The Tale of the Donkey that Learned to Read

You’ve probably heard the saying “practice makes perfect”.

It means that it’s normal to make mistakes when you’re learning something new. But the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

There’s a similar proverb in Arabic:


Repetition brings stability

Arab Proverb

New Words

Safety, fitness or rightness

Patience, slowness or deliberateness

Repetition, frequency or recurrence

Similar to “practice makes perfect” this Arab proverb acknowledges that it’s easy to master and retain information in your short-term memory. However, it takes more effort and time for that information to be stored in long-term memory. Therefore, repetition is needed.

A more humorous Arab proverb with the same meaning is about a donkey.

التَّكْرَارُ يُعَلِّمُ الحِمَارُ

Repetition teaches the donkey

Arab Proverb

New Words





There is a very interesting story behind this saying.

How a Bedouin Taught a Donkey to Read

There was once a king who was gifted a donkey. It was a very special donkey.

The king announced to the people of the town that whoever could teach the donkey to read and write will earn a prize. A Bedouin went to the king and said, “I am prepared to do so, but give me a month.” The king granted his request.

The king announced to the people of the town that whoever could teach the donkey to read and write will earn a prize. A Bedouin went to the king and said, “I am prepared to do so, but give me a month.” The king granted his request.

A month later, the Bedouin came back with the donkey and declared, “I taught it how to read but it cannot write.”

The king was happy with the news and asked the Bedouin to prove his claim. The man put a book in front of the donkey, and it opened the first page with its snout. The donkey continued turning page by page, from the beginning of the book until the end.

When the donkey reached the end of the book, the man turned to the king and said, “Can you see how it can read?” The king was delighted and gave the man the promised prize.

As the Bedouin was about to leave the city, another man approached him and asked, “Tell me how you did it.”

The Bedouin smiled and revealed his secret, “Every day, I would put wheat grain in between the pages of the book. The donkey got used to turning the pages to eat the wheat. But today, it opened the book and found nothing. So it became patient and kept turning the pages until the end of the book.”

The man laughed at the smartness of the Bedouin and left.

The Importance of Repetition

The lesson we can learn from the tale of the donkey in this Arab proverb is the importance of repetition when learning something new. Even a donkey can learn with repetition!

Neuroscience research has identified repetition as one of the three ways to move new information from short-term memory to long-term memory. This natural way for humans to learn is reflected in how the Quran was revealed to us.

The Quran uses repetition in delivering messages to mankind. If repetition has no importance, it would not be used by the Lord of mankind in delivering His messages to us. Repetition affirms the message and provides clarity. An example is the statement of Allah:

كَلَّا سَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ

[Quran 102:3]

No! You are going to know.


ثُمَّ كَلَّا سَوْفَ تَعْلَمُونَ

[Quran 102:3]

Then no! You are going to know.

This method has been employed by the Prophet ﷺ in delivering the message. It was reported in a hadith:

عن أنس رضي الله عنه أن النبى صلى الله عليه وسلم كان إذا تكلم بكلمة أعادها ثلاثاً حتى تفهم عنه، وإذا أتى على قومٍ فسلم عليهم سلم عليهم ثلاثاً‏.‏ ‏(‏‏(‏رواه البخاري‏)‏‏)‏‏.


Anas (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: Whenever the Prophet (ﷺ) said something, he would repeat his words thrice so that the meanings would be understood fully; and whenever he came upon a group of people, he would greet them, and he would repeat salutation thrice.

Make Progress with Repetition

Like learning anything new, learning Arabic needs time and effort. Repetition is key! To make it easy for you to learn new Arabic vocabulary, our Arabic Unlocked App has been designed with spaced repetition features proven to optimise long-term memory retention with the least amount of effort.

Try it out now by downloading our Arabic Unlocked App.

Arabic Unlocked App

  • Multimedia micro-lessons to reach your goals with as little as 5-10 minutes a day.

  • Optimise revision with tailored spaced repetition technology to accelerate your progress.

  • Enjoy learning with fun challenges and gamification.


  1. Norm

    Thanks for sharing the nice story of the donkey

    • Aneez Ali


      • Mujib


    • Naeem uppal


    • Arabic Unlocked

      We are glad you enjoyed it 🙂

  2. Naeem uppal

  3. Sister Viola

    As Salaam Alaykum I am new and want to learn.

    • Arabic Unlocked

      Waalaikumussalam. We are happy to have you here and hope you enjoy learning from our resources 🙂

  4. Mohamed Khajah

    I don’t speak and understand Arabic except giving salutations like As Salaammu Alaikum and the reply.

    Being a new member in this Arabic Unlocked, I have to day learned 5 words in Arabic, like Maa’ = water, Kal la = No, Tsumma = Then, ‘Alim = knowledge and Himari = donkey.

    Allah bless you


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