Due to the war in Iraq that started at the start of the 21st century, there has been an increased need to understand Iraqi culture and language. Although, not as straightforward as other languages to native English-speakers, Iraqi Arabic has its own beauty and is worth knowing if you are planning on visiting, working or living in Iraq.
Understanding and Learning the Language
Note that there are three forms of Arabic: Quranic (Koranic), Modern Standard (or Formal) and Modern Colloquial (or spoken) Arabic. Quranic Arabic is the form used in the Muslim holy book the Quran and in mosques. Modern Standard Arabic and Formal Arabic is used in most media like TV and newspapers and is the only form of Arabic taught in schools, according to Hani Deek, Arabic Online author. Spoken Arabic is region-specific and generally unwritten. Iraqi Arabic falls into this category.
Search for free websites teaching Arabic, since this is a good foundation for learning the Iraqi form of the language. A good example is Arabic Online, through the word2word.com free language course website. Word2word contains a list of other useful sites, the most comprehensive being the Arabic Online and Madinah Arabic websites. Another site not a part of the word2word listing is Yemenlink.com. Unfortunately, not all the links at this site work, but enough do to provide an introduction to Arabic.
Start by learning the Arabic alphabet. Learn this by first reading through all the letters along with hearing the pronunciation. Then go through the alphabet, reciting the name and English equivalent for each letter. Note that in Arabic you read and write from right to left. Learning the alphabet may seem daunting at first, but it's easier than it appears. Arabic has only 28 letters, similar to the English 26 letters. Although written in script, some of the letters have repeated shapes. For instance, daad and saad, which correspond in English to "d" and "s," respectively, have the same large U-shape with an oval attached at the middle right. The only difference is that daad has a dot over the oval and saad does not.
Write each letter on a sheet of paper. Print out the alphabet or carefully repeat what you see online to be accurate. As you write, say the letter name and its sound. Note that Arabic uses "throaty" sounds unfamiliar in English but more common in other languages like German. Pay attention to video instructors and practice how to correctly pronounce letters and words. Additionally, try to relate a letter to something familiar. For example, the letter pronounced "noon" looks like a "u" with a dot right above it. It resembles high noon when the sun is over the earth. By relating unfamiliar symbols to things that are familiar, learning Arabic becomes easier. Use the pictoral nature of Arabic to your advantage.
Practice writing the words. There is a difference between the way an individual letter in Arabic looks and the way it appears in a word. A letter may undergo great changes from its single to its joined form in a word. The Madinah website graphically illustrates the difference between these two forms. Understanding this makes it easier to learn the language as you will be less confused when reading Arabic.
Note that since Iraqi Arabic is generally only spoken, some feel that using transliteration of the letters in Arabic is more appropriate than teaching the Arabic alphabet. In other words, rather than learning the Arabic letters and words, you would learn the English equivalent of those letters and words in the Iraqi dialect. If learning a new language is challenging this may be a better option rather than going through the entire learning process mentioned in the previous steps. Find what works best for you and meets your needs. No matter how you learn, make certain to work on pronunciation, due to the oral nature of Iraqi Arabic.
Finding Helpful Resources for Iraqi Arabic
Visit sites that will lead you to free helpful resources to learn Iraqi Arabic, such as your local library website. Books such as "Ultimate Arabic" for beginner and intermediate levels is beneficial because it includes a set of CDs, one of which teaches Iraqi Arabic. There is also an older book from 1949 by M. Y. van Wagoner on Iraqi Arabic that may be useful.
Search for sites that will teach Iraqi Arabic for free such as OnlineLearning.lingnet.org. Greetings, common phrases, and other information is listed on the site, including audio to help with pronunciation. If you are a member of the armed forces, you can download learning information for free from the Tactical Learning website. Contractors, U.S. federal employees and others can download for no fee or with a fee, depending on where you work. See the website for details.
Ask a friend who is a bilingual Iraqi/English speaker for help, if you know such a person. It is best to learn from a native speaker as they have a deep knowledge of the language and can pronounce words accurately. If your friend is not a natural teacher, however, you may have to be a little more systematic in your learning. For instance, if your friend starts off teaching you an assortment of Iraqi words and you don't have the alphabet down, it may be difficult to really retain what he is saying. If you are really interested in learning and speaking Iraqi Arabic, then systemically learn it starting with the basics. Go slow and be patient with yourself. Your discipline will pay off in the end.
See if there are public lectures or free reading materials to help you learn Iraqi Arabic, if you live near a college where the language is taught. The University of Maryland, for instance, has a language course for Marines learning Iraqi Arabic. Other American schools such as Middlebury College in Vermont, The University of Michigan, the University of California-Santa Barbara and Los Angeles, Georgetown University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison all have Arabic language learning courses and may also have free materials for those wanting to learn the language. Additionally, the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies at New York University has as its mission to educated professors, students as well as the public about Arabic languages and cultures. Lectures and reading materials may be available here as well.
Check out Arab community centers in your area, as there may be free Iraqi language courses that you can take. If you live in Southern California, Detroit, Michigan or Chicago, Illinois this may be relatively easy as there is a large concentration of Iraqi Americans in these areas, as well as Arab Americans from other parts of the world.
Plan a Visit to a Language Event
Plan a visit to an event where you will be able to hear, speak and read Iraqi Arabic. This may be a Middle Eastern festival in your city, a book signing by an Iraqi author at a bookstore, or an Iraqi speaker at a mosque. If you already live in Iraq, find local universities such as the University of Baghdad or free language courses in taught by military personnel or contractors. Depending on the current political climate of the country, this may or may not be feasible. Check the news, travel and country-related websites to see if there is sufficient stability to visit the southern Iraqi-speaking portion of Iraq.
Depending on the city you live in, there may be a sizable Iraqi American population. Besides Chicago, Detroit and Southern California some Iraqi Americans live in New York. Going to restaurants in these cities, such as La Kabbr in New York, can help not only with your pronunciation as you order, but also get a better sense of the culture through the food and talking with other patrons and restaurant staff.
If you have a friend who speaks the language, being invited to a family or community event will help deepen your understanding of Iraqi Arabic. Again hearing the language from a native speaker helps with proper pronunciation and grammar.
Listen to news broadcasts from Iraq or made by Iraqi leaders online. Websites of interest include BBC Online and Al-Jazeera.
Check out YouTube videos of people speaking in Iraqi Arabic. There are even cartoons with voice-overs in this dialect, adding a humorous touch to language learning.
Learn songs. After you become comfortable with spoken Iraqi Arabic, learn common songs like those for birthdays and other celebrations, which may be simpler compared to popular radio songs.