Are New Mobile Apps in Arabic Useful for Teaching and Learning?

Pocket Arabic with disjointed characters

Pocket Arabic with disjointed characters

What a difference a year makes!  In 2008, I downloaded some apps to my iPhone that I hoped to use to keep my language skills in Arabic. They were simple things, Arabic Word of the Day and Pocket Arabic, but none of it worked well. With Pocket Arabic, the letters weren’t even joined as they must be in Arabic typography.

I also downloaded iQuran, which does work well, and can be useful for learning Arabic, but specifically Classical Arabic as used in literary and learned expression. iQuran is a study aid for Quranic recitation with quizzes, pronunciation guides, etc. It’s not so useful for modern spoken and written Arabic.

With the iPhone 3.0 OS, however, language capabilities for the iPhone were greatly improved and it now supports Arabic and a number of other non-Western alphabets. Today I saw an ad for the Al-Mawrid Al-Qareeb EnglishArabic Dictionary app in the iPhone app for the Oxford English Dictionary. In searching for it I discovered there has been a proliferation of apps for the iPhone that seem they could be very useful for the study of Arabic.

There are a number of applications that start with alphabet instruction, such as iStudy: Arabic Alphabet, AlifBa Lite and even a game, Arabiah.

In addition to the Al-Mawrid iPhone app, there are other dictionaries such as the Maktoob Arabic-English Dictionary and a general Middle Eastern dictionary by McHahm.

There are engines like the Arabic YouTube search and the Arabic Web search, by the same developer, vocabulary flash cards, phrase books (including the well known Lonely Planet Phrasebook), an ever growing number of translators and even an application that downloads an Arabic version of wikipedia.

Useful for upper level study may be applications that are entirely in Arabic. i4Islam, on the web at, has applications entirely in Arabic though most have fairly specific functions, such as the Islamic calendar, or the application “Did You Know? Facts and Information.” Islamiclib is a free Islamic Library with thousands of books in Arabic, Farsi, Dari, Pashto, Urdu, English, French, Turkish, Italian and other languages, often including translation and commentary.

Arguably the most impressive application is Arabic Language Buddy, by Sakhr Media, the company that has long been the leading software developer in the Middle East. This product is a voice activated, simultaneous translator with optional keypad entry and playback in Arabic. The military has been using iPods for translation in Iraq since 2007, but this is the first time such technology has been made available to the general public. There is, however, a monthly charge for the service, currently $49.99 for academic users and $149.99 for others.

YouTube Direkt

This makes me wonder about the use of mobile devices in language teaching, particularly of less commonly taught languages. I’m interested to know if anyone has tried these or other iPhone applications. If so, what did you think of them in and of themselves? Have you used them for pedagogical purposes? How was that experience? Do similar applications exist for other platforms? Which do you have experience with?

I’ve done a quick search on Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew and other languages and found considerably fewer applications for each of these.  Still, some were intriguiging and seemed they could be useful.  Have you found them so?

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