The most brilliant resource on Spoken Arabic I have ever seen

Students looking to develop high-level practical speaking skills should  strongly consider buying this dictionary on Egyptian Arabic.

The book is so useful that I added “Get a Copy ” as a new, stand-alone strategy to last week’s article on 20 strategies for becoming a high-level Arabic speaker.

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What is the Unique Value Added? 

  • Extremely comprehensive in its coverage of spoken Egyptian Arabic (900+ pages).
  • Most importantly – every single term has examples of how it is used, in context, something that must have taken a tremendous amount of time and effort to produce.

For students studying foreign languages, to know only the meaning of term is nice, but more importantly, how do you use it? Most Arabic dictionaries only give the meaning of words. This means that the student has to figure out on their own through trial and error how they are used.  By contrast, with this dictionary the student can significantly Jump-Start that process.

Here are 3 terms I picked randomly to show you what I mean:

(1)  “Where” – as used in its many forms


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(2) Profit – the many contingencies:


(3) To Facilitate  – all forms as used in practice


And it goes on like this for 900 pages.  It’s a true Gold Mine of information. 

The Only Downsides: 

(1) The weight:


As you can see – nearly 10 pounds. We all know how Suit-case space is at a premium on long-haul trips. Normally a book that weights 10 pounds would be hard-pressed to make the cut. Yet I would actually suggest that this book is useful enough to haul it back and forth several thousand miles to the Middle East.  I did so many times.

(2)  It Aint Cheap:

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Still, think like an investor. Focus on Value, not Cost. For serious Arabic students, in it for the long-term, $180 is nothing. When I think of all the different resources you could pay for as a language student (books, courses, tutors etc) $180 is a Steal for the valuable information this book provides.

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13 thoughts on “The most brilliant resource on Spoken Arabic I have ever seen

  1. Pingback: 20 strategies for becoming a fluent Arabic speaker – Better World 2100

    1. Chris

      Levantine resources are really limited. Olive Tree has a Palestinian dictionary that offers interesting lexical materials, but doesn’t account for examples and the like which make this appear to be so spectacular!


    2. Nothing approaches Badawi and Hinds in terms of coverage and linguistic metadata. The Olive Tree that Chris mentions is quite serviceable for the Palestinian Arabic of the main urban areas. It is also expensive. I paid $80 for mine, but I see that it has increased to $110. One advantage it has over Badawi Hinds is that it includes an English/Arabic index. Badawi Hinds is unidirectional. An odd quirk of Arabic dictionaries is that they are usually one way, either Arabic > TL (target language) or TL > Arabic. If the resources for Palestinian Arabic are limited, those for Lebanese are even more scarce, and most that do exist are worse than useless. But there is a perfectly serviceable French/Lebanese/French dictionary (which means that you have to at least be able to make your way round French or be able to use Google translate intelligently). It is Dictionnaire français-libanais, libanais-français by Jinane Chaker-Sultani. The publisher is Edition Milelli.
      The only thing is that it’s hard to find. Its first release from 2010 sold out, but their facebook page says that a new edition is coming out in September 2016.

      Once it is, you may be able to buy it from fnac:

      If you are in Beirut, I’ve heard that Librairie Antoine has some copies.

      I got mine from Abe Books. But since then it looks like it has sold out.

      All of these books weight a ton, so carting them back and forth risks exceeding the ever decreasing weight limit on aircraft. But they are all worth having if you are a serious Arabist of any stripe.

      BTW, I’ve approached Georgetown University Press with the idea of making the Milelli dictionary available in English. I’d have to contact the publishers themselves to see if they’d agree, and I’m waiting until the new edition comes out before I do that.

      Neither Olive Tree nor Milleli are consistent in providing examples of usage, but each does often do that, Milleli more than Olive Tree, but never in the idiomatic detail that Badawi and Hinds do. There is just no comparing. It set the standard for Arabic dictionaries that has never been met much less exceeded since its day.

      And speaking of GU Press, they publish probably the best reference grammar in English of any Arabic dialect, that is Cowell’s grammar of Damascus Arabic. It’s called A Reference Grammar of Syrian Arabic but it’s mostly Damascus Arabic. He does occasionally make reference to other varieties, then usually Palestinian Arabic, but sometimes other local varieties in the vicinity of Damascus.

      The GU Press dictionary of Syrian Arabic is almost useless. The type is painful to the eye and it is unidirectional English to Arabic. So it is no damned good at all for running home to look up the word you just heard being used constantly.

      But they have recently released a huge dictionary of Iraqi Arabic, which I suppose means the Arabic of Baghdad. I’ll write more about that later, if anyone is interested. It’s in my office, and I’m writing from home early of a Wednesday morning.

      By far the best ever reference grammar of Cairene Arabic is Manfred Woidich’s Das Karienisch-Arabische: Eine Grammatik. But you’d obviously have to be able to contend with German in order to use it. It is replete with examples.

      They forced me to learn German and French in grad school for good reason!

      Georgetown has a reasonable one in English by Abdel Massih, McCarus, and Badawi (the same Badawi of dictionary fame الله يرحمه ). The University of Michigan used to have a very good grammar of Egyptian Arabic by Abdel Massih, but it’s hard to find. I lent mine to a student long ago and never got it back. I tend to do that.

      They’ve also got a barely serviceable grammar of Jerusalem Arabic.

      There is no good comprehensive grammar of Lebanese Arabic available anywhere, except for the unpublished teaching materials that I’ve developed for our students. So, if you want those, you’ll have to enroll in the AUB CAMES summer program!

      Oh, I was forgetting Thackston’s The Vernacular Arabic of the Lebanon. It’s really a textbook but it is full of useful descriptions of the language. The only problem is that I’ve never seen it in print. All I’ve ever seen is pdf copies of it. I think it may have been privately printed for students at Harvard.

      Then there is Leslie McLoughlin’s Levantine Arabic, released and re-released by Routledge. He calls it Levantine, but it is really a series of lessons in the dialect of Beirut. He used to head the famous MECAS school in Shemlaan.

      But that about exhausts any useful Lebanese/Levantine resources.


      1. Nathan

        Professor Wilmsen,

        Thank you for first mentioning to me the Bedawy and Hinds dictionary when I took your course. Because of the weight and the cost it’s not a standard part of many academic programs, so I rarely heard it even talked about otherwise.. But after you told me about it I went to the AUC book store the next time I was in Cairo and got my copy, and it has been worth every single penny. And this comprehensive take on other available dictionaries will be extremely useful to Arabic students.



      2. Jonathan

        Wow! Thanks for all the incredibly thorough responses to my question!

        It’s such a shame that resources for Levantine Arabic are so limited. I’m just finishing 2 years of formal learning in Amman, where I’ve relied heavily on teachers and tutors for growing my Amiya vocabulary.


      3. Jonathan

        Thanks for the follow up – yes I have the 101 most used verbs book and find it really useful.

        I’ll look out for those others!

        Thanks again 🙂


  2. Nathan

    Good question Jonathan. I suspect probably not, at least not to this depth, where you have every possible verb accompanied by an example of how to use it.

    I will find out though for sure.

    Still, I do believe that even someone focusing on Levantine would find it valuable,because the key is seeing the Spoken on Paper. Much of the structure of sentences is the same, what differs is the accents and the verbs, certain nouns etc from country to country.

    It’s also High Ammaya, not Street Amaya. High Amaya has higher region wide utility than Street Amaya.


  3. Nathan


    I agree and I suspect it’s purely market-related. In terms of buyers, I think there are more people interested in Egyptian Arabic to support such a book.

    But even then it appears this was heavily subsidized – see the quote from the inside cover – and at $180 they certainly can’t be making much money.

    “This work was developed under a contract with
    the U.S. Office of Education Department of
    Health, Education and Welfare, and with support
    from the Ford Foundation.”

    Another example of how, contrary to certain ideologies in the US, sometimes you do in fact need governments to invest in stuff that wouldn’t be produced otherwise in a free market.

    But I am going to find out for sure.



    1. One of the authors, El-Said Badaway, of fond memory, a professor and mentor to me, الله يرحمه , once said to me that he never made one milleme from the book.


  4. Nathan

    That’s an interesting idea, a bit high risk though.

    Unless you have hot customers on standby If you don’t sell them, you have to haul around 100 pounds of dictionaries……..I could see them all selling but over time, not necessarily flying off the shelf.


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