Many an Arabic learner has felt that Arabic is more like a family of languages rather than a single unified language. There are a lot of dialects of Arabic, and while some are more closely related to one another, others aren't mutually intelligible.
This begs the question troubling new students: which dialect should you learn?
There isn't a one size fits all answer to that question. The answer depends largely on your learning goals.
If your main goal is to communicate with natives while traveling then you should learn the dialect most widely spoken in that particular region.
More info on the different dialects of Arabic
If you want to focus more on being able to understand and engage with Arabic media, then Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) might be the way to go.
If you want to learn a more widely spoken dialect which will potentially cross over with others then Egyptian Arabic might be the dialect for you.
Choose the course that teaches the dialect you want to learn.
Arabic is read from right to left, and the written system often excludes vowels. These two facts alone deter most people (and courses) from covering the alphabet in depth.
Not to mention that Arabic is written in an entirely different script from English.
Being able to read Arabic will be a huge boon to your study of the language, as well as your travel and cultural experiences. The writing system seems intimidating at first, but after some reading practice and good native audio (to double check your pronunciation), you'll be able to get the hang of it.
A closer look at some of the basic differences between English and Arabic
Arabic grammar is miles away from English grammar.
We won't get into the nitty-gritty here, but suffice to say that things like a verb subject-word-object order (VSO), the fact that Arabic is a null subject language, that there is little to no shared vocabulary between Arabic and English, and a myriad of other differences all make learning Arabic a difficult task.
Notice though, that we said difficult and not impossible. Learning Arabic may not be a walk in the park, but for the serious and dedicated language learner, it's a very reachable goal.
Any Arabic program worth it's salt will help bridge the gaps between English and Arabic grammar. A repackaged version of a Spanish or French course with a "Learn Arabic" sticker simply won't do.
20+ minutes a day
Rocket Arabic is a well structured course which teaches Egyptian Arabic (the most widely understood dialect of spoken Arabic). This course follows a unique approach which allows you to learn conversational Arabic, while at the same time understand the nuances of grammar.
There are two separate types of lessons on Rocket Arabic: 1) audio lessons and 2) language and culture lessons.
The audio lessons teach practical vocabulary in the context of a complete Arabic dialogue between two native speakers. You listen to the dialogue and engage with the written text as well. This is ideal if you want to start speaking Arabic right away.
The language and cultural lessons allow you to see what's under the hood when it comes to Arabic grammar. These lessons use whole phrases and important vocabulary to help you see grammar in action, rather than simply just reading about it.
It's also worth noting that Rocket Arabic is one of the few courses that allows you to read, listen, write, and read in the language. With each lesson there are a serious of activities which help you develop your proficiency in the language. There's even a special selection of videos on how to write Arabic letters.
All in all, if you're interested in learning Egyptian Arabic then Rocket Arabic is definitely a course worth looking at.
From $4+ per month
MSA, Egyptian, Morrocan
15+ minutes a day
Arabicpod101 features audio lessons in a podcast format. Lessons are great for grammar and vocabulary. Each lesson is designed around an Arabic conversation between native speakers, and the teachers do a great job of keeping things engaging.
Arabicpod101 isn't as thorough or structured as Rocket Arabic, but it is a substantial learning tool (it's also much cheaper too). The site features transcripts, an in-site flashcard system, and many other useful features.
The only problem with this program is that some of the lessons feel a bit thrown together, and they don't tell you which dialect of Arabic a certain lesson is covering. This can get very confusing for beginners.
Still, if you're learning Egyptian or Moroccan Arabic (it's one of the few courses offering Moroccan Arabic) it's definitely worth your time to at least check out Arabicpod101.
MSA, Egyptian, Eastern
30 minutes a day
Pimsleur is probably the second most popular language course behind Rosetta Stone. Pimsleur is entirely audio based and is specifically designed to develop your conversational skills.
While the course doesn't focus on reading and writing; it does use a unique and effective question/recall/respond technique to get you on your feet in your new foreign language.
With Pimsleur You'll learn a limited but functional vocabulary and have a good sense of pronunciation.
Learning Arabic is like going on a difficult but amazing adventure. While the language isn't as popular to learn as others, there are more resources available to new learners than ever before.
All the courses listed in this post feature some sort of free trial. I recommend you try out any that you're interested in, and see for yourself which program is right for you!
I'm definitely an unlikely language learner. I failed Spanish in high school. I started learning German as a hobby while studying abroad. Long story short...and a couple languages later...I love language learning!