It can be difficult to find books for learning Arabic. Plus, you quickly run into problems with the ones you do find.
Why? Well, some books are a mix of Egyptian and fus7a. Or they don’t have English translations. Or they're outdated, difficult to understand, or just not very user-friendly.
That’s why I’ve rounded up eleven books for learning Arabic that will help you with Egyptian Arabic language and culture.
You'll find three categories in this post: books that help with Egyptian Arabic, books that help with Egyptian culture, and a few novels from Egyptian authors. And if you're learning MSA rather than the Egyptian variety, you'll find a little bonus at the end of the post.
Hope you enjoy!
Books For Learning Egyptian Arabic
These are often considered some of the best books for learners of Egyptian Arabic.
Just about any student that has been learning Egyptian Arabic for a while will know about them. Kallimni ‘Arabi is actually a series.
It spans all levels from complete beginner to advanced Egyptian Arabic, with five books in total. Because of that, Kallimni ‘Arabi is worth checking out for most anyone learning Egyptian Arabic. Each book is split into themed chapters.
For each chapter you will encounter reading exercises, useful vocabulary, and audio clips via CD that let you follow along.
This makes the series quite interactive. The exercises are in-depth, and designed to get you as the student actively involved in learning the language. That said, these books are completely in Arabic.
That means that this is probably not the best series, regardless of your level, if you are a “self learner.” It can work, sure, but the helpful guidance of a native speaker likely gets the most bang for your buck. But don’t let that keep you from giving these a look. Kallimni ‘Arabi really is a great series.
This is a book that a French friend of mine in Cairo swears by. He found it on a bookshelf in his new apartment, opened it up, and got sucked in. He said it was one of the more useful books he had used to study Egyptian Arabic. After looking through Kullu Tawmam! myself, I would agree.
It’s quite clear that it’s a solid book for anybody wanting to learn Egyptian Arabic. It has a ton of example sentences, vocabulary lists, and useful grammar explanations. Worth the investment.
However, there’s also a specific segment of learners who this book is ESPECIALLY useful for: people that already have a background in Standard Arabic.
Most of the vocabulary is presented in both the fus7a version and the Egyptian Arabic version.
This feature is really great at clearing up confusion. I certainly know this was my own experience when I moved to Cairo.
I got really good at fus7a, started learning the Egyptian dialect, and immediately started mixing up the two. This a common problem for learners: not being sure which word is fus7a and which is Egyptian. A problem that Kullu Tawmam! can help with. Definitely worth checking out!
This book is indispensable if you are learning Egyptian Arabic. In fact, I would say this was the most useful book I had while living in Cairo.
It’s produced by Matthew Alrich from the great site Lingualism. It is essentially over 4,500 vocabulary words and phrases (with example sentences) split into three columns: Arabic, phonetic spelling, and English translation. This makes it the perfect companion resource.
It’s also great for just “flipping through.” You learn something new every time you open the book! While this book isn’t exactly for complete beginners (it can be overwhelming with how much information is there, and is formatted differently than a standard dictionary), I would buy it immediately. The better you get, the more and more valuable it becomes.
Get this book!
This book is produced by the awesome site Talk in Arabic. What makes this book great are the clear English translations. This means you are certain what words and phrases mean, and don’t have to waste the time looking them up on your own.
This sort of “Arabic/English translation” is frustratingly rare to find. You're often on your own in terms of reliable comprehension. This really slows down your progress. Not so with these short stories!
With this book, you are immediately building your Egyptian Arabic vocabulary as soon as you open it up. There is also a section for exercises that test your comprehension.
This ensures that you reinforce the material that you are learning. The Talk in Arabic book is for beginners / low intermediate students of Egyptian Arabic.
While this isn’t a book I myself have used, I once lived with a girl in Cairo that did. She was a complete beginner in Egyptian Arabic and loved it.
According to Amazon reviews, a lot of other people do too! This book is one of the few that markets itself as “complete beginner.” In fact, “no knowledge of Arabic is necessary.” If you are brand new to the language, go for it!
One note that is important to point out: this book uses transliteration instead of the Arabic script. I don’t recommend this for long-term learning if you are serious about Egyptian Arabic.
Sure, it’s a bit of extra time learning the Arabic alphabet. But it’s so worth it. Use “Colloquial Arabic of Egypt” as a primer. But you will definitely need to know the alphabet at some point. Might as well be now!
Another book by Aldrich.
This is a good book to pick up if you have a little bit of knowledge about Egyptian Arabic and are looking to improve your skills in casual conversation. Basically, each chapter is a question, followed by a bunch of different ways you might answer it.
Shuwuyya ‘an Nefsi is particularly useful if you are an upper beginner. At this stage, you are still focusing on “survival phrases” that allow you to engage in small talk. This book is quite good for that.
It also has accompanying audio material that ensures you are learning the correct pronunciation. Nothing too fancy here, but a great Egyptian Arabic book.
Books For Learning Arabic: Egyptian Culture Primers
This is the book for you if you want know more about Egyptian culture. There are nine chapters, explaining everything from how to make friends in Egypt to how safe the country is. Useful information for anybody that has never been there before.
While this is a useful cultural primer for just about anybody, it’s admittedly not the most in-depth. Culture Smart! Egypt! is pretty short, which comes across at points as a bit “surface level.” That’s just about the only negative I can think about, though.
While it doesn’t cover everything about Egyptian culture (what book could?), it definitely helped me before I moved to Cairo. Egypt is usually a different culture for most travellers. Preparation helps. Culture Smart! Egypt! can definitely help too.
Maybe a cliche book title here, but still quite useful.
In Culture Shock!, you cover situations like meeting somebody for the first time, as well as common body language of Egyptians.
This can be really valuable for somebody wanting to know how to generally act around Egyptians.
Treat it as another cultural primer. That said, it was published in 2011, and as far as I know, hasn’t been updated.
I myself read it back in 2016. While useful, some of the information (especially regarding the government and economy) isn’t accurate anymore.
Still some good cultural education, though!
Egyptian Arabic Novels
While this is a great trilogy that covers a lot of Egyptian history (and is available in English), anything by Mahfouz is great.
If you haven’t heard of him, Mahfouz is one of the most famous (if not the most famous) authors in Egyptian history. If you are reading in Arabic, this is definitely advanced stuff. Because novels by Mahfouz are just that: novels.
Not “beginner friendly” workbooks. It goes without saying that to read Mahfouz in the original language requires an advanced level of Arabic.
But once you get there, his work is required reading for anybody interested in Egyptian culture and history. Because it’s an insight into the country itself. The different stages of Egyptian history, and how the culture has changed over time.
These themes are all present in Mahfouz novels.
And even if you aren’t learning Egyptian Arabic (or aren’t to the advanced level yet), Naguib Mahfouz is worth checking out.
His writing was both great and influential, and English translations are easy to come by.
This is personally one of my favourite books I have ever read in Egyptian Arabic. When I first moved to Cairo a friend recommended this book.
The premise is basic: the author took a bunch of (fictional) taxi rides, asked the drivers a bunch of questions, and then turned the conversations into a book.
Simple? Yes. But also intriguing. What’s particularly interesting about “Taxi” is that Khaled Alkhamissi wrote it in 2006, just five years before the Egyptian revolution.
It’s been noted (and I completely agree) that the conversations essentially predicted what was going to happen. Poverty, political corruption, deteriorating standard of living, and overall dissatisfaction.
These are all themes covered in the conversations with taxi drivers…..and they all contributed to the spark that would set Tahrir Square ablaze five short years later.
While knowing how to talk about the Egyptian Revolution in Egyptian Arabic is great, it’s not the only purpose of this book. You are also learning a ton about Egyptian culture. A good combination.
Downsides Of This Novel
The only problem with this is that there aren’t any translations (in the Arabic version). Just like Naguib Mahfouz’s works, it’s a book written in Arabic for Arabic speakers. Not the best book for a complete beginner.
That said, I started this book about six months after moving to Cairo. I was upper beginner at that point, and I worked through it. Which brings me to a good point: just because a book is above your level doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from it.
One last thing: “Taxi” is a mix of fus7a and Egyptian Arabic.
While this can be annoying (and it’s a problem with a lot of books in Arabic dialects), here’s a tip: the dialogue is in Egyptian Arabic, and everything else is in fus7a.
Luckily, it’s almost all dialogue!
Bonus: Learning MSA Not Egyptian Arabic?
Learning MSA, not Egyptian? Then check out Short Stories in Arabic for Intermediate learners.
I'm passionate about teaching and learning languages through input and especially through stories. So it makes sense that I have my own set of short stories in various languages, including Arabic.
With this book of short stories, you can:
- Expand your vocabulary from context
- Learn grammar naturally
- Use the language in a meaningful activity that helps you become more independent
In the book you'll discover 8 stories from a variety of genres. And natural dialogues to help you master conversational language.
You'll also find language learner-friendly features like manageable chapters, regular plot summaries, comprehension questions and word reference lists. That means no fumbling around with dictionaries or struggling through dense text.
Some Final Advice On Finding Books For Learning Arabic
The internet is your friend here. While this is a good list of 11 to get you going, quality resources for Arabic dialects are famous for their scarcity.
That’s why researching on your own can be quite useful. Post in Facebook groups, or give sites like Amazon and Reddit a look.
There are Egyptian books out there – you just need to go looking!
Also, don't forget to check out my guide on how to read Arabic for more tips on using reading and books for learning Arabic.