About Playaling

Welcome to Playaling, the first online resource for learning Arabic through engaging real-world content and interactive captioning. With new clips and features being added all the time, we’re a dedicated team of language professionals making engaging real-world Arabic content available to teachers and students across the globe.

If you’re a student or teacher of Arabic like us, you’ve surely shared our frustration with the shortage of quality resources for learning Arabic, especially when it comes to colloquial Arabic. This is where Playaling comes in. It makes authentic, real-world Arabic online content fun, accessible, and pedagogically useful.

Using Playaling is simple:

  1. Filter videos by preferred level, content, grammatical concept, popularity, dialect1 and/or Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). Use the text search to target relevant vocabulary, themes, and functions. Our unique search algorithm gives you the maximum flexibility to find what you need; just click inside the search box for detailed information on how to use it.
  2. Once you find your preferred videos, view them using optional transcription, translation, and a pop-up dictionary. Simply move your cursor over the words to discover their meanings and hear how they’re pronounced.
  3. Take your learning one step further with Cloze Listen, an activity that allows you to improve your listening and writing skills by filling in what you hear. Type in the missing words (if you have an Arabic keyboard) or select them from a word bank. Simply click the orange Cloze Listen button after opening a video from the homepage.
  4. Some videos also have a Check Comprehension activity, which allows you to answer listening comprehension questions while watching the video. When this exercise is available for a particular video, you’ll see an orange “Check Comprehension” button after opening a video from the homepage. Both activities are also accessible via buttons to the left of the video player.

In case you ever need to look up words or phrases, try our unique cross-dialectical Audio Dictionary. Each word is accompanied by audio pronunciations, example sentences, detailed grammatical information, and more.

Playaling hosts large collections of Modern Standard, Egyptian, Levantine, Gulf, and North African Darija videos. Content from less commonly commonly taught varieties of Arabic, such as Iraqi, Yemeni, and Sudanese, is also represented.

If you’re a teacher and are looking for ideas on how to incorporate Playaling into your teaching curricula, check out some creative suggestions from Lena Krause, an Arabic teacher.

Our story

Playaling is a living platform founded by Jordan Gerstler-Holton, a former Center for Arabic Study Abroad (CASA) fellow and long-time student of Arabic. Part of his inspiration came from Nadia Harb, a professor at American University in Cairo, who instructs her students with the following phrase:

!لا تكن ملكياً أكثر من الملك

Don’t be more royalist than the king!
(Or less literally: “Don’t be more Catholic than the Pope!”)

Harb loves MSA and does not teach colloquial Arabic. Regardless, when speaking, she encourages students to drop certain features of MSA seldom used by native speakers themselves, in favor of عامية المثقفين (“the colloquial of the well-educated”) or Educated Spoken Arabic (ESA), a form of “high” colloquial favoured by educated elites2. The idea is that if native speakers can’t be held to certain standards, the student shouldn’t either. All the more so if his/her goals are primarily functional: the ability to communicate and understand.

Privileging ESA is one approach to Arabic education, but there’s little consensus over what to do. At Playaling, we provide a broad spectrum of what native speakers actually use, thereby empowering students and educators to decide for themselves.

In 2019, Krause generously offered to curate and annotate North African Darija clips for the site. Thanks to her efforts, we were able to add Darija, which we didn’t have before.

To find out more, or to leave your comments and suggestions, please contact us at info@playaling.com . We welcome inquiries regarding customised solutions for classrooms.

1. Users can filter by the following varieties of Arabic: Egyptian, Levantine, Gulf, North African Darija, Modern Standard (MSA), Education Spoken (ESA), and Other. “Egyptian” includes the various sub dialects spoken in Egypt, “Levantine” includes the sub dialects spoken in Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel/Palestine. “Gulf” includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, and southern Iraq. “North African Darija” includes Moroccan, Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, and Libya. “Other” includes Sudan, Yemen, and central/northern Iraq. Some videos contain multiple varieties at once.

2. El-Said Badawi, a prominent Arab linguist and former director of CASA, classified Arabic into five different levels: فصحى التراث, “Classical Arabic;” فصحى المعاصر, “Modern Standard Arabic;” عامية المثقفين, “colloquial of the well-educated,” عامية المتنورين, “colloquial of the basically educated;” and عامية الأميين, “colloquial of the illiterates.” The “neatness” of all five levels, he noted, is “achievable only through the highest level of abstraction.” (See Badawi’s article and book). As Badawi understood, most colloquial forms contain micro-variations that depend on the speaker’s geographic origins, socio-economic “class,” educational level, and subject matter, all of which overlap and defy simple categorization into discrete sets. Further complicating matters, native speakers commonly switch between higher and lower forms, sometimes mid-sentence, depending on context and desired effect. Nevertheless, in order to help teachers and students distinguish educated from less educated colloquial forms, we’ve distinguished some content as Educated Spoken Arabic (ESA). Overlapping with both MSA and multiple dialects simultaneously, ESA has the advantages of lending relative ease to conversation, bestowing prestige on the speaker, and being widely understood. It’s commonly used in classrooms and for discussions about intellectual topics (such as politics, society, history, culture, religion, etc.) as well as for facilitating communication among native speakers of different dialects.