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al-Kitaab: Part One

al-Kitaab fii Ta`allum al-`Arabiyya: Part One 2nd ed. by Mahmoud al-Batal, Kristen Brustad, and Abbas al-Tonsi

Primary Use: Textbook for moving from beginning level Arabic to intermediate
Format:20 chapters, each with new vocabulary, various lessons with the included DVD set, exercises throughout the chapter, and reading passages
Key:Separate volume
Meant For:Beginner to intermediate


The al-Kitaab books have a particular philosophy of teaching grammar. It states in the preface that "students acquire language by constructing their own internal grammar rather than by internalizing a presentation of grammar to them" (al-Kitaab: Part One p xii). Thus, from chapter one, students learn والد 'father' and والدي 'my father' as two separate words in the vocabulary list. It is up to the student to recognize the pattern for themselves; the grammatical lesson is presented later. The idea is that students will understand from context the basic grammatical idea before their explanation; thus these grammatical lessons become internalized rather than merely memorized. This is also why the word يدرس 'he teaches' and أعرف 'I know' are introduced separately, leaving students to construct أدرس 'I teach' and يعرف 'he knows' for themselves.

This theory of grammatical teaching presupposes that grammar is necessary to language, and one cannot learn a language without picking up its grammatical structure along the way, almost as if by accident. This is how one learns the grammar of one's native language-incidentally, this is also why Arabic grammar can be difficult to pick up since it is often explained using grammatical terms that were perhaps never learned in the first place.

This is not to say that grammar is not formally taught in the al-Kitaab series at all; the nisba construction is taught in the same chapter it introduces it in the vocabulary, and verb conjugations are eventually explained. The idea of introducing verbs before they are fully explained gives students the opportunity to become familiar with verbs before the lesson is introduced so that they have a foundation to build from already in place. Furthermore, the books employ the use of 'spiraling,' or introducing the same topic repeated times with increasing levels of difficulty, both as review and as new information.

The grammatical lessons are taught not in a specific order but are instead based on the overall framework of the story of Maha that is told throughout the book. In general however, grammatical concepts begin simply and progress to the more complex as the book goes along. The al-Kitaab series uses Arabic grammatical terms whenever it can, and sticks to simple English terminology, making the grammar lessons generally easy to understand.

One of the largest complaints with the al-Kitaab series is the difficulties in learning grammar the way that al-Kitaab presents it. For these students, outside grammar sources are recommended to supplement the series. It's not cheating! It's just another way to learn Arabic.

How to Use It

In order to use this book to the fullest extent, one must already know the following:

  1. The Arabic script
  2. Arabic numerals
  3. preferably have gone through Alif Baa in preparation
As with Alif Baa, a computer with DVD capabilities is also necessary in order to do all the exercises in the book.

The chapters in this book are meant to be gone through in order, as each chapter builds on the previous chapters, making it seem difficult to skip around. However, there are two grammar indexes in the back - one in English and one in Arabic, both in alphabetical order in their respective languages - and the student should be encouraged to reference this index and skip to a particular grammatical topic that he/she would like more information about. The index is also a good way to reference what grammatical topics are taught in the first al-Kitaab book as opposed to the other books in the series. Unfortunately there is no specific way to easily skip to the grammar exercises, as they are scattered throughout the book. The answers to the exercises are found in the key which can be purchased separately.

It is important to note that grammatical terms in Arabic are not found in the Arabic-English dictionary located in the back of al-Kitaab, although they can be found in the Arabic grammar index.

The table of contents also references some of the grammatical lessons, but as this is written entirely in Arabic, one must be aware of the Arabic grammatical terms before browsing this section.

Additionally, a Pronoun Chart and some Conjugation Charts of various verbs can be found in the back of the book. A list of verbs conjugated can be found at the end of the table of contents. It should be noted that these charts are almost entirely in Arabic.


al-Batal, Mahmoud, Kristen Brustad, and Abbas al-Tonsi. al-Kitaab fii Ta`allum al-`Arabiyya: Part One. 2nd ed. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2004.