Learning Arabic Alphabet: Best Practices

Learning Arabic AlphabetMany choose to learn a roman language thinking that this would be easier than learning say... Arabic which entails the task of learning Arabic alphabet and a new set of rules related to writing and reading from right to left in a cursive way. While this might be intimidating to many, learning Arabic alphabet is far from being an obstacle that you cannot overcome. However, as any attempt to undertake a serious project, several key rules need to be abided to for best results.

First things first, the Arabic alphabet is made of 28 letters made up of long vowels and consonants. Most of these letters connect to what's before and after them (Arabic writing system is cursive remember?). We said most of them connect because 6 of them do not connect to what's after them. So keeping this information in mind when writing would help when one is stuck wondering whether this letter should be connected. So the first thing a student of Arabic should do is memorize those non connecting letters which are: ا - د - ذ - ر- ز- و 

A second rule is to make sure you are learning Arabic alphabet through a very well thought of set of clusters. You should not learn the Arabic alphabet each letter at a time as this is too confusing for beginners. Two things are to consider here: shape and pronunciation or sound. What should we focus on first? Well, our suggestion here is to follow a good book. The Alif-Baa Book for instance, focuses on the shape first and introduces the letters that are similar in shape. So ب - ت - ث are clustered together while the ج - ح - خ are clustered together in a different unit. This approach allows you to not only learn the Alphabet properly, but also to learn it fast. Similar to the shape approach you may choose a book that relies on the pronunciation approach, which consists in focusing on the letters that sound similar, such as the س and the ص, the د and the ض, the خ and the غ or the ذ and the ظ. While these letters may sound similar to a non-trained ear, they are totally different for native speakers and the advantage of focusing on them at first would be to highlight their differences. The only problem with this focus is that it may be frustrating for students to begin learning Arabic and focus on the difference of letter sounds that they deem subtile and difficult to pronounce. So here We would suggest that you guys rely on a good book to guide you.

A third rule is to make sure you always draw a horizontal line before you begin writing any word in Arabic as this helps you define which letters are written above the line and which ones should go under the line (remember that some letter do go below and above the line at the same time). While this may look like a vain exercise, it is one of the utmost practices students should learn when learning Arabic alphabet. Why is that? Well, Arabic letters may be confusingly similar when someone is writing fast and the only way to distinguish between them at that point is a subtile system of proportions that native speakers of Arabic tacitly abide to. So while you may not be writing fast at this point, you sure need to acquire that set of proportions for later so that your handwriting remains decipherable when you eventually write fast. In addition, learning that skill will help you decipher other people's handwriting. So what's this proportion system? Well, we all know that many Arabic letters are written like "teeth" or loops of some kind. While these teeth/loops are all written above or below the line one should always keep in mind for example that the ب should never be higher than the alif ا. While this example may be a little obvious, things may get confused when you get to the د for example. Should the ف be higher than the م ? It is this system of proportions that ensures that the صـ is and remains different from the مـ while you are writing fast.

Our fourth rule to learning Arabic alphabet has to do with the vowels: the short and the long ones. Well luckily these are not many, as long vowels we find the و ي ا , while as short vowels we find the fatHa, Dammah, and kasrah. The rule for the vowels is to make sure you are pronouncing the long vowels as... well loooooooooong vowels. This not only helps differentiating between them when saying them, but most importantly helps in memorizing words later. After all, the whole point of learning the Arabic alphabet is to learn how to pronounce words. While consciously extending long vowels may seem fake or exaggerated, it is the best way to do well in a dictation assignment and a gate to success in learning Arabic. When to stop exaggerating the length of the long vowels? Well, this has a lot to do with the proportion system in the Arabic language. The idea is that native speakers of Arabic don't necessarily pronounce the alif as long as a student of Arabic, but they definitely make sure to differentiate it from the short vowel fatHa. While this differentiation may be subtle it certainly exists in every dialect. So when you become at an intermediate level in Arabic, then you will automatically reduce that length, and as you will write faster while keeping the proportions of the letters, you will speak faster while keeping the proportions of the vowels.

Well, hope these tips prove to be helpful for you as they have been for our students, in the meantime remember that practice makes perfect and that there is no use in learning Arabic alphabet, when still no one can understand what words you are uttering. The main purpose of learning the alphabet is to implement that knowledge when reading, pronouncing words. So if the word you pronounced sounds differently from the word you memorized for that quiz, then you are waisting a lot of energy and progress in this case will be tedious. so pronounce every letter you learn in front of a mirror for an indefinite number of times, it will pay off eventually. Compare how you are pronouncing a specific word to how native speakers of Arabic pronounce it. This goes for words too. And always remember that in the end you are going to learn a language and that this is serious project that needs a solid mastery of the Arabic alphabet, before the word, before the sentence and the paragraph..

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