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Taking the Leap: Learning from Arabic Books

In my last post for Everyday Ibaadah, I mentioned that listening is the first step in building a fluent Arabic home. Reading comes much later.

Listening to Arabic books is a great way to combine these two skills. It can help you get used to the forms and sounds of Arabic and lay a strong foundation for your reading.

At Fusha House, we have started weekly read alouds to help families get in more practice with listening and connecting listening to reading. We will be holding these read aloud sessions for as long as the world is stuck at home, insha Allaah.

While videos are a nice way to practice listening, they often don’t have the written text included. Listening to written Arabic books allows you to get all of the benefits of listening while building your word recognition skills.

During our read-alouds, we also go over the grammar involved in the sentences. This allows you to be able to use the words that are in the book in your everyday life. Speaking the words from a book is a wonderful way to review. It also helps to reinforce to your children that Arabic is a living language, not just something that they read in books once a week.

You can view all of the read-alouds that we have done so far on our Teachable page.

For Ramadan, we will be reading parts of a book called “Stories of the Prophets for Children.”

This book, may Allaah reward the authors, tells the stories of the prophets in a way that is perfect for beginner Arabic students and kids. The sentences are very short and the words repeat often so that you can slowly build up your understanding.

As with all of our read-alouds, we will also be picking out new vocabulary words and discussing how you can use the words at home.

The book is available online from 2 different publishers. If you’re in Riyadh, you can find it at Jarir.

If you’re interested in reading more books with Fusha House or on your own, here are a few tips for how to grow your understanding of Arabic as you read.

Using Words as a Beginner

Each week in our read alouds, we will give the translations for every word. You’ll start to notice that in Arabic, the words have very clear patterns. By changing the beginning or end of the words, you can easily change who or what the word is referring to.

For example, in our first read aloud, two young boys were talking about their day. Since the boys are talking about their own actions, you could have your child repeat the sentences as is. For young children, you can repeat the sentences for them. As you brush their hair, say “I brush my hair.” in Arabic.

You can also use the same words to give commands or ask your child if they brushed their hair. All you need to do is change the beginnings or ends of the words.

There are two goals to this kind of practice:

  1. It helps us and our children to remember that Arabic is a living language. It’s a part of our lives and something that deserves our time and attention.

  2. It makes reviewing much easier. Some studies have shown that in order to have a word in our brain permanently, we have to hear it 17 times. That’s a lot of times. When you start speaking Arabic in your home with the help of books, you will have a natural way to hear the words over and over again.

Reading on Your Own

If you have a basic knowledge of Arabic grammar, reading books is a great way to grow your vocabulary and reinforce what you already know.

As you read, pull out the new words. You can underline, highlight, or write them on a different piece of paper. Try to remember the full sentence that they were used in. This will help you to remember their meanings and to use them in other sentences.

Of course, if you can, use the words around the house. As your vocabulary grows, you will find that many words aren’t really useful for everyday speech. If you’re reading about things that are beneficial to your children, start to use the words to explain different ideas to them.

If you’re reading about Islam, start to train them with the words that you’re learning. When you talk to them about their behavior, use Arabic words. When you explain Tawheed to them, explain it in Arabic.

This will help you to review and it will also help them become accustomed to harder Arabic words that they might not come across in kids books.

What If I Don’t Have Kids?

If you don’t have kids, just focus on getting as much exposure to new words as you can. If you can find a speaking partner/study buddy, that’s a wonderful way to practice and review what you’ve learned.

If not, good old fashioned flashcards are a great option. For those like myself who are easily bored with flashcards, try what I call clustering. When you are trying to build your vocabulary, pick a specific topic. Then read a page or two on that topic everyday.

The first day, it will likely be hard to retain any new words. As you hear the words used in different ways, your brain will begin to make connections and add them to your permanent memory.

A Few Notes for Parents When Picking Books

Not all books are good books

  • It’s always important to remember that Arabic is a language. Like any language, people can use it for good and for bad.

  • It can take time to find the right reading material. Once you find an author that you like, try to go through all of the books that they have written.

You don’t need to understand every word

  • It can be frustrating to hear or read a book and realize that you don’t know what all of it says. If your kids are older, they may express this frustration right along with you. When you’re reading, the goal is always to be building your vocabulary and building your understanding. It’s best to read books that you understand about 60-70%. That way, you have enough context to get the meaning of the book, but you’re still benefiting by being exposed to new words.

If possible, keep an English copy at hand

  • This might seem like a cheat, but for adults, I recommend that you read books that you already know in English or that you can get an English translation for. This will basically give you an easy to follow dictionary for the book. It will also show you how the meaning of each word is defined in the specific sentence that you’re reading.

  • This is particularly important when reading Islamic works. The meanings of words can often change based on how they are used in a sentence and the intention of the person speaking. Think of the word “Right” in English. Of course, it means a direction and also it means correct. But when said in a certain way, it can also mean “I don’t believe you.” Arabic is no different. Words have to be understood in context. We can’t choose whatever definition we want, especially when reading about the religion. We have to find a trustworthy translator who knows the full context of each sentence and can show us the correct meaning of each sentence and each idea.

If you’re joining us for the Stories of the Prophets read-alouds, I’ll be sharing some English versions that you can use to better understand the stories with your kids. As you’re growing in your Arabic understanding, you can use the English to reinforce ideas. When you go back and re-read the stories, you will find that knowing the full English explanations actually can help you to make better sense of the Arabic.

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