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Best source of video for Arabic dialect learning?

Why is video so important for language learning?

Consuming a large amount of video in a second language is a wonderful way of reaching fluency in a second language.

If you accept the importance of comprehensible input (Not sure what this means? See our explainer – coming soon!), then there are three main sources of listening input you should focus on

  1. Conversations – especially when a speaker grades and contextualises their speech so you understand
  2. In person immersion – where everyone around speaks your target second language (usually in the country where your target foreign langauge is learnt)
  3. At home immersion or videos* – with clear speaking

If you don’t have access to 1. or 2., then video is the most affordable and accessible option. Likewise, if you prefer to study alone, then video is often more appealing.

*As a beginner or intermediate, video is better than pure listening like radio/podcasts, music, and dialogues etc. because video provides authentic visual clues to aid meaning without translation, making it a far more understandable ‘comprehensible’ input.

How to watch video content

There are two modes of watching.

  1. Intensive: when you pour over a video for every detail, and often turn to a written text if possible
  2. Extensive: when you just consume lots of (similar) content while not worrying if you understand everything.

Intensive watching/listening is what conventional language classes do without explaining it to you. In contrast, if you can find content, hopefully at your level, that entertains you, the majority of your watching should be extensive.

Extensive watching avoids too much translation that tends to come from intensive study. It also allows you to get a deep and nuanced picture of vocab by seeing words in many slightly different contexts, which is the base of real comprehension.

Watch for general meaning or entertainment. Then just let your brain process the language for you! If you focus too intensely on what you don’t know, you will get frustrated.

Can I use subtitles from my native tongue?

Ideally, you should not have subtitles in your native tongue. The brain easily shortcuts to the easiest way to understand, leaving little space for second language acquisition.

Instead, fixate on one topic at time. This way you begin to undertand more and more as you progress through the same topic. Many make the mistake of jumping around and then don’t get this sense of progress. This is especially true if you are watching content that is full of unknown language; it can be hard to start, but then you get multiple lightbulb moments.

If you still can’t understand a word many times, write it down, or note the timestamp of a video and then take the video to a tutor on ITalki or a friend who speaks your target language and get them to help find content in your area of interest. This is easier in person, but works well online with video screen-sharing, or free websites for watching a video in sync like this one.

Why are there not subtitles in 3amiya/my dialect?

Because of Arabic’s diglossia, it is hard or nearly impossible to find dialect programmes with substitles in that dialect and not MSA/FusHa. This is a reality you have will have to get used to outside of currated content like Playaling.

What are my options?

If that persuaded you, what are the best sources of video for langauge learning? There are:

  1. Curated video – Playaling
  2. Short videos – TikTok, Insta Reels, and YouTube Shorts
  3. Long videos – YouTube, Netflix, and ShahidU

For best curated video content with Levantine Arabic and English subtitles: Playaling

Price: $15.99 per month or $11.99 per month with an annual subcription.

By far the best starting point for Levantine Arabic learners is Playaling.

It has a wide range of curated video content with both Arabic and English subtitles and transcripts. You can filter by difficulty, topic, and Arabic dialect (Levantine, Egyptian etc.).

Playaling’s screening of content for difficulty allows for the holy grail of comprehensible input based learning: content at the right level of difficulty that is also fun/engaging. The format works well for intensive listening because of the pre-existing transcription and translation, meaning you spend less time in a dictionary like this one.

The most likely problem is that their library is not big enough if you have niche areas of interest you want to explore. If so, try the options below.

We would recommend filtering for dialect, difficulty, and level and giving it a go now!

Note: a potential mention here goes out for (monthy subcription needed) who have a range of graded and subtitled/transcipted videos, but I have yet to subscribe and check it out.

How to get addicted to short video content… Tiktok, Insta Reels and YouTube Shorts

Price: free (or your privacy and ads)

TikTok’s algorithms are terriyingly addictive; I recently deleted my English account for peace of mind. Insta Reels and YouTube shorts provide the same short video content meant for mobile consumption. If these short videos are not your thing, skip to YouTube below!

Once you have got through the beginner stage, set up a new account, start with TikTok, for your Arabic consumption. Then every time you encounter English or boring content, you swipe on to the next video. Quite quickly, the algorithm learns your linguistic preferences and interests. Changing the app’s language to your target langauge and using a VPN can also help.

A common misconception for learners is to immediately search for conventional language lessons or teachers, who spend much time translating. This misses the point: the idea is to find authentic native content that interests you personally. For example, I like cooking, so I immediately searched in Arabic for cooking related content. Again if you’re struggling to find the words for new content by searching, get a native Arabic speaker to help you!

The king of free longer videos and older free series – YouTube

Price: Free or $11.99 per month (or less for students and group family plans)

If you are tired of the frenetic pace of short form video content, or are in the mood for more depth, I’d recommend YouTube. Again, set up separate accounts for your different languages, as you can see below (I have English and Arabic accounts).

The same advice applies. Immediately search out native made content which fits your interests, then get stuck in! The key here is to relax, enjoy, and don’t worry if you don’t understand every word. You’ll take in a remarkable amount with partial understanding. Likewise, get a tutor or arabic speaking friend to help you find content as explained above.

Whatever you would watch in English, try it in Arabic! Note that many Arabic series can be found for free on YouTube in their entirelty, like the short series بدون قيد that you can see below. However, many newer series require subscriptions to the streaming platforms discussed below.

If you really enjoy YouTube, consider a Premium subscription (it’s expensive) but it allows you to download offline onto your phone and keep the sound playing so you can treat it like a podcast.

Streaming the ‘ktir drama’ series and films – Shahid (شاهد) and Netflix

Many advanced language learners have watched tons of TV. Syrian and Egyptian content are the traditional stables of pan-Arab entertainment culture. With the new generation of streaming platforms you can easily filter for topic or nation (as a proxy for dialect).

We would recommend first trying to get into series as an intermediate learner, before trying films at a more advanced level. Series tend to be easier to understand as they repeat the same vocab and themes. Series are often more dialogue heavy too while films often rely more on visual storytelling.

You have two main options for paid streaming platforms. As many already have it, Netflix is a great starting point. If you want a greater variety of programs for Arabic speaking audiences, then Shahid is your next best bet. Netflix’s internal language search options don’t filter to dialect well so I’d recommend this website for more fine grained searches.

Still really struggling to understand? Try finding an episode summary or synopsis before you watch. Another potential compromise is to do two watchings. One with subs on, the second with subs off. Also quickly reading episode summaries beforehand can help you from being too lost, especially with a new series.

We hope this was helpful. Please get in touch if you have any suggestions, biting criticisms, or praise! We’ll happily go into any of these areas in more depth.

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