For nearly a decade I’ve been working as an Arabic language professional, both in my capacity creating Foreigncy’s Arabic language lessons and in my career outside of Foreigncy in the world of investigative due diligence. Both pursuits require a high level of Arabic translation skills and therefore necessitate the best Arabic language tools available. When searching for a new Arabic language resource, I prioritize tools that provide a high degree of translation accuracy and that increase efficiency. Below is a list of tools that I use on a regular basis in my career as an Arabic language professional and lifelong student. Some are actual tools that have been developed to serve as an Arabic language resource while others serve as what I consider “language hacks” but are just as effective.
Arabic Language Resources
There’s simply no getting around the fact that the Hans Wehr Arabic dictionary is the single best tool for the Arabic language professional and student. Yes, it is a pain to flip through a giant dictionary and the
fonts are small; however, you will not find a more comprehensive Arabic dictionary to date. Also, as more Arabic language resources and tools are developed for the internet or as apps, it’s nice to have an old-fashioned dictionary in your arsenal. I take a strange degree of pride in my 15-year-old beat up Hans Wehr that is held together by packing tape and has traveled across the world with me. That being said, an Islamic Studies scholar, Uwais Iqbal, has created a digital version of the dictionary, which can be downloaded from the Google Play Store!
When I’m traveling without my Hans Wehr or when I simply don’t have the desire to flip through it, I’ve found the website forvo.com to be an excellent resource for identifying the proper Arabic pronunciation of a word or verb. Forvo markets itself as a “pronunciation dictionary” and that’s precisely what I use it for. When I’m creating a Foreigncy lesson or working on translating an Arabic article and I’m unsure of a word or verb’s pronunciation, I quickly copy and paste the term into Forvo and I’m instantly presented with a number of Arabic language recordings that give me an accurate pronunciation by a native speaker. Additionally, these pronunciations are often accompanied by using the word in a sentence, which places it in its proper context. Another useful tool and language hack is to type a word, phrase, or verb into YouTube’s search bar. This can be a very effective way to quickly identify proper pronunciation and contextual use.
ACON is an online Arabic verb conjugator, also available as an app, which has served as an invaluable tool in my career as an Arabic language professional. As ACON notes on its website, Arabic verb conjugations can be quite complex no matter if you are a student or a seasoned speaker of Arabic. ACON is powered by a real Grammar Engine that automatically conjugates verbs and the website and app are both very user-friendly and easy to use.
Lughatuna is a constantly developing online Arabic language dictionary created by Hossam Abouzahr, who I had the pleasure of interviewing on the Foreigncy podcast. As a platform that is frequently updated and growing, Lughatuna aims to show “how Alive Arabic is.” Lughatuna includes nearly 30,000 to 40,000 terms and about 70,000 definitions in Fusha as well as about 20,000 terms to 30,000 definitions in the Egyptian and Levantine colloquial dialects. The website provides separate dictionaries for Fusha v Dialect, and you have the ability to search by Arabic word, Arabic root or English word. I highly recommend bookmarking this website or downloading the app. Moreover, check in on it periodically as Hossam aims to develop more sophisticated search features, to give etymologies and to show results in the different dictionaries simultaneously.
If there’s one thing I’m sure of in this world, it’s that I’m never going to write in Arabic using tiny Arabic letter stickers on my English keyboard that also don’t correspond to the English letter (Qwerty). Apple has been ahead of the game for a long time in offering a built-in Qwerty Arabic keyboard, something that to date Windows still hasn’t managed to top. However, if you don’t have a Mac, like me, I’ve found the website Lexilogos.com to be the next best thing. Lexilogos provides a free Arabic language keyboard that is easy to use and also doesn’t require you to switch back and forth between language keyboards on your computer. Another very useful online Arabic language keyboard is provided by Yamli.com. Yamli has created a “smart Arabic keyboard” that will produce several possible variations for a word or verb you’re searching for. This can be a critical tool when conducting Arabic language resource and you’re unsure of how to spell a complex Arabic name.
Almaany.com is a very comprehensive PDF glossary of Arabic language terminology. Reading and translating Arabic legal terminology can be extremely complicated even for native speakers, so having a resource like this at your disposal is necessary. It’s not often that you’ll have to reference Arabic legal terms; however, it is something that periodically surfaces for Arabic language professionals working in the due diligence, intelligence, or legal services fields.
Google Translate and Google
When used properly by someone who already possesses advanced Arabic language skills, Google Translate can be a useful tool for picking up on small translation nuances or variations. I caveat that Google Translate is most effective when used by someone with advanced Arabic language skills because it often generates inaccurate or out-of-context translations that require filtering by an advanced Arabic language professional. When it comes to Arabic, Google Translate is most effective when used to translate individual words or verbs. However, at least for Arabic, it should not be used to translate entire passages or even sentences. Most Arabic professionals can spot a translation generated by Google Translate a mile away.
When it comes to placing words, verbs, or phrases in their proper context, searching Google can be extremely effective. For instance, if I want to see how the phrase
“ألقي القبض عليهم” is used in a sentence, I can type that phrase into Google’s search bar, click News, and instantly be presented with a number of recent news articles that have used that phrase.
Lastly, there has been a lot of recent praise about the online Arabic resource Arabic Ontology, created by a computer science professor at Birzeit University. The tool is both a comprehensive dictionary an
d thesaurus of Arabic and a system that will enable the creation of new Arabic-language software. I have yet to fully explore this tool, but it is receiving a lot of praise from trusted reviews I’ve read online.