A taste of Arabic



A taste of Arabic

A student in a library looking for a book

Arabic study


Arabic is spoken by more than half a billion native speakers across the Arab world, from North Africa to the countries of the Middle East and the Gulf states. This is in addition to 250 million non-native speakers. Arabic is also regarded as a universal language for Muslims worldwide. Muslims use Arabic daily as the liturgical language of Islam (e.g. in prayers, greetings etc.). In recent years, the study of Arabic has become increasingly popular at universities in the UK.


These activities will introduce you to the Arabic language, its vocabulary, history, and pronunciation. You will also gain an insight into how Arabic is taught at university in the UK.

Activity 1: What do you already know about Arabic?

You may be surprised to discover that you already know a lot about the Arabic language, and that you even use Arabic words in daily life - English contains thousands of words which have come from Arabic. In this activity, you will reflect on what you already know about Arabic - it is more than you may think!


Read the questions and then choose either 'true' or 'false'. Then read the feedback.

1. Arabic is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world.

2. Arabic is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

3. Arabic is part of the same linguistic group as English.

4. The Qu'ran is one of the earliest surviving documents of written Arabic.

5. In the Middle Ages, Arabic was regarded as a lingua franca across the world.

6. There are many different types of Arabic language.

Activity 2: Arabic words in English

English contains about 3000 Arabic loanwords such as algebra, algorithm, alchemy, camel, Sahara and zenith and this is in addition to about 5000 derivative words. Arabic, like many languages, has a capacity to absorb and accommodate other languages and vice-versa. Arabic is a major source of vocabulary for many languages with which is has come into direct contact. European languages like Spanish, Portuguese, Maltese and Cypriot Greek as well as Asian languages like Persian, Urdu, Bengali, Turkish, Malay and Indonesian have all been influenced by Arabic.

In this activity, you will learn about some of the English words which have come from Arabic.


Look at each English word and then choose from the drop down list the Arabic word you think it is derived from.

1. alcohol

2. algebra

3. candy

4. average

5. checkmate

6. coffee

7. sugar

8. zero

9. Magazine

10. mattress

© Mourad Diouri and Kate Borthwick / 2012 / All rights reserved.

Created using the LOC Tool, University of Southampton