Reading Arabic

7 Practical Steps to Improve Arabic Reading

Have you recently started learning Arabic or are you planning to? If so, you’ll know how challenging  this could be because it is one the most difficult languages to learn to read for native English speakers and other speakers of non-semitic languages. But there are a few things you should know before you commit to a specific study or reading routine to ensure a smoother and more efficient method. 

This post will tell you what you need to know to make sure you select an approach that will let you successfully reach reading fluency.

If you’re looking for reading fluency and accuracy, the best method to ensure you end up on a frustration-free and smooth track to outstanding reading abilities is by adopting the following steps:

1-Set reading objectives

Never embark on a learning project without setting short and long-term objectives. You set a one-year goal of reaching intermediate level of reading Arabic. To reach that you can establish small short-term objectives.

For instance, in three months, I need to be able to read and understand shop signs, people and country names in Arabic. To do that I need to follow the following steps (list,..,). This should give you enough benchmarks and motivation to keep you going on target.

2- Read daily

Needless to say, if we want to improve our Arabic reading skill we need to read more often. However, there are many things in our daily life competing for our attention like family, work, school, friends and social media . 

But as a serious learner of Arabic, you will need to allocate between 30 to 60 minutes of your day to read Arabic content suitable for your level.

Long-term consistency beats short-term intensity.

Bruce Lee

Read out loud, if you can, to train your tongue to articulate Arabic words and syllables, and to train your ears on their sound.

As you build your Arabic reading habit, you will encounter a sizable number of recurring words and phrases that naturally become familiar with time. 

The benefits of disciplined and consistent reading is that it becomes easier with time while you are growing your vocabulary. 

Remember that long-term consistency in reading Arabic beats short term intensity. If you are very busy,  read for at least 15 minutes daily . It is better than reading once or twice a week for three hours.

If you currently don’t have an Arabic reading routine, set one up now and commit to a daily time window.

 3- Vary your reading material.

You may, intentionally or not, lean towards reading specific genres or topics of Arabic content. While it could be fun, it may not necessarily serve you well in the long term. You will instead need to diversify your selection in order to gain good exposure to a wide variety of Arabic vocabulary and topics.

Split your reading content between fun and developmental reading exercises; fiction and nonfiction; required reading and voluntary, etc..

Easy Arabic Reader series are a great reading resource suitable for beginners to intermediate-level learners. They are popular among MSA learners because they offer a nice and natural progression of fun, informative and authentic stories.

Arabic Stories for Language Learners is another excellent book (w/ audio CD) that offers learners the opportunity to read traditional tales, answer the comprehension questions and listen to the audios to verify their pronunciation.

For fun reading, read Arabic news and articles covering your favorite sports or other interests. Your genuine interest will make for an easier and more fun read. It will also help you converse with other Arabic speakers  in topics you are more passionate about as you pick up new vocabulary.

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Radio Sawa Homepage

For developmental reading, you need to read about topics that may not be too interesting but useful to your learning as they will give your vocabulary the necessary breadth. For instance, Arab current affairs may not be appealing to you, but the new vocabulary and knowledge gained from reading such a topic will provide you with a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Arab culture and society.

Another way of picking up new Arabic terminology  is to read content in Arabic that you have already read in your native language. It may have been years or decades since the last time you read Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea  but you will have an easier time reading the Arabic version because of  your familiarity with the plot and the characters.

I recommend two sites that will give you a wide variety of reading content. You can read world and Arab region news on Arabic-language American news site Radio Sawa. It also airs Arabic music, live news rounds and interviews. You should also explore the large and free selection of Arabic fiction and non-fiction books on Hindawi .

4- Read at your level, or slightly above.

Your eagerness and enthusiasm to improve as fast as possible may tempt you to burn stages in your learning process, which may lead to frustration,  loss of confidence, and even giving up. Like with all things in life, growth and development needs to be natural and gradual, not forced  and abrupt. 

 “Great things are not done by impulse, but a series of small things brought together.”  

Vincent Van Gogh

It is critical to work with reading content that is either at your current reading level or slightly above it. 

Reading material that is too easy may be a confidence booster but will not yield growth results. Conversely, reading content that is too difficult will demotivate you and cause setbacks. The sweet spot is in creating a good balance.

Determine  your appropriate level and stick to it while you intermittently challenge yourself with slightly more advanced content.  

For instance, if you are an advanced beginner or an intermediate learner, check out this free collection of Arabic and international children’s stories or enjoy reading these international classics translated into Arabic. 

They are available in three formats, including PDF, and most of the text is vocalized (with Tashkeel), making them perfect for advanced beginners and intermediate students of Arabic. This free library includes other publications covering business, technology, politics, poetry, and health, to name a few.

5- Create an immersive environment.

The best foreign language learning strategy is to be fully immersed in the culture where you are surrounded with Arabic. However, for practical reasons, not everyone is fortunate to experience this approach. 

But in this day and age, and thanks to technology, we can create a little bit of that environment by  making minor adjustments to how we do some ordinary things. The following actions will  give you opportunities to seamlessly and effortlessly read Arabic content: 

  • You can change your phone language settings into Arabic on the weekends or even all week. 
  • Use your Twitter to follow some Arabic-language accounts and cluster them under one list.
  • Join a Facebook group or account that offers Arabic content for light readings .
  • Visit Radio Sawa or Aljazeera websites daily and read one news item in Arabic.

6- Use context and cues for reading comprehension.

While picking up more Arabic vocabulary is one of the greatest benefits of reading regularly, independent reading comprehension is another valuable skill to understand. 

  • Don’t use a dictionary or keep its use to a minimum or only as a last resort. The goal is to make your reading fast and uninterrupted. However, you can use the dictionary to understand a recurring  key word  in the text if you have to.
  • Don’t worry about what you don’t understand. Comprehension of 80% of the text will help you with the other 20%. Stopping at every single word you don’t understand is a counterproductive strategy.

Actually the human brain is wired to learn language. While we consciously don’t understand every word, our brain is doing its own magic in the background filling in the gaps, identifying patterns and connecting the dots for us.

  •  Use the context of the topic, the plot or the text to try to understand sentences you are not familiar with. Reading in Arabic, just like in other languages, covers common and familiar topics about oneself, family, society and the world in general. The only difference is they are in a language you are not too familiar with. Use your knowledge and familiarity with the ideas and issues to connect with what you are reading in order to predict what is happening or going to happen next.

7- Track your fluency and accuracy. 

Sooner or later you will be tested on your reading fluency and accuracy either in a formal reading proficiency assessment or during some random life encounter. 

Probably more important than Arabic reading fluency is reading comprehension. You can test and practice your Arabic reading comprehension for free on Arabic Goals to track your progress.

Don’t wait until the last minute to test your progress or prepare; do it on a regular basis. You can continuously self-assess by periodically recording yourself as you read and then review your performance . A few months of recorded reading sessions should give you a clear idea on how much progress you are making. 

Naturally, If you have an instructor, he or she would normally provide feedback and guidance to help you track your progress. Discuss your teacher’s input and ask how you can improve. However, you need to take charge of your own learning and be proactive about it. Ask him or her to assess your reading and solicit feedback. You can also rely on your peers to provide constructive and honest feedback.

Make adjustments and corrections as necessary.

Rinse and repeat!

Conclusion:

As you have seen above, it is important to be intentional and systemic  in your Arabic reading approach. You need to set goals; read on a daily basis, even briefly; read at your level or slightly above; vary your reading material; create your little immersive environment; use context, and do not get on hung up on single words; and monitor your progress to ensure your reach your target fluency and accuracy level.

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