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9 Arabic TV Shows You Won’t be Able to Live Without

One of the most compelling reasons to learn another language is to be able to enjoy entertainment from around the world.

And if you’ve come this far without dipping your toes into the wellspring of Arabic television, prepare to be amazed.

Because the Arab world is enormous.

In addition to several thriving film industries, Arabic-speaking people have enjoyed television programs of every sort for generations.

From sprawling battle scenes to nail-biting game shows to thrilling political dramas, there truly is something for everyone. So let ArabicPod101.com help you find your new favorite Arab show! (And in case you’re wondering where to watch Arabic TV shows, keep in mind that YouTube and Netflix are good places to start.)

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Table of Contents

  1. Ramadan Historical Epics in Modern Standard Arabic
  2. Learn Like a Child with this Pan-Arabic Classic
  3. Watch Stories Unfold in the Language of the Streets
  4. Reality Shows: More Fun than Fiction?
  5. Bonus
  6. Conclusion

1. Ramadan Historical Epics in Modern Standard Arabic

At some point in the past, some genius marketing executive realized that the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, with its thirty days of fasting during daylight, was the perfect market for a thirty-episode evening TV special.

Some of the most popular and big-budgeted Ramadan dramas have been sweeping historical epics retelling passion, betrayal, and intrigue of medieval times.

And in keeping with the grandiose scale, quite a few of these epics have actually been produced entirely in Modern Standard Arabic!

The reaction to that has been amazing. As much as people love hearing their own dialects on screen, it can be a really otherworldly experience to be thrust back in time and hear people speak beautiful fusha (the Arabic language of long ago) as if it was their native tongue.

If you want to start watching a quality, exciting TV show in Arabic, check out these MSA epics and see what you think!

1- أوركيديا (Orkidia)

The English title gets spelled in a number of different ways—I saw it as Orchidea, Orkadea, and Orcadia while researching this article.

However you’d like to spell it, Orkidia was massively hyped in the months leading up to Ramadan in 2017. It’s about the political intrigue, passionate romance, and flashing tempers between leaders of three ancient kingdoms.

Syrian director Hatem Ali spearheaded this project, which reportedly cost five-million US dollars to shoot. Most of the shooting was done in Romania. Southern Europe here stands in for the battlefields of the war between the Kingdoms of Samara, Assyria, and Orkidia, with more than 500 extras used for some epic battle scenes.

If this happens to remind you of a certain Western TV series about thrones and games of intrigue, you’re not alone. Quite a few people have drawn parallels to Game of Thrones, only this Arabic version comes without the gratuitous nudity.

We understand, though, if you want to get a taste of this exciting Arab TV show before immersing yourself in it.

2- عُمَرْ (Omar)

Omar

Omar (or The Omar Series) could be considered one of the most ambitious Arabic TV projects ever made, and some even consider it the best Arabic TV show.

It depicts the life of Omar ibn Al-Khattab, a close companion of the Prophet Muhammad and the second caliph of the Islamic Empire.

For this, it received huge criticism from some Muslim leaders who saw it as blasphemous to have an actor play the role of Omar. However, other religious leaders approved of the depiction and felt that this new way of storytelling could be a great help for people who might not read much history anymore.

And the fans? Whether they were drawn in by the gorgeous cinematography, the rich historical detail, or the controversy itself, they loved it.

It’s one of the highest-rated Arabic miniseries ever, and that’s just perfect for you, the learner.

Why? Because like Orkidia, it’s all in beautifully spoken MSA!

And perhaps in anticipation of religious protests against the show, the producers also created two daily educational segments that explore the problems of governing an empire and the moral choices that Omar had to make in life.

2. Learn Like a Child with this Pan-Arabic Classic

1- افتح يا سمسم (Iftah Ya SimSim)

Iftah Ya SimSim

When Sesame Street first premiered in 1969, it was conceived as a perfectly American program. Little did the producers know, its characters and messages had wide-reaching international appeal.

Iftah Ya SimSim was a Kuwaiti production from the late 1970s until the Gulf War in 1990. It was beloved by millions and was massively successful in bringing literacy and basic education to the underserved population.

Sesame Street

This is in no way a translation or copycat of Sesame Street—it was developed by and for Arabs and designed to help young kids all over the Arab world grow into educated and moral adults.

Early on in its development, the decision was even made to produce the entire show in Modern Standard Arabic in order to promote cultural literacy and pan-Arab collaboration.

This was a big gamble, but it paid off. Linguistic purists worried that MSA would either confuse kids or start devolving into a slangier form of itself, but that never happened. Even the young kids invited to take part were able to speak MSA with only a handful of regional colloquialisms.

In 2015, the show was revived with the same educational and language goals, and put on YouTube for all to see. This really is a great TV show to learn Arabic with, especially for beginners due to its simple yet far-reaching nature.

3. Watch Stories Unfold in the Language of the Streets

1- Grand Hotel / Secret of the NIle

As I mentioned above, Ramadan television is so highly anticipated by viewers and networks alike that it’s known as “super-primetime.”

Secret of the Nile was the first Egyptian show on Netflix, released for Ramadan 2016, and it did really well. Really well.

It’s about a man who infiltrates the staff at the Grand Hotel to find out about his missing sister. He ends up learning quite a bit more—about romance, deception, and secrets kept by the highest levels of Egyptian society.

The stunning period cinematography was so gorgeous and the plot so thick with twists, people from all over the world who had never even considered Arabic TV fell in love. It was described as “bingeworthy” by more than one media source.

2- Shankaboot

Shankaboot

Have you ever fantasized about gliding on a Vespa through the streets of Milan?

How about being a delivery boy on a rickety scooter on the streets of Beirut? Practically the same thing, right?

This Lebanese series was actually one of the first Arabic-language web series ever created, and certainly the most well-known at the time.

It ran for five seasons with 52 total episodes of around five minutes each. But that’s plenty of time to watch Suleiman the delivery boy meet with strange and surreal slices of life around the streets of Beirut.

The producers actually purposefully cast actors with little or no experience to save on cost and get more realistic portrayals of everyday people.

They also came up with the neat idea of having fans of the series write in and suggest plot points or lines of dialogue. You can’t get that level of audience interaction anywhere else!

4. Reality Shows: More Fun than Fiction?

Fictionalized series and dramas are wonderful escapes from daily life, but they’re far from the only great genre of TV.

Reality shows can be perfect for language learners because they expose the learner to ordinary people speaking spontaneously—or at least not reading directly from a script.

Watch these Arabic TV shows for an immersive and insightful look at the language.

1- MBC Top Chef

Fifteen contestants from around the Middle East gather together for a grueling thirteen-week competition. Following the Top Chef format that has been tried and tested around the world, at the end of each week one chef is eliminated from the competition.

Every meal is judged based on flavor and presentation by three internationally renowned chefs: Chinese-Egyptian Bobby Chinn, Saudi Mona Mosly, and Lebanese Maroun Chedid.

In the first season, contestants came from pretty much every Arabic-speaking country: Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, and Oman among others.

That means you’ll get a nice mix of dialectal Arabic as well as Modern Standard Arabic in the more formal moments.

And since this is an international show based off of an American format, don’t be surprised to hear quite a bit of English as well.

During each episode, you’ll see the cooking action play out on screen, you’ll hear the contestants explain what they were doing, and you’ll hear the judges’ interpretations of the final dish.

Those are all great opportunities to learn words for food, ingredients, and how to prepare them. And since they’re repeated in different contexts, they’ll really stick in your mind way more than others.

Go ahead and see for yourself what this show is all about!

2- Minute To Win It Egypt

Minute To Win It Egypt

Have you ever idly rolled a coin between your fingers or batted a balloon around in the air?

What if millions of people were watching and a life-changing amount of money was on the line?

That’s the premise behind Minute To Win It, a reality game show where contestants try to accomplish unusual tasks with everyday objects inside of 60 seconds.

The show was created in the United States and became immediately popular worldwide, eventually being broadcast to more than fifty countries.

But why this show for language learners? Simple: the style of language used.

I’m not even talking about MSA vs Egyptian Arabic – I mean what the people are saying.

For every game, the host and the announcer both describe the task that has to be performed, and while the contestant is stacking bottles or balancing toothpicks, the commentary is describing the action.

“Watch it now, it’s about to tip over!” “Hurry now, ten seconds left!”

That’s a whole lot of repetitive, descriptive language that makes it a cinch to follow for learners. If you miss a word or phrase, you’ll probably hear it again in the replay.

In addition, that kind of vocabulary isn’t often seen in language books. But every native speaker knows how to use words like stack up, balance, fall, arrange, find… and if you want to speak Arabic well, you’ll have to learn them too.

If this kind of television seems up your alley, go ahead and check it out on YouTube.

3- Stars of Science

Unlike the two reality shows above which are direct copies of Western show formats, Stars of Science is a homegrown show from Qatar, where engineer-entrepreneurs pitch and create new inventions in front of expert judges.

It makes a lot of sense, too—reach far back into the history of the world, and it’s easy to see that the scientific tradition has its roots in Arab cultures.

More than 7,000 applicants apply for each season, from which sixteen are selected. They need to prove not only that their products—such as a remote power source for pipeline robots or a rapid-action clothes steamer—work well, but that they’ll be cost-effective and profitable for investors.

Contestants speak to each other in dialects when they can understand, and MSA when they can’t. This is a very realistic (it’s reality TV, of course) depiction of how Arabs from different language backgrounds might communicate when working together on a project.

You’ll hear people speak their dialects with added MSA words, speak pure dialect, and “modify” their dialects toward one another to achieve an understandable, if fluid, common ground.

Interested in learning more about this show, its contestants, and the inventions they present? Find out for yourself if this is the show for you.

5. Bonus

1- Jinn (Netflix Original)

Maybe you’ve seen Aladdin? Remember Robin Williams as the Genie?

Well, a Jinn is just about the polar opposite of that.

In Islam, a Jinn is a creature that dwells in a parallel spirit world and has the power to haunt, influence, and even possess people in our world.

There are some pretty spooky videos out there on YouTube that purport to show Jinns caught on camera, and Islamic religious leaders regularly issue warnings about the dangerous influence of the Jinns on modern everyday life.

The upcoming Netflix series has only just started production in Jordan, but it’s received considerable press as the American streaming company’s first Arabic-language original. Netflix has produced Arabic series before, but never from scratch as with this one.

It’s being billed as a “supernatural teenage coming-of-age drama” which is unique in itself, not least because there aren’t too many Arabic-language shows focused on teenagers.

Plot details are sketchy right now, though we do know it’ll revolve around the thrilling relationships between human teenagers, Jinns, and the guardian Jinn who’s tasked with keeping an eye on rogue Jinns.

As of October 2018, the show is being marketed as “Arabic-language” so it’s not clear how much will be in Jordanian Arabic and how much in MSA.

Nevertheless, it’ll be an amazing chance for classical Arabic storytelling to reach millions of viewers around the world with a new face.

This really is an Arabic TV series with promise and potential!

6. Conclusion

One of the best reasons to watch TV programs or series to learn a language is that you get used to the same actors talking about the same types of things across dozens of hours.

Two-hour movies are great for their production value and contained stories, but sometimes a plotline just needs ten or twenty hours to get going.

Thank goodness for TV shows, and may the Arab world never stop making excellent dramas!

We hope that you gained some valuable insight into the world of Arab shows with ArabicPod101.com. If so, please feel free to explore our site and learn even more about your target language! Here you’ll find invaluable resources for fun yet effective learning, from vocabulary lists to our MyTeacher app which offers you one-on-one guidance as you learn Arabic.

We wish you well in your language-learning journey, and several hours of enjoyment watching Arab TV shows.

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Author: Yassir Sahnoun is a HubSpot certified content strategist, copywriter and polyglot who works with language learning companies. He helps companies attract sales using content strategy, copywriting, blogging, email marketing & more.