One of the best methods to train your ears , improve your Arabic listening and expand your vocabulary is watching Arabic drama shows. Actually, the benefits go beyond the linguistic learning aspect and include the social and cultural insights they provide about the Arab world.
Starting at the advanced beginner and intermediate levels, it’s hard to find listening content in Modern Standard Arabic (MSA).
Have you ever tried to find entertainment or drama shows in MSA? If so, you’ll know that it’s a difficult task because there is not much of it available online. The only exception are newscasts, which are scripted and basically are a one-sided conversation, so to speak .
However, drama shows in MSA, although are scarce, offer great exposure to dialogues that have much resemblance to anybody’s day-to-day interactions.
This post will share with you seven free TV series that will offer you great entertainment; eloquent and intelligible MSA; and various narratives that are unique to the Arab culture.
Why these specific selections?
- It is easier to understand and pick up new words because the characters’ body language and the plot will provide you with clues.
- Drama is fun and captivating. There is nothing better than learning the language while enjoying some entertainment.
- Drama, and particularly the shows presented in this post, offer a rare window to several elements that have shaped the Arab identity and the region’s collective memory. These shows present some ubiquitous values such as tribal identity, honor code, collective shame and family, and with which any learner of Arabic should become familiar because they will help you understand the Arab culture.
You can’t study the culture without its language, and you can’t study the language without its culture. Understanding Arabs is a great resource to understand the cultural complexities of Arab mindset and culture for anyone remotely interested in Arabic or the Arab world.
- Just like in real life, there are no subtitles. You will use your reasoning and context to figure out what the actors are saying.
Scarcity of drama productions in MSA.
Many learners of MSA complain about the lack of drama productions in MSA. There are plenty of religious TV series in MSA, but not all learners are interested in religious content. So, I scoured YouTube for these household classics based on what I grew up watching. I also picked them for a few reasons:
- The actors speak excellent MSA with outstanding articulation, which makes it relatively easy to follow.
- All these series are posted on YouTube for free by the production companies.
- Each TV series comes in its entirety with an average total of 30 episodes. They were all aired during various Ramadan years to cover the 29 to 30 evenings.
Tips for more enjoyment:
- Pay attention to the importance of family, nationalism, the patriarchal hierarchy, honor, shame and love. These elements are still present in the Arab world and explain many current events.
- These shows have captured the imagination of Arab viewers from the Euphrates to the Atlantic ocean, with no exceptions.
- You can use these themes to find topics of discussion with your Arab teacher or friends. You can even attempt to discuss them in Arabic.
- The language used in these shows is Modern Standard Arabic with some light use of classical Arabic.
- Don’t worry if you can’t understand every word said because it will be an extremely hard task even if you were very advanced.
- Try to learn five new words during each episode you watch. Most likely the words will come up again in the following episodes and will stick with you forever.
Now that we got that out of the way, let’s take a look at what we have:
1-The Desert Wrath غضب الصحراء
This series was produced in Syria in 1989. It’s about a ruthless desert tribe leader “Azraq” who was spreading terror among the other desert tribes, killing, pillaging and taking women for captives. He had a son and a daughter, Raad and Raw’a, respectively.
An unknown young warrior named Rammah mysteriously showed at the tribe and quickly gained Azraq’s trust after he saved him from an assassination attempt. This has raised Raad’s suspicion and jealousy, but no one was expecting what came to happen later.
2- The Eve of Granada’s Fall ليلة سقوط غرناطة
Tiis series chronicles the unfolding events on the night before fall of Granada into the hands of the Spaniards, ending hundreds of years of Muslim rule in parts of Iberian peninsula.
For more background on Spain during this era, Homage to Al-Andalus is a great read to appreciate this important point in history when Islam, Arabs and Europe crossed paths for 800 years.
The focus was on the struggle of Musa Ghassani, a military commander who was let down by his leaders, politicians and everyone else. He decided to go and fight the Spaniards by himself.
The significance of this series lies in the fact that it documents a critical episode in the Islamic history, as the fall of Granada was the last nail in the coffin of a declining Islamic dominance as a major world power.
Andalusia was viewed by the Arabs, who came from the desert, as paradise on earth because of its greenery and abundance of water. They still call it “the lost paradise.”
3- Antarah Bin-Shaddad عنترة بن شداد
Produced in 2007, this series depicts the life of Antarah Bin Shaddad, a black poet and warrior from the pre-Islamic era. It showed how Anarah had defied the social caste system in expressing his love for ‘Ablah, the daughter of a notable and suffering from discrimation despite his reputation as a fearless warrior. He also fell victim to his enemies who resorted to treachery after they couldn’t defeat on the battlefront.
Arabs still celebrate this poet. In the Arab imagination, Antara’s love relationship with Abla is comparable to Romeo and Juliette story.
4- The Cavaliers الفوارس
This is another Syrian series from the historical fantasy category. It depicts the times-old conflict between the Arabs , the Persians and the Byzantines commonly referred to by the Arabs as the Ruum [The Europeans].
Although this melodrama presents an ancient fictional story, the theme of perceived power struggle between the West vs the Arabs vs the Persians still exists in the minds of millions in the Arab world.
5- Dhi Qaar ذي قار
The events in this historical drama take place with the backdrop of one of the earliest Arab victories over the Persian empire. An Arab king found himself in direct confrontation with the Persian emperor after he refused to hand over some of his wanted guests to the Persian monarch.
It claims to represent the Arab values of trust, pride and tribal unity in the face of external threats, as the Arab king was willing to lose everything to honor his promise of protecting his guests.
6- Abu-Zayed Al-Hilali أبو زيد الهلالي
Dark-skinned Abu Zayd AL-Hilali’s birth caused major problems to his fair-skinned parents, creating a crisis in his Arabian tribe. This led to him and his mother being expelled .
He managed to return to his people and lead them on a journey to North Africa amidst a barrage of traps and conspiracies by his enemies.
7- Cordova Spring ربيع قرطبة
The events of this drama take place in Cordoba, Andalusia when it was under the Muslim ruler Abur-Rahman Athaalith (Al-Nasir). It was one of the most prosperous times of the city under the Arab rule. It depicts the story of Bin-Abi Amer, who came to Cordoba from Algeciras to pursue his studies only to become a businessman and end up later as the ruler of Andalucia. Again, this series reveals the Arab nostalgia to “the lost paradise.”
These are hand-picked shows because of their resonating popularity in the Arab world, the quality of Modern Standard Arabic and the richness in cultural and historical insights. They combine entertaining folk and factual stories and educational content.
Pick one show and stick with it and watch and rewatch it, if need be, so that you can maximize your linguistic and cultural learning. Language and culture are intertwined and will help you speed up learning both.
Now that you have good and entertaining MSA content, you have no excuse but to improve your Modern Standard Arabic listening skills and enjoy some entertainment in the process.