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Learning Armenian: Passport to an Ancient and Vibrant Culture

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Are you reconnecting with Armenian roots? Preparing for a journey back to your long-ago homeland?

Do you want to visit ancient ruins at Garni, see stunning vistas at monastic sites such as Tatev and Geghard, or savor the lights and sights of Yerevan? Or do you simply want to form stronger friendships in the global Armenian community?

No matter what your motivation, learning the Armenian language can be your passport to the richness of Armenian culture, connecting you with speakers in Armenia and across the world.

A Little Bit about the Armenian Language

The Armenian language has a long, fascinating history, stretching back at least sixteen centuries. It’s part of the Indo-European language family—just like more familiar “cousins” such as French, Spanish, Italian, and German.

However, unlike most Indo-European languages, Armenian stands alone on its own branch of the family tree. Armenian is an offshoot of the Armeno-Aryani limb, which has its roots in the Aryano-Greco-Armenic languages.

While Armenian has been a world language for over a millennium, events within the past hundred years have radically changed the language’s course. The tragic Armenian genocide of the early 20th century resulted in a diaspora that spread the language across the world and widened the divide between the two major standardized forms: Eastern and Western Armenian.

Eastern vs Western Armenian

Eastern and Western Armenian have been diverging from their common, classical root for centuries. As speakers of Western Armenian have settled in many other lands over the past century, the two forms of the language have grown further apart.

How does Western Armenian differ from the Eastern form?

  • Pronunciation
  • Spelling
  • Word choice
  • Idiomatic expressions

If you’re a native speaker of one standardized form of Armenian, you should be able to understand the other standardized form without much trouble—just like native speakers of American English and British English can usually understand one another.

But there’s a world of difference between a native speaker and a novice.

For a fledgling Armenian speaker, variations in pronunciation, syntax, and common phrases could be very confusing. When you’re first learning Armenian, you’ll want to focus on either Eastern or Western Armenian.

Eastern Armenian is the official language of the Republic of Armenia. You’ll also find speakers of Eastern Armenian in the Russian Federation, the Republic of Georgia, Iran, and the Republic of Artsakh.

There are about three million native speakers of Eastern Armenian in the Armenian Republic itself, plus many more outside of Armenia, who have produced a wealth of media for the aspiring language learner to enjoy.

The other standardized form of the Armenian language is Western Armenian, which is often identified as the language of the diaspora—the language of the people who left Armenia to settle in countries around the world. Western Armenian only has about a million speakers worldwide. Although some Armenian speakers consider Eastern Armenian truer to classical Armenian than its Western counterpart, others recognize the legitimacy of both forms.

Western Armenian is spread across many different countries, in immigrant communities. Some have formed ethnic Armenian communities in their new countries, such as Little Armenia in Los Angeles—where about 172,000, or roughly half of the local Armenian community, speak Armenian. However, economics and other driving forces often marginalize the Armenian language among expatriates. With a dwindling number of native speakers, Western Armenian has become an endangered language. Still, it’s a tie that binds together families of Armenian heritage throughout the world.

So, the question remains: As a new student of Armenian, which form should you try to learn?

Ultimately, the best way to decide is to look at your own motivations for learning Armenian, and how you plan to use it.

If you want to travel, live, or work in the Republic of Armenia, Eastern Armenian would be a more practical choice. If you’d like to communicate better with Armenian speakers in other parts of the world—such as America, France, Syria, Lebanon, or Turkey—then Western Armenian would be a better bet.

Whatever you decide, you’ll need to start your journey by tackling the Armenian alphabet.

Unique Character: The Armenian Alphabet

Free image/jpeg, fragment of stone Monument Mesrop Mashtots and Koryun, Armenia, Yerevan
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Unlike many other Indo-European languages, such as English, Italian, Flemish, and Portuguese, Armenian is not written in the Latin alphabet. Armenian has an alphabet all its own.

The Armenian alphabet was invented by Masrop Mashtots, a theologian and scholar, in 405 AD. Today, both Western and Eastern Armenian use the same alphabet, although there are some pronunciation differences between these two dialects. (In most cases, the Eastern pronunciations follow those of Classical Armenian, which is also known as Grabar.)

While you can find some written materials that have been transliterated—given phonetic representation—in the familiar Latin alphabet, it’s better to get used to the Armenian alphabet right off the bat. Knowing the Armenian alphabet well will help you learn the proper pronunciations, as well as open up a whole world of Armenian writings.

Since mastering the Armenian alphabet is such a crucial part of learning the language well, we’ve found several resources to help. Stay tuned for useful websites, books, and apps to get you off to a running start with the Armenian alphabet…and then on to a long, satisfying marathon of Armenian language learning.

How to Learn Armenian

With its unique alphabet, relatively small number of speakers, and dialectical divide, learning Armenian may present a few more challenges than taking up a more prominent language like Spanish or German.

Like all language learning, learning Armenian requires a long-term commitment. Even if you can only spare a few minutes a day, you’ll want to be consistent so you can reinforce what you’ve learned.

When you’re learning a language, it’s important to lay a good foundation. You’ll need to grasp fundamental concepts like the alphabet and basic pronunciation, as well as common words and phrases.

And don’t forget grammar and syntax. These essentials give the language its shape and structure. Without them, you could memorize thousands of Armenian words, but still not be able to put an intelligible sentence together.

Every spoken language is a living entity—growing and changing to adapt to the needs of its speakers. Learning the language from several different sources can give you a more complete picture of the language as it’s used by native speakers.

We’ll present you with a variety of resources to mix and match, so you can get a good grounding in Armenian without getting burnt out or bored.

Resources for Learning Armenian

Let’s start at the very beginning, with the alphabet. It’s the foundation for learning to spell and read in Armenian.

Tools for Learning the Armenian Alphabet

From useful websites to alphabet workbooks, videos to mobile apps, we’ve got the keys you need to unlock the mysteries of the Armenian alphabet.

Learn 101 breaks the Armenian alphabet down into a table with English-language pronunciation examples, plus a sound bite for each letter. It also shows the Eastern/Western pronunciation differences.

This YouTube video from ArmenieInfo goes through the whole Armenian alphabet a letter at a time, using Eastern Armenian pronunciations. It shows the uppercase and lowercase Armenian letters, as well as the Latin letter a similar sound in English. The voice-overs demonstrate the Armenian pronunciations and their English-language pairings.

This video, from Western Armenian’s channel, shows the names of the letters in the Western Armenian dialect. It also gives written English-language examples of how the Armenian letters would be pronounced in the context of the words they form.

Learn to Read Armenian in 5 Days by Alex Hakobyan, which is available in both ebook or paperback form, breaks down the alphabet into sections and includes many exercises to practice.

Memrise has a short course to review the letters of the Armenian alphabet. You can access the course either through your web browser or through the Memrise app.

While the Memrise course will help with character recognition, it lacks any audio—so you’ll need to combine this course with another resource to make sure you master all those Armenian letter sounds!

Of course, Memrise isn’t the only app available for teaching yourself Armenian letters. For learning the Armenian alphabet on-the-go with an Android device, try this Armenian Alphabet app by Dimitriy Ivanov. Ivanov’s app allows you to switch between Eastern and Western Armenian pronunciations. It has a learn mode, multiple choice quizzes, and sound bites for each letter.

If you’ve got an iPhone or iPad, check out this interactive app, which includes quizzes and letter drawing practice. The iOS app, called Learn Armenian Alphabet Now, shows you both the printed and cursive versions of the characters. Like the Android app, it includes sound files, so you can hear how the letters are pronounced.

Just as Armenian has its own alphabet, it also has its own punctuation. For instance, written Armenian uses a colon where English would use a period to indicate the end of a sentence. Some Armenian punctuation marks are not always placed where you’d expect in a sentence. You’ll avoid a lot of confusion if you take time to learn Armenian punctuation early on in your studies!

Armenian Language Courses

Once you’ve got a handle on the Armenian alphabet, you’ll be ready to rock with your first Armenian language courses. There are several options to suit your style:

Want to learn Armenian while doing chores around the house, working out, or even during your commute? Pimsleur, a well-established language-learning publisher, offers both a Western and an Eastern Armenian audio course. Each 30-minute downloadable MP3 lesson features vocabulary and a practice conversation, getting you engaged at a beginner level and helping you jump right in to speaking the language. The grammar notes are sparse, though, so you’ll need to use other resources to strengthen your grasp of the written language as you progress. Bear in mind that you’ll be doing a lot of speaking with these audio lessons—so, if you’re shy, you might consider using the Pimsleur program strictly at home.

 

Glossika is another audio course that focuses on listening comprehension and speaking. It’s especially good for students at a lower-intermediate level, rather than complete beginners. Like Pimsleur, it skimps on grammar and instruction in the written language.

Glossika is for learners of Eastern Armenian. The lessons can be somewhat cookie-cutter—so don’t expect any insights into Armenian culture as you’re studying the language with Glossika.

Learn 101’s website takes a clear, systematic approach to teaching Eastern Armenian. The site uses simple drawings to represent basic word concepts. These are paired with Armenian words, sound files, and phonetic transliterations. Moving on from basic ideas such as colors, numbers, and articles of clothing, the vocabulary expands to common phrases, and grammatical structures such as conjunctions and verb conjugations are introduced.

Armeniapedia hosts a Wikipedia-style presentation of Eastern Armenian lessons. It’s somewhat dry but provides a very thorough explanation of the linguistics and technical aspects of the language. If you prefer a highly structured, formal approach to language learning, this method might appeal to you.

The Machtotz Association sponsors a website to help you learn Western Armenian. It features lessons and dialogues from books for young learners, some interactive exercises, a lexicon, and a guide to the Armenian alphabet. The site also integrates tools to draw the Armenian letters and record yourself pronouncing Armenian words. While there is some audio, it’s not fully integrated into the textbook lessons. This might be a better site for someone focusing on the written language, who isn’t too concerned about developing conversational skills.

If you’re looking for custom, one-on-one tutoring with a private Armenian language instructor, consider italki. Essentially a marketplace for both tutors and professional language teachers, italki helps you narrow your search for the right teacher. You can search based on the instructor’s availability, experience, lesson focus, and other parameters.

While the site doesn’t have separate categories for Western or Eastern Armenian, you can often tell from an individual instructor’s video or introductory information which form of Armenian they speak. Flexible for your learning needs and your schedule, and hosting instructors with a variety of hourly rates, italki makes finding private Armenian lessons a fairly easy process. This option is especially useful for those who want to master the art of Armenian conversation.

For a more traditionally structured classroom experience with the convenience of distance learning, Armenian Virtual College offers both Western and Eastern Armenian courses for speakers of English.

Mango Languages has an Armenian course that will help you learn conversational basics, as well as some grammar and cultural information. Each conversation is broken down into smaller chunks and repetition is used. You can also use the voice comparison feature to record your own pronunciation attempts and compare the sound and waveform with a native speaker, although this is a bit fiddly. Words and phrases are presented in the Armenian alphabet, but you can hover over the green “listen” button to see a phonetic version of what’s being said in Armenian. The Mango Armenian lessons have a limited curriculum, targeted at beginners. The lessons cover basic topics such as greetings, travel, shopping, and food.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no indication of whether you’re learning Western or Eastern Armenian. The good news is that you might have free access to these lessons, courtesy of your local public library.

Armenian via Video Lessons on YouTube

YouTube hosts a few series of video lessons for Armenian learners:

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Peace Corps Armenia presents a more comprehensive series of Armenian Virtual Language Course Videos to help you learn Eastern Armenian. The series explores the origins of the language, the Armenian alphabet, and other important fundamentals. There’s a lot of footage shot “on location” in the Republic of Armenia, which adds some great atmosphere and gives you a feel for the culture. While the sound quality can vary due to location shooting—you’ll hear the Armenian breeze rushing past the microphone in some outdoor shots—these videos generally have high-quality production values. Each dialogue is broken down by phrases. Written Armenian is presented frequently, so you get more practice with reading fluency in the target language. The lessons themselves are organized quite logically, and concepts are explained slowly and carefully.

Hayeren Khosink Audiovisual Course for Western Armenian may seem a bit intimidating at first since it’s taught primarily in Armenian. To learn basic concepts, like the seasons of the year, colors, and numbers, you’ll watch amusing skits and dialogues. The written component of the lessons is a bit lacking, but this Rosetta-Stone-like technique forces you to focus more on the sounds of the words. It might be better to try this course after you’ve learned a little basic Armenian.

YouTuber Vika Tutor, who styles herself as “Your Armenian Coach,” takes a phonics-based approach to introducing beginners to Eastern Armenian. If you want to focus on how the Armenian alphabet sounds, this is a methodical approach.

Learning Phrases with Chris and Friends published nearly nine hours of Armenian learning content in a single video. At the top of the screen is the Armenian phrases in yellow; a phonetic version follows in gray, with the English translation at the bottom. After the word or phrase is read in English, a native Armenian speaker pronounces the Armenian phrase multiple times. The phrases are pronounced slowly, which is great for beginning learners. The downside is that the form of Armenian used is not identified in the video.

Apps for Learning Armenian

Perhaps you’d like to learn Armenian a little more casually—or you simply don’t have time to devote to formal lessons or long videos. No worries! There’s an app for virtually everything these days, including learning Armenian.

The 50 Languages app, available for both iOS and Android, opens up your Eastern Armenian learning experience with vocabulary by category. Listen to the words being pronounced as you look at both the word in the Armenian alphabet and its Latin-alphabet transliteration. There are interactive exercises to strengthen and test your Armenian knowledge, and you can even practice on 50 Languages’ website. While 50 Languages will give you a strong grounding in basic vocabulary, it doesn’t delve into grammar or syntax.

The Memrise app gives you mobile access to both Western Armenian and Eastern Armenian courses. Some of the Memrise courses are concentrated studies of specialized Armenian language topics, such as for essential verbs, business terms, dialogues, and names of animals. Memrise can be enjoyed via a web browser, but really shines as a free Android or iOS app.

Anki, which is available for both iOS and Android, is a highly customizable build-your-own-flashcards app that’s great for language learners. It supports embedded images and different character sets, so you can eliminate translations for basic words in favor of a visual representation. While learning to use Anki requires a bit of work, it has won some vocal supporters who rave about its capabilities. Rate your retention of various Armenian words you’re studying. The spaced repetition algorithm will present them frequently enough to make sure you don’t forget difficult words, without completely forgetting to quiz you on better-retained words.

Sponsored by Armenian heritage organization Birthright Armenia, the AYOlingo – Learn Armenian app (for both iOS and Android) focuses on Eastern Armenian. It includes structured lessons, pronunciation practice, review modules, and a social component with virtual friends and leaderboards. Spurring you on with friendly competition, AYOlingo may give you just the push you need to study Armenian consistently.

Named after the man who created the Armenian alphabet, the Mashtots – Learn Armenian app by InConcept Labs will give iOS users a solid foundation in Western Armenian. It features interactive learning games, grammar tips, and statistics to track your learning.

Play your way to learning set phrases in Eastern Armenian with uTalk, an app that takes a gamified approach to language learning. For a modest monthly fee, you can use uTalk to teach yourself basic Eastern Armenian expressions and vocabulary. You’ll get plenty of practice speaking and listening, but you’ll need to supplement your Armenian grammar and learn sentence structure using other resources.

Learners of Western Armenian can practice with childlike joy using the Gus on the Go: Western Armenian for Kids app (iOS or Android), sponsored by the Armenian General Benevolent Union (AGBU). There’s also a version for Eastern Armenian (iOS or Android). This simple, game-based approach is a fun way for the whole family to start learning Armenian together.

Fill-in-the-blanks fans might enjoy Clozemaster, which uses multiple choice to help you practice intermediate-level Armenian vocabulary in context. The English-language translations of the Armenian sentences are in fine print, so you can focus on the Armenian and test your reading comprehension in the target language. The app doesn’t specify whether it uses Western or Eastern Armenian, though.

Tandem, HelloTalk, and Speaky are language exchange apps that allow you to connect with native speakers to practice Armenian. One of your icebreaker questions with potential language exchange partners will probably be, “Do you speak Eastern or Western Armenian?”

Lomol Language’s Learn Armenian | Armenian Translator Free app for Android has many nice features—including a phrasebook, vocabulary by category, audio, and a built-in recorder to evaluate your own pronunciation. And, of course, it offers a text translation function. Unfortunately, the developers don’t indicate whether this app teaches Eastern or Western Armenian. It’s also not available for iPhone or iPad users.

Podcasts for Learning Armenian

For audio language learning in a more modern format, Learn Armenian Online presents podcasts for those learning either Eastern or Western Armenian. These are available on a number of popular platforms, including Google Podcasts, Apple Podcasts, and Spotify.

For more advanced Armenian learners, who are looking for an immersive podcast experience, the SBS Armenian podcast features global news, interviews, and shows that cover a variety of topics. While some English-language content is included, the bulk of each episode is in Armenian.

Since the SBS Armenian podcasts originates in Australia, it’s most likely Western Armenian.

Armenian Books

Cement your knowledge of the written language with some Armenian reading material.

Start off easy with children’s literature. Bilingual children’s books can help clue you in to the new language, and the simple plots will make your journey to Armenian reading simpler. Here are a couple of choices to get you started:

Sleep Tight, Little Wolf (ebook with audio & video). This original story about a boy with a misplaced wolf has been translated into numerous languages.

Fairy tales from My Grandma’s Tales by Svetlana Bagdasaryan. This book collection includes fairy tales from around the world, such as Puss in Boots, The Little Mermaid, The Bremen Town Musicians, and Rapunzel.

If you’re looking for Armenian language textbooks, here are a few selections available on Amazon:

Once your Armenian knowledge becomes more advanced, enjoy a broader selection of books from these online Armenian bookstores:

Abrilbooks features books in both Western and Eastern Armenian. The site also sells Armenian videos and music, so you can try multimedia learning modalities. (Use the language filter on the left sidebar to choose media in Western or Eastern Armenian.)

California-based Sardarabad sells both Eastern Armenian and Western Armenian books. The selection of Eastern Armenian books is larger than the Western collection, and even includes a translation of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel, 1984.

Want to read Armenian ebooks online? Haybook is similar to Project Gutenberg for Armenian speakers and students. It aggregates free Armenian ebooks, as well as poetry, plays, and short stories. There are also resources such as Armenian dictionaries and children’s literature. The site pulls in electronic reading materials from all different sources, including Google Books.

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Other Resources For Learning Armenian

Here are some additional resources that will help you in your quest to learn Armenian:

If you’d like to practice typing using the Armenian alphabet, this virtual Armenian keyboard makes it easy. With a simple click, you can email, tweet, search for, or translate your Armenian text.

Keep up with the news and practice your Armenian language skills at the same time. UC Berkeley hosts a large online Armenian studies collection, which includes links to Armenian news sources, such as the Massachusetts-based Armenian Weekly (available in both English and Armenian) and the Yerevan-based Aravot news publication (also available in Russian and English).

Don’t just read and speak Armenian—fill your ears with Armenian music!

A search for Armenian music on Spotify will yield everything from classical to choral, folk to funk.

AM Armenian Music by h_samsonian is a Spotify playlist that boasts a plethora of Armenian pop hits.

Dive into traditional Armenian culture with these tracks on Spotify. This playlist features the double-reeded duduk, a traditional Armenian wind instrument. Many of them have vocals in Armenian to enrich your language studies.

Armenian music site Haykakan Music has Armenian music videos, playlists from contemporary Armenian artists, and links to streaming Armenian radio stations.

The Yerevan Nights Armenian Radio app streams its own Armenian radio broadcasts to your favorite iOS or Android device.

The Armenian Radio Stations app by Ciprian Marin, available for Android users, aggregates numerous Armenian radio stations for streaming. It includes both AM and FM stations, a built-in search feature, a Favorites list, and a sleep timer so you can drift off to the sounds of the Armenian airwaves. It also displays the artist and song name, and integrates sharing to Twitter, Facebook, or email.

Learning Armenian: Opening Up a New World

As you begin your Armenian language learning journey, remember to keep yourself open to new resources.

Learning grammar and syntax is essential for speaking Armenian well. Yet it’s equally important to expose yourself regularly to the living language, as it’s used by native speakers. And don’t let yourself get frustrated. Learning any language is challenging, but it’s ultimately a satisfying pursuit that will enhance many facets of your life.

As the old Armenian proverb says, “Ինչքան լեզու գիտես` այնքան մարդ ես:”

In other words: The more languages we know, the more human we become.

And the more languages we know, the better we can connect with our fellow humans.

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