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Studying the Alphabet

9 Oct

Now in week 8 of classes, we have wrapped up the alphabet and I am beginning to feel more comfortable explaining the ins and out of grammar, masculine and feminine, and just exactly how this language works! The alphabet is 28 letters, with only 5 different shapes.

Arabic is a phonetic language, unlike English, so once you’ve mastered the ذ د ط ظ ت ض you should be able to simply sound out the vocab words you learn (To this I ask do they have spelling tests as kids? ; )

There are only 2 tenses, the past & the non-past.

And we’ve discussed how transliteration will help us learn the alphabet, but can become a crutch once the alphabet is mastered.

Studying the alphabet, so many letters sound the same, but you’ll notice almost every letter in the English alphabet is represented. Missing letters: C G P V X Q

There are 4 Characteristics of Arabic to keep in mind as you work through the alphabet:

It is read from left <—– right

It is written in cursive, although there are some non-connecting letters

Each letter has 4 positions in a word, and they vary from print to writing: Final < Medial < Initial < Independent

There are 2 layers of writing: Consonants + long vowels

                                                     +Short vowels, grammar, pronunciation

Learning the alphabet means learning the many ways letters are pronounced, retuning your ears and working your throat muscles in new ways or ways your not use to using as letters, but you make as sounds. The simplest way to understand this is the following example, notice where your tongue is when saying these words: bet   bat   but

While saying bet, your tongue is near the front of your mouth, bat your tongue drops straight down to the middle of your mouth, but your tongue recedes back in your mouth towards your throat. Watch the following video on throat positions and pay attention to how emphatic letters are in position.

Here’s a list of throat positions and sounds you will need to master for speaking Arabic:

Emphatic letters: These letters are VERY important to understand and is needed to hear the difference between similar sounding letters. Emphatic letters are deeper in the back of the throat and they also affect the deepness of letters surrounding them Ex. ت and  ط

Voiced: These letters are crisp and easier for English speakers to understand, have both a sound and pronunciation

Unvoiced: These letters make a sound but almost lack a pronunciation (that we are familiar with)

ح Haa is an unvoiced sound, that is the sound of fogging a glass       ه haa is a voiced H sound just like the English h in ‘hat’

Fogging glass: From deep in throat, but unvoiced in letter sound ح

Hacking: Just like hacking from your throat خ

Constricting air: Controlling how much air gets out, voicing the letter at the same time غ ء ع

Glottal stop: While making a sound deep in throat you stop breifly and start the sound again غ ء ع

Gargle: Throat position while voicing the letter غ

Rolling r: Just like imitating a motorcycle! ر

Stutter: Sound made by the Shadda grammar mark

Silence: Yes! There is even a sound for silence made by the Sukkuun grammar mark

Keep practicing your letters and sounds!

Root and Pattern System

We have also talked about how Arabic is a sestemic language like Hebrew and Farsi. What this means is that all words are based off a root and pattern system. Roots usually have 3 letters to them, and then the pattern follows conjugation that tells who you are talking to (me/him), masculine/feminine properties, and who you are talking about. Once you’ve become familiar with the root and pattern system is will make learning vocab much easier! We will talk more about conjugating verbs and masculine/feminine in future posts. The following is an example of the Root and Pattern system:

Root: H I B   ى ح  ى refer to love, and endearment

I love aaohib أنا أحب

You love (M) tuhib تحب

My boyfriend habibi صديقي

Root: S L M   س ل م  words refer to peace

Peace salam السلام

Islam اسلام

Muslim مسلم

Our goal here, is to reach a point where we are doing literal translation. Many of you know, Arabic is an extremely poetic and beautiful language when you understand it.

Hello assalaamu alaykum السلام عليكم for example actual means to wish peace on one (Remember our S L M   س ل م root!!).

Good morning sabaa al-khayar صباح الخير means the beginning of a great thing. Hopefully after years of learning this is where I will be +)

Here is a great Arabic teaching resource for you all. He has many very helpful videos, I watch them constantly as practice and review


The Arabic Alphabet الأبجدية

28 Sep

YAY!! Learning the Alphabet الأبجدية!!

Learning a language with a new alphabet and characters requires the speaker to know how to learn to read (for many its something you haven’t really learned in awhile) and transliteration is usually pretty helpful in the first few weeks or months of learning and getting familiar with the language.

Transliteration is the process of phonetically sounding out the sounds the Arabic letters make in the language you already know. Not all English words are phonetic (like dogz or write) but we know the rules and we can understand it in our own terms. Luckily, and this is one of the myths of the difficulty of Arabic, Arabic is a very phonetic language, and typically words sound is how their spelled in Arabic script. Until you have the alphabet down, you will probably need to use transliteration. Once you do have the alphabet down, transliteration becomes a crutch. Leave it behind in your notes of how to pronounce baa ب and you will learn how to really read Arabic.

English                                  Transliteration                           Arabic

Ex. Hello                              assalamu alaykum                    السلام عليكم


There are 4 Positions for each letter to be in: Independent Position, Initial Position, Medial Position, and Final Position. This is because Arabic is a cursive written language and a letter can appear at multiple spots in a word.


There is also variation in handwriting vs. print, and these variations can be very different. So I will do my best to put both the print and handwriting forms while introducing the alphabet, and anywhere else while learning these basics. The ‘Alif Baa‘ textbook sited in the last post is your best source to practice handwritten vs. print script.

REMEMBER: Arabic is read from Left Right 

Sounds and Pronunciation

Frontal Sounds: These are sounds that are produced in the front of the mouth. Think of the English letters like ‘K’ and ‘B’ they are very easily produced and take no effort from the throat

Deep Sounds: These are sounds that are produced deep in the throat and are often (but not always) associated with unvoiced sounds, like the letters ج ح خ

Emphatic Letters: These letters are also pronounced deep in the throat, but they deepen the sounds of surrounding vowels as well.

Voiced Letters: Fully produced sounds

Unvoiced Letters: Letters that only being but don’t really end, until they merge into the next letter like ح

This sound is not like the voiced H in happy, but unvoiced H has no English equivalent its like fogging a glass



Click on the chart below to open in a new window!

How to Learn a New Language, Step 1 Overcome the Intimidation

24 Sep

Now in my 6th week of learning Arabic (1 hour classes, 4 days a week), we are just finishing alphabet! In fact, our first textbook is entirely devoted to learning our  Alif, Baa, Taa’s. Arabic posses many difficulties, but as far as I’ve seen I think the majority of them are rooted in being able to really, I mean really get the alphabet down. Wrapping up the alphabet in our 6th week of classes comes to:

24 total class hours of study

  double that of individual study

Coming to about 70-72 hours of study just to grasp the basics of the Arabic alphabet and grammar. 

“My Arabic Alphabet Song! Alaf Baa Taa Kids الأبجدية العربية”

My Language History

It might be beneficial for me to share my personal history with learning languages, and why as a senior in college I am watching Arabic children’s cartoons nearly everyday of the week. High school Spanish was the first language I studied, I did 2 years (or 1 year of college level) and I did very well. However like most high-school Spanish students, I can’t remember much from “Como se llama?” So that was it, the very extent of me studying languages for a solid 4 1/2 years. My sophomore year in college I studied abroad in Chiang Mai Thailand. It was through my study abroad program that I was required to take a 6 credit semester of intensive Thai ภาษาไทย, about 9 hours a week of language. And if 9 hours wasn’t enough, my roommate who spoke no English and all of my Thai friends were determined to communicate with me and that meant me learning their language…คุณเป็นอย่างไร!

My study abroad experience was life changing, as most study abroad students say and for me this was especially in the political and language worlds. Thailand is a monarchy, where everything from facebook and blogs are censored and speaking against the royal family can be punished by death, LEGALLY. This experience abroad really sparked my interest in politics and especially US politics, which before hadn’t been very captivating to me.

I truly believe the greatest thing about learning Thai, was that it showed me how appreciated it is by other cultures that you at least TRY and not be a self-centered American and that learning another language is more intimidating than anything. Once I got beyond the fact that yes, I can pronounce a tonal language properly and was even complimented on my accent once… I believed in myself as a speaker of a language other then my own. For these reasons I am now learning Arabic, and hoping to continue with it post-University graduation.

There are multiple ways a language is learned and taught.

I studied Thai the way we all learn our first language as a child. Our Ajan (Professor) first taught us conversational phrases and vocabulary. Once we had a decent foundationin speaking, we began to learn how to read and write the thai alphabet.

In Arabic class we are learning the language backwards, we are starting first with the alphabet with very few conversational phrases and vocabulary words.

I find this very interesting and I have been trying to analyze which is an easier way to learn a language: Does it depend on context? In the spoken country vs a class room in the Midwest. Does it depend on the language that is being learned?

This is an intersting video about the myths of Arabic and an introduction to the Semitic root-and-pattern system. Really interesting!!!!

“Myths and Facts about the Arabic language”

Quick facts from the video:

+325 Million Native Speakers and 1 Billion Muslims

+There is Classical Arabic used in the Koran & MSA or Modern Standard Arabic, although there are dozens of dialects spoken in the Arab world

+MSA is what is used in Media across the Arab world, although the Egyptian dialect is most commonly used for entertainment like movies and soap opera

+Alphabet has 28 letters and is written in cursive form right to left. Of these 28 letters there are only 5 shapes

+Vocabulary is based mostly off a Semitic root-and-pattern system (like Hebrew). S-L-M is the root letters for Peace, like Islam and Muslim.

+Only 2 tenses: Past and Non-Past

Here are the textbooks we are using in class

Our professor also recommended us to get a journal to keep all our vocab in. Your journal can be arranged alphabetically or thematically, I chose by theme because I will be getting an Arabic dictionary and it makes more sense to me for various situations.

And I finally figured out how to attach a link! From now on just click on a photo to get to the link and it will show up in a separate page! +)