The first time someone gave me a book in Arabic I thought, um… does she know I can’t read Arabic. I didn’t realize at the time that reading Arabic is just like speaking Arabic. The only way to learn how to read Arabic is to start reading Arabic.
The other day, I saw a post from Maktabah Ibn Uthaymeen on Instagram recommending an Arabic book for beginners. I still get a bit anxious when I think of starting a new book in Arabic, but after a few deep breaths, I went ahead and read the title. It was “Stories of the Prophets for Children.”
That was a sign for me that this book would be right for us to add to our library.
If you’ve been studying Arabic for awhile and wondering if you’re ready to start reading some books on your own, here are 3 signs that you might be ready.
1) You can read and understand titles.
A title is basically a summary of the book you’re going to read. If you can read the title of the book and understand it, then you already are a little bit familiar with the content of the book.
I’ll talk about this a lot more in number 3, but the most important thing you need to start reading on your own is context.
When you study Arabic, you often study words in groups. For example, you might have studied a lesson which had the Arabic words you need for “Going to the market.” So if you find a book whose title is related to shopping, you’ll likely be able to read it. You’ll also probably know a good bit of the vocabulary inside.
If you look at a book and see that you have no idea what the words say, you probably need to pick a book on another topic.
2) You can use an Arabic dictionary.
When you read new books, you’re going to come across new words. This can be intimidating at first, but it’s really a crucial step in growing your Arabic vocabulary.
In order to use an Arabic dictionary, you’ll need to be able to identify word parts. In Arabic, words are often combined together so what looks like one word could actually be two or 3.
If you’ve already learned how to take apart words and identify what the roots are, you’re ready to start reading more on your own and looking up some of the new words.
If someone has already shown you how to use an Arabic dictionary, then that was probably their hint that you were ready to do some reading on your own.
3) You have some idea of what the book already says.
It’s never a good idea to jump into reading a book in Arabic about something that you don’t understand in English. For example, many people who read this blog want to read classical Islamic texts.
Many people don’t realize that classical Islamic texts are difficult to read for Arabs. They contain very precise vocabulary and grammar that can be extremely confusing.
It’s best to start with books that you’ve already studied in English. If you’ve taken a class on “The 3 Fundamental Principles,” then start reading through that in Arabic. If you like to read stories of the prophets with your kids in English, start reading those in Arabic.
As a beginner, the goal of reading books in Arabic is NOT to start learning new ideas. The goal is only to start building your vocabulary and getting used to grammar patterns in Arabic. It’s extremely difficult to try to figure out the meanings of words when you don’t understand the general idea of a book.
If possible, grab a book that has the English translation on one side. Cover up the English and read the Arabic a few times. Circle any words or phrases you don’t understand. Then read the English and try to figure out what the Arabic means.
If the words aren’t matching up for you, then it’s time to consult the dictionary.
If you’re wondering where to get the book that I mentioned at the beginning of this blog, it’s available for purchase here. I couldn’t find it in stock on any English speaking sites, so if you’re unable to checkout in Arabic, there’s a free PDF version here.
If at all possible, I would encourage you to purchase the book to support the author. This is really a wonderful book that’s been compiled in a way to make it very understandable for children of all ages and easy to read. The vocabulary in the book is repeated often to build fluency. It’s a wonderful way to learn the stories of the prophets while picking up lots of Arabic grammar and vocabulary.
Be sure to let me know if you have other recommendations for books to build Arabic fluency.