If you haven't learned Arabic from birth, you could easily be tempted to work in the startup industry in the Middle East without learning Arabic. After all, a vast majority of entrepreneurs here are bilingual or even trilingual.
But, if you're interested in really speaking to local entrepreneurs, not to mention getting around, that laziness will quickly evaporate. The real question is not should you, but how to.
The Internet is full of Learn Arabic in 100 Lessons websites and Speak Arabic in One Month YouTube channels. You might try that, or opt for lessons in a classroom. Either way, you'll need to work, understand, memorize, listen, and exercise. And the best secret weapon for that is a mobile app- or several.
Here are 10 applications that can help.
Firstly, you need to get organized and motived. List what you want to do, plan ahead, and try to remember your plans and stick to them. Apps can greatly help with this. Most of the time I use Apple's native Reminders and Calendars app, and others in our office cite using Google Calendar as well, to list to-dos.
If you need something with more teeth, though, try Astrid. This app offers the same functionalities as Reminder but with a better interface and some extra features, including social functionalities. Astrid enables you to create lists of tasks, share them with friends (useful if you have study buddies), and it automatically syncs your tasks with the web interface and the native iPhone calendar, also sending you friendly updates.
Learn The Alphabet
First things first. You have to learn your alphabet. If you speak French, I highly recommend AlphaBet Arabe. Simple, and beautiful, this app lists all the letters and the numbers with their pronunciation and offers lessons on the different vowels.
Don’t feel like learning the alphabet? Go directly to the last paragraph!
Learning lists of vocab is tough, and can be time-consuming. That’s why I looked for apps that are both a good source of new words and help you learn with fun tricks.
Arabic Flashcards looks like what an app would have looked like had they existed in the 90s. But who cares; this app offers 4 types of well thought out and useful exercises: 1) read in Arabic and translate, 2) listen in Arabic and pick the right word, 3) read in your language and translate it into Arabic, and 4) pick the right word. The only drawback is that with the free app, you can only learn numbers, days of the week, and family and body vocab. For more, you have to invest in the expensive $14.99 version.
Free Arabic Phrases by emo offers flashcards on different topics, essentially directed towards tourists, including how to greet people, ask for directions, and the like. It’s simple and user-friendly, has a lexicon and search option, and has a great recording feature that you can use to listen to and improve your pronunciation.
Learn Arabic - AccelaStudy has one of the best design I’ve seen, essentially copying the design of paper flash cards. Select the topics you want to learn and study flashcards that translate from English or Arabic. It also offers statistics, favorite words, and written and audio quizzes, with upgrades available for $9.99.
GFlashPro is completely different, and extremely versatile, as it enables you to make your own flashcards! You can enter words directly on your iPhone or via Google Docs. You enter both sides of the card: in Arabic and your language, and can add audio and pictures. The Pro version is only $3.99.
To type in Arabic on your iPhone, you can either add an Arabic keyboard in your general settings or you can use Yamli (see later).
Arabic Dictionary only offers simple translation (with contextualization or examples), but it offers several features that compensate: bookmarks, random words, basic flashcards, a sentence translator, and quizzes. The quizzes are especially funny, and are connected to your Game Center profile. It’s too bad you can’t select a level. The downside is that you have to pay to get the audio, the translation and the flashcards feature. You can buy them one by one or get the total package for $4.99.
Google Translate is still a must for translating full sentences or understanding the basic meaning of entire documents (just don't copy and paste it). Its new phrasebook feature enables you to favorite a translation to a list.
Smart Arabic Keyboard
The Arabic Dictionnary and Google Translate are only useful if you have the right spelling. If you want to translate something you’ve heard or read but have no idea how to spell, try Yamli.
Yamli is an app that creates a virtual Arabic keyboard if you don’t have one on your phone. It also comes very handy when translating dialect and spoken language, as it will transliterate words written in the Roman alphabet back in their most likely Arabic spelling. The app is an adaptation of the website.
Keefak is a fun app that introduces you to the Lebanese dialect specifically. The app is rather basic, not involving bookmarking or flashcards, but the conversation feature (reading and listening to conversations) and the grammar features are interesting. Most importantly, this app doesn’t require that you know the alphabet. The free app only allows you to learn greetings, so you might as well buy the paid app for $4.99.
If after all that, you still can’t improve your Arabic, read Benny’s blog. That should give you some motivation.
What about you? What apps/websites do you use?