Foreigncy: a tool to grow your Arabic vocabulary and improve your reading skills

If you are a student of Arabic you have likely struggled to find quality resources to use outside of a classroom context. There are a myriad of online resources available, but many are either out of date or poorly organised (or grossly unaffordable).

I’ve been playing around with the recently revamped Foreigncy website to keep practicing my Arabic reading and vocabulary acquisition. The site describes itself as “a one-of-a-kind language training system for advanced level students and language professionals,” which “focuses on the practical aspects of language learning that are in demand by employers.”

Foreigncy

Using Foreigncy is simple and helps provides users with a base with which to train their reading ability in the target language.

Each language set is based off of an actual news article taken from a variety of reliable sources in the target language. Arabic, for instance, features articles from both Pan-Arab news sites (such as Al Jazeera, Asharq Al-Awsat and BBC Arabic) and national outlets (such as the Lebanese Annahar or the Iraqi Al Sumaria News).

The language sets begin with a concise English summary of the article, which provides a brief background and context for the vocabulary covered. A short, Arabic-language video on the topic covered in the article is also provided in order to practice listening skills.

Next up is vocabulary, which is provided in the form of printable PDF lists, bilingual flashcards and a matching game. The PDFs are excellent references for later study, but the most useful thing for me is the use of the pre-made, digital flashcards. In the early days of my own Arabic study, I used to waste hours writing up flashcards on tiny pieces of paper. Those have all inevitably found their way to the recycling, as browser and mobile tools such as Quizlet improved. The flashcards on Foreigncy can be studied in three different view modes: (1) Standard: Target language on Front, English on Back; (2) Reverse: English on Front; Target language on Back; or (3) Target language and English side-by-side. I will usually begin by studying with Standard flashcards to test my existing knowledge of the words on sight, and will then switch to Reverse flashcards in order to test my ability to translate the words into the target language. I always make sure to use the Shuffle feature with the flashcards in order to ensure that I am not only able to identify the words based on the order I view them in.

The flashcards also boast three other important features: Audio recordings of the target language words, the ability to “star” words that you feel you need to review upon completion of the set, and the “Add to profile” feature. The audio recordings are excellent to ensure you are able to properly pronounce the words — not just recognise them when you see them written. The feature that I am a huge fan of, however, is the “Add to profile” feature. This allows you to save certain flashcards to your personal homepage and create a custom stack of flashcards that you feel you need to work on the most. This means you do not have to sort through words that you are comfortable with in order to review the words you wish to review. I appreciate this customisable feature of my profile page which helps me expedite my daily vocabulary review and focus on my weaknesses.

After completing your study of the flashcards, you have the option to play a timed matching game. This is a great way to “gamify” your language learning experience and break the monotony of endless hours of flashcards and vocabulary lists that once defined language study.

Once you have used all these features, you are left to read the article in its original form. I always am sure to read out loud — especially my first time reading the article — in order to improve not only my reading ability but also my pronunciation. Having followed the prior steps in Foreigncy’s method, you will be amazed with how fluently you are able to read about often complex topics.

Therein lies the added benefit of Foreigncy’s method. If you are not aware of current events of the countries in which your new language is spoken, it will be difficult to ever truly speak fluently in the language. In order to speak fluently, background knowledge of the history, politics, cultures and religions is necessary so that you can engage in conversations across a wide variety of topics. By providing language students with learning tools based on current news in the target language, students can both expand their language skills and knowledge of the regions in which the language is spoken.

With regard to Arabic and the Middle East, this has taken the form of language sets dealing with the formation of Tunisia’s new government, the Jordanian pilot captured by ISIS, the recent flare up between Hezbollah and Israel, the flogging of a Saudi blogger, security issues in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and the Houthi advance in Yemen.

Foreigncy

Foreigncy provides students of Arabic with the tools to learn new vocabulary and improve their reading ability, while at the same time giving students the contextual background that will allow them to use this new vocabulary fluently.

The site also features a blog, which provides further insight into language learning, whether tips on how to expand your vocabulary, new learning methods, or cultural insights that will help contextualise the development of your language skills.

You can currently test out the website using a handful of free sets made available, or sign up for a two-week free trial in order to test out all of the great features I’ve outlined above.

I highly recommend Foreigncy as an excellent tool for Intermediate and Advanced students of Arabic and those looking to build a career related to Middle East politics.

Note: In addition to Arabic, Foreigncy also offers language learning resources for students of Hebrew, Mandarin, Persian, Russian and Urdu. My own language restrictions do not allow me to provide a review of these aspects of the site, but I am certain they are up to the same high standards as the Arabic resources.


Kevin Moore

Kevin Moore holds an MSc in Arab World Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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