Updated: Apr 30
Tips about Improving your Listening Skills in Arabic
"I have been studying Arabic for almost two years. I still feel very weak in understanding what people say to me or speaking back properly in Arabic." This was an example of what I often hear from students, and in this blog post I will hopefully clear your doubts and give you practical solutions to address the problem.
First, sign up at the spoken Arabic page on the platform to get your free special welcome Lebanese Spoken Arabic Conversation and phrasebook start-up (in Arabic and English Letters!). This way you can have your own eBook to keep for self-study and future reference. The book includes the following:
Basic self-introduction and greetings.
Some important cultural tips.
Personal pronouns in Lebanese.
Important phrases (Please go ahead, ok, perfect, excellent, I didn't get it...)
Conversational: What do you do for a living?
Counting 1 to 10.
Parts of the day.
Days of the week.
Now back to our main topic about listening skills.
To answer the question, it's important to note first that to reach an advanced level in Arabic, you require around a minimum 2200 hours of learning.
Of course this depends on several factors, such as native tongue, motivation, etc. Languages are divided into groups according to their levels of difficulty. Arabic is in the highest band, which is group five, next to Chinese, Japanese and Korean. English is level one on the other hand. More about the number of hours and how to learn Arabic in this post. Therefore, learning any new language will take time and dedication, and learning Arabic will possibly even take longer.
When it comes to listening comprehension, the expectation of students sometimes is to improve too quickly and too fast, and to be able to fully understand natives.
This is not realistic, as you need to set practical and self-paced tailored goals for learning. Not having the right approach and mindset will demotivate you as a learner.
*It's also important as well to realize that spoken Arabic is very different from standard Arabic or Fusha Arabic, which is the formal type taught in schools.
The way people actually speak in real life is different to what is taught as formal or standard Arabic and will depend on the dialect of the speaker and their where they come from. So, it's crucial to decide whether you want to learn a dialect along standard Arabic or one or the other early on. Find out more detailed information about the different types of Arabic and which one is suitable for you here.
When it comes to working on your listening skills, you need to choose listening material just above your current level of comprehension.
This will mean that you continue getting used to the new "sounds" of the language or familiarizing yourself with it, such as the different letters like ح خ غ ع ض ط ظ etc, which some may be very foreign to you (especially to English or European language speakers). It also means that you will start getting used to patterns of verbs, their conjugations, participles and various types of nouns, feminine and plural endings, etc. Think of playing a new musical instrument for the very first time. You won't expect that you're going to play a piece of music from the first few weeks. You need time to familiarise yourself with the instrument, get used to how it feels, the sounds it plays, and probably play many notes off tune at first.
Listen just above your level
Listening to something just above your level means you won't be overwhelmed by so many new words or something that sounds so foreign and incomprehensible. It also means that you are being realistic and keeping yourself motivated. As a beginner you can't possibly be listening to native level shows, documentaries or news broadcasts for example. It would simply be too hard to follow, let alone demotivating.
It's like being in the gym after a long time of not exercising. You will probably need to have a gentle approach. You will start with lower weights first and a limited exercise time, according to your ability, and then you will increase the intensity and duration of exercise with time. You won't be lifting heavy weights the first time and risking getting hurt or feeling too sore afterwards. This will probably put you off working out altogether!
Focus on the bigger picture and getting the main idea and key vocabulary.
Whilst listening, and if you target the right level of difficulty as I've mentioned, your main aim should be getting the general picture and meaning of the resource, not every single word of course. You will probably come across a few new words and expressions that you need to take note of, and that's the whole point of this exercise. I recommend using a journal to write down these words and try to use them in sentences of your own. Keep your notes for future revision and try to incorporate these new words in your future writing and speaking. (Take note of new words, use in sentences of your own, review after some time, reuse again and scaffold your learning.)
Listening and reading resources are VERY limited in spoken Arabic
While you can easily find listening and reading resources in other languages, like English, French, Spanish, it's not as easy in Arabic. You will probably also find that the majority of resources are in standard or formal Arabic and hardly any in spoken dialects. This is why I've committed myself to putting together a complete online program in Lebanese with courses covering a variety of topics for Lebanese language learners: hobbies, travel, health, holidays and occasions, etc, starting from complete beginners' level to higher intermediate.
This ensures focusing on comprehensible and reliable listening and reading resources for students. The courses come in Arabic and English transliteration plus the video tutorials and downloadable eBooks. So, you will have the written notes + the audio/visual material. It's practically a mini library for learning, rich with all the vocabulary, expressions and grammar you need to grow as a learner. I recommend doing the Reading comprehension course for beginners followed by those for intermediate level. You can practice and improve your listening skills by listening to the text in the lesson first and then watching while reading the writing on the screen. Make sure to take notes and try to use the new terms in sentences in your journal. Click here to check out the online program.
An excellent way to further improve your learning experience is to take the next step and move on from listening to speaking.
This means practicing by speaking or by mirroring the speaker's speech, or simply: reading out loud. I cannot stress how important this is! I think some of you are already doing that and that's amazing! The more you listen to material and read, the more words you will get exposed to, and the more you will learn. And by reading out loud, this means you are taking the time to slow down and notice these words. It also definitely helps improve memory and create more emotional bonds and neurological pathways in your brain. One study concluded that adults were able to recall 27% of words they had read aloud, in comparison to just 10% of those they’d read silently. In other words, the more involved you are and taking action, which is speaking in this case, the better your recall will be. Another reason that you should follow up with speaking, is that's it's a skill that's always lagging behind for most learners. You want to ensure developing all skills at the same time.
A takeaway of everything I said is the following:
Have realistic expectations.
Listen just above your level.
Pay attention to the fact that listening resources in spoken Arabic are limited and plan accordingly.
Focus on the bigger picture and understanding the general meaning.
Take notes of new words and use them in new context.
Take your learning to the next level by practicing saying out loud what you have listened to.
Watch this video for detailed information about:
The four Skills of language learning
Level of difficulty of Arabic
Number of hours for each level
My complete program in spoken Lebanese Arabic
Importance of consistency in learning
To book a course or lessons with me check out:
Free and paid courses in Modern Standard Arabic:
For spoken or colloquial Lebanese Arabic dialect:
Click here to read article: Introduction to Arabic Language; All You Need to Know About Arabic! Arabic Language: it's history from ancient times, features, interesting facts and differences between Classical, Modern Standard, and Spoken Arabic.
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