources for books for kids and adults (please use discretion in choosing books):
Noor Books: Library of PDF Arabic books.
Arabic Talking Stories: Cute set of readers for beginners. Has pictures of new vocabulary words on each page.
I Read Arabic: Leveled reading program with 16 levels of books.
Al Arabi Mag: Searchable catalogue of PDF Arabic books.
Kutub PDF: A collection of PDF Arabic books for all levels.
As always, start with topics that are familiar to you and work your way up to more complicated topics. As you explore new books with your family, add any new words that you learn into your daily life.
If you’re looking for some support and structure in your Arabic learning journey, Fusha House offers lessons for moms. Our lessons are crafted to allow you to learn Arabic in a natural, systematic way. We also teach you how to work with your kids to support them in their Arabic learning journey.