Reading And Writing Arabic

The Simplest Way To Improve Your Arabic Writing

If you are serious in your Arabic learning, you obviously need to follow a plan focused around your learning goals.

Just like with reading and speaking skills, you will need to follow a structured method to improve your Arabic writing skills.

I tried here to avoid the general writing advice that applies to writing in all foreign languages, focusing on the specifics of Arabic language composition.

I will share with  you the practical tips you can use to practice writing in Modern Standard Arabic. 

Please note that what I am sharing with you here does not apply to the colloquial dialects of Arabic.

I will also show you how to use the Arabic keyboard, develop your writing strategy, request writing assignments from your instructor if you have one, and spell correctly without looking it up online in addition to other tips you can incorporate in your learning.

1.Read.. a lot!

Reading Arabic content is a prerequisite to good Arabic writing. To be able to generate output (write), you will need to be exposed to a good amount and quality of Arabic reading (input) at a regular frequency . 

Picking up a routine of reading Arabic content that is within your level or slightly above it will enrich your vocabulary. 

A suitable reading material is any content you can read and understand 80% of it. Anything less than that is a little too advanced for you at the current stage. To develop a Arabic reading skills, make sure you read this article.

It is important that you are intentional in your reading. That is to say you have to selectively read material that will help you with your language expression needs. 

For instance, if you are a beginner, try to read content that will help you write about yourself, your family and personal interests to equip yourself with the writing vocabulary and tools to meet your written expression needs as a beginner. 

As you progress, try to vary your reading content to cover different types of themes and styles such as comparative, argumentative, narration, instructions , to name a few, so that you can emulate them when you write.

2.Add the Arabic keyboard on your devices

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In addition to practicing writing on a notepad the traditional way, it is equally important to add an Arabic keyboard on your phone and electronic devices. 

If you have not done it yet, use this detailed tutorial to add the Arabic keyboard to your iphone and other devices.

While handwriting will give you a kinetic experience in learning how to connect the letters together, the Arabic keyboard will provide you with a convenient way to practice Arabic composition.

You can use your phone Arabic keyboard to type a casual short text message or a newly encountered term or type up a small paragraph during your daily commute or lunch break. 

By incorporating this small adjustment in your daily routine, you are turning the new skill of Arabic typing into a second nature, further enhancing your Arabic writing ability.

3. Mimic writings you like.

There is a huge lack of  tested strategies in teaching Arabic writing. In the Arab world, dictation or orthography was almost the only writing exercise taught in grade schools in the Arab world. 

Composition was never drilled as methodologically as it is in French or English, except for the traditional breakdown of the introduction, body and conclusion

This means  you will have to be proactive in learning how to write in Arabic. You will need to select your favorite writing style or author(s) and try to emulate it and hone that skillset as you go. 

Certain Arabic news sites, like Doha-based Aljazeera TV and London-based Saudi daily As-Sharq al-Awsat, adopt modern writing styles. You can visit one or both websites for your daily dose of Arabic news and observe their writing style and word choice. 

Unlike traditional Arab writers, the two above-mentioned sites use a linear informative style with a minimal editorial touch due to their worldwide audiences. 

As you progress and build up your proficiency, you can move up to reading literature if you desire.

4. Adopt the multiple drafts approach.

If you are learning Arabic in a classroom setting and you are not being challenged to write in Arabic, you should raise the issue with your instructor and politely ask for the opportunity to produce writing essays.

Ideally the teacher will adopt the multiple drafts method. You submit your first draft, and the instructor would return it to you with comments on points that need improvement or more elaboration until you submit your third and final draft. 

This method prevents you from procrastinating and allows you to display your  early thinking and analysis, which could disappear if you wait until the last minute to submit a rushed write-up.

Early thinking allows the instructor to guide your writing attempts early on in the process before the pressure of deadlines starts piling up.

Also, by starting early, you focus on delivering good content, which makes for a more enjoyable experience in writing what you have to write. It also provides you with opportunities to  self-critique , improve your paper and re-submit. 

This process will consequently help you hone your Arabic writing skills because it forces you to apply your analytical thinking on your own writing.  

5. Incorporate the terminology and rules you learned.

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Take everything you learn about Arabic as parts of a whole, and always think of the larger picture which eventually revolves around communicating effectively in Arabic. 

As you learn new grammar rules and memorize new vocabulary from reading and listening to Arabic content, make a deliberate effort to put everything you learn into practice. 

Incorporate in your writing a nice phrase or idiom you picked up recently and recall the grammatical and spelling rules you have been learning. 

In the Arabic language, there is a rule for everything. If you can’t recall the rule, look it up. For instance,  if you have to use a word that contains the hamza  (ء), see the rule that determines its placement such as its vowel (harakat) and that of the letter that precedes it instead of just looking up online how it is spelled. 

As a general rule, if you try to memorize word spellings, you will keep looking them up online; if you grasp the rule that governs the spelling, you will rarely have to look up a word. All you have to do is recall the spelling rule. 

For instance, if you have to write the hamza (ء) with a sukun vowel ْ  , the rule says that if it’s preceded by a kassra vowel it should be spelled as ئ as in بِئْر ( a well).

By grasping this rule, you will never have to look up how to write hamza with a sukun vowel when preceded by a kassra vowel. 

6. Consider your audience.

One thing about the Arab culture is that formalities and hierarchy are important, and the use of Arabic language in communication mirrors that. Therefore, it is very important to consider your audience as you attempt to write a letter, an email or even a text message. 

If you are writing a formal letter or communique, you want to make sure you refer to the person you are addressing in the second person plural. Not only it shows that you respect the other party, but also demonstrates that you know enough about the culture to use the proper form.

You also want to use a bit of flowery and deferential style as you address government employees and highly placed people. 

For example, use  صاحب السعادة or جنابكم الموقر — which roughly translates to “Your respected excellency”  — in official communication with Arab recipients.

This may sound unreasonable, or even laughable, in your native language, but this is the right register to use in formal communication and official letters. 

The Arab culture ranks high in the Power Distance Index (PDI), a measure used by some sociologists. This means that Arabs respect and accept the hierarchical order that is set in their societies. As a learner of Arabic, you may want to show that you understand that.

Similarly, if you are writing to someone with a PhD, you should address the person as Doctor So & So   (الدكتور); if you are writing to an engineer, you address him as Engineer So & So (المهندس). 

7. Write regularly and solicit feedback.

Long-term consistency beats short-term intensity.

Bruce Lee

The ideal frequency of writing practice is to do a little bit everyday over a long period of time instead of intense irregular sessions. 

Three or four short writing sessions a week are more effective than a three-hour  session once a week.

Make sure you ask for feedback on your Arabic speaking proficiency from qualified individuals, such as your instructor, educated native speakers, and even supportive peers who are familiar with your learning track.

Asking for feedback also means that you should take it as an opportunity to develop and improve without dwelling on your shortcomings.

Proceed with caution though. What you need is constructive criticism that can help you improve your speaking. Avoid asking negative or unqualified individuals who may demotivate you.

8. Build a repertoire of useful verbs, descriptions, and conjunctions

You may find that you have a tendency to selectively pick your vocabulary based on what you find easy, difficult or cool or even fun to the ear.  

Although this is not a very bad habit, you want to make sure you are intentional in collecting  the vocabulary that will help with your conversational needs. 

Make an effort to be deliberate in picking up functional verbs, phrases, adjectives and linking words that will help you with telling a story, describing a person, comparing ideas or making a conclusion.

If you are lucky and have a good instructor,  you may participate in guided conversational sessions built around specific themes and situations in accordance with your speaking abilities and objectives. 

A good use of vocabulary will not only leave a positive impression on your interlocutors but will also show what kind of an Arabic learner you are.

9. Plan ahead and use and outline

For writing structure and planning, you can use the traditional writing methods. Start with general ideas and work your way into the small details. 

Jot down your main ideas and start with your subheadings first. This will help you remain organized and focused on your topic. 

Remember that language is just a tool to convey meanings and ideas. Once you establish an outline to organize your main points and subheadings, you start using your vocabulary and own style to translate the ideas into words. 

Since your purpose is to improve your written expression, don’t give too much attention to the ideas at the expense of form.

The whole point is to practice the grammar and spelling rules you have been learning to come up with a coherent and easy to follow essay.

10. Don’t be afraid of writing

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Finally, enjoy your status as a foreign language student and write without fear or anxiety of being judged. Expectations from you as a language student are not as high as what’s expected of you in your native language. 

Be bold and borrow a thick skin if you don’t have one. Try to write using your own style while you maintain good grammar, spelling and proper form. 

You will of course make mistakes, but what’s the big deal? Mistakes create the best learning opportunities in learning Arabic or any foreign language. 

Just like in other languages, your writing will only become better with regular practice over time.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Happy writing!

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