In today's culture of interconnectedness, where in just a few hours a plane can take you to an entirely different country with a different culture and language, being proficient in another language can be a vital skill. For many Americans, using English as their main language has always worked, but for those looking for an opportunity to engage with the world in a more immediate and meaningful way or to succeed in the global economy, having a second language will help.

When you learn Arabic as a second language, you will be one of the few people in the United States who choose to do so. While it is true that Arabic isn't as popular as Spanish or French as a second language, Arabic is still widely used especially in many countries in the Middle East. You may want to learn Arabic to connect with Arabic speakers around you, or you may simply be interested in the beauty of the language as a whole.

Despite what many people might think, Arabic has easier aspects than some other languages. For example, its verb tenses are simpler compared to that of French, and there are no gendered nouns for one to remember. However, Arabic indeed uses a completely different alphabet so English speakers have to get used to that first. Not to mention the Arabic script looks cool when written down so it's a great way to impress people when you master Arabic writing.

A stone tablet with Arabic writing on it
Some aspects of Arabic are easier to learn than other languages, but practice and study are still required, just like for any other new language. (Photo by Kerensa Pickett on Unsplash)

Arabic Essentials for the Beginner

If you are just starting or are slowly learning with the help of tutors or teachers, you may not know that the Arabic Language, unlike English, is written from right to left by pushing on the pen instead of pulling on it. Like English, it is also a phonetic language so the pronunciation of the letters will stay the same as the way it is written.

Another way Arabic is a lot like English is the fact that it does not have a lot of alphabets that requires a new learner to memorize. While English has 26 letters in the alphabet, the Arabic alphabet has 28. Believe it or not, some Arabic letters also have a counterpart in English! So as soon as you can memorize all the letters in the Arabic alphabet, you can make your way to learning to spell new words right away!

Before you start writing in Arabic, know that it is cursive language and you will be connecting each letter in the word to the next. This is especially great news for those who love writing in cursive or love working with a good calligraphy pen, as you can practice your cursive script when you are learning how to write in Arabic.

Because of the connectedness, each letter usually has three different forms. These three forms depend on the position of the letter inside the written word. For example, if a letter is the first letter of a word, you will use the initial form of it when writing. If a letter is in the middle of the word, then you will use its middle form and the same thing for the final form.

One of the difficulties that come with learning the Arabic language is the different dialects and the fact that there is an informal and formal type of Arabic. Before you start learning, you must first decide if you’ll be studying Quranic or Modern Standard Arabic. Most students will be studying Modern Standard as this type of Arabic is more useful on an everyday basis. Another difficulty is that Arabic has many dialects, so you will also need to choose a dialect to focus on if you want to be successful in your learning.

Where to Learn Arabic in Philadelphia?

Students living in Philadelphia has several options when it comes to learning Arabic as a second language. For one, a student can learn through a group setting which usually means enrolling in language programs at local universities, colleges, schools, or cultural centers.

Alternatively, there is also the option of learning online via a group setting online sessions. No matter where you live - from New York to Houston to Los Angeles, which types of lessons you take, the opportunity to learn will allow them to meet new people and have fellow students to practice their Arabic with.

Of course, if group lessons do not interest you, then there is the option of working with a private tutor. For one, if you have a busy schedule then you might find that it's much easier to schedule Arabic tutoring sessions around your schedule. Classes in comparison usually occur at a set time each week and are rather inflexible with the lesson times. When you work with a private Arabic tutor near you in Philadelphia, you can choose the length of your lesson, where and when to meet, and even what concepts you want to work on.

If you live in a major city such as Boston, Chicago, as well as Philadelphia, here are resources available in Philadelphia to help you meet your learning goals. Below are some places where you can find connections to tutors or enroll in formal structured classes. Of course, you can also do your own online research and read reviews to find resources near you in Philadelphia.

Girl holding books and wearing a backpack
If you have a busy schedule then you might prefer to work with a tutor for flexible sessions. (Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash)

Community College of Philadelphia

The Community College of Philadelphia is a cost-effective school for Arabic learners who may be budget-constrained but want to study at the university level. After all, hiring a private Arabic tutor can be expensive, so definitely consider using a public and open-admission institution that can give you a quality education.

This community college in Philly is also the largest public institution of higher education in the city and has been operating since 1965. One Arabic course you can take here is called Elementary Arabic 101. In this course, a student will receive teachings on basic written and spoken Arabic while focusing on mastering writing and pronouncing the letters of the alphabet. At the end of the course, a student should be able to write simple sentences, understand basic grammar ideas, and know some aspects of Arab culture.

Another course students can take is called Elementary Arabic 102. This course is a continuation of Elementary Arabic 101 and the course aims to help students continue to develop their basic communication skills as well as to deepen their knowledge of contemporary Arab culture.

Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture

This cultural center in Philadelphia is located at 3645 Lancaster Avenue and provides artistic and educational programming that celebrates cross-cultural understanding and diversity. The name of the organization - “Al-Bustan” is Arabic and translates to “The Garden”. People of all ages and ethnic and religious backgrounds are welcome to participate in programs here.

At Al-Bustan, there is an understanding that in order to gain a full appreciation of a culture, it requires knowledge of its written and spoken language. Especially for those people who have Arab heritage living in the United States, it is important to get exposure to the Arabic language to gain an understanding of their cultural heritage and Arab identity.

Programs here are offered to people of all ages and cultural and religious backgrounds. One such lesson an Arabic student can take here is Modern Standard Arabic. Designed primarily for youths attending 4th grade or higher, this is a 10-week session course taught by experienced teachers with a maximum limit of ten students per session.

United Muslim Islamic Center

The United Muslim Center runs a Masjid that first opened on October 11, 1994, located on 810 S. 15th Street in Philadelphia PA. The center offers religious services as well as Arabic courses especially for those who want to learn for the sake of reading the Quran in Arabic.

One course you can take here is called Accessible Arabic. It is taught by educational and linguistic experts who have deconstructed the “Madinah Books” into digestible chunks for beginner students. The course is designed with several formal and informal assessment checkpoints to help students measure their progress. The course lasts for 8 weeks and costs $150, including a $50 down payment to secure a spot in the class.

Photograph of large mosque painted white on the outside underneath the night sky
If you are interested in the Islam religion, consider learning Arabic to help you further understand. (Photo by Katerina Kerdi on Unsplash)

Should You Use an Arabic Tutor?

It is common knowledge that hiring private tutors can be expensive, but those who have used the services of a tutor before might tell you that the expenses are worth it. When you use the help of a tutor, you pay the tutor for their time but you also save your own time by having your questions answered by a professional. Instead of asking a teacher at school or trying to research the answers to your question on your own, you can trust that your tutor will provide you with the right answers.

Since a tutor can be expensive, it is important to find a tutor who has years of experience, relatively good reviews, and will meet your needs. Of course, you should also think about why you are enlisting the help of a tutor in the first place. If you have already paid for Arabic lessons but are struggling to remember some words, then maybe hiring a tutor isn't the best idea as classmates or your friends can drill you on new Arabic words and concepts until you memorize them to heart.

If you have decided that a tutor will work best for your situation or schedule, try to find an Arabic tutor who is not only tutoring for money but is also passionate about the Arabic language. Ideally, he or she should have years of prior teaching experience and be patient, have an open mind, and a willingness to listen and adapt to your needs.

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Former high-school tutor with a passion for science and technology, I now work in the software industry and enjoy reading and learning about all kinds of topics.