If you’ve recently started learning the Arabic alphabet, the chances are you began by looking at a table like one of these.
It’s an obvious place to start but the truth is, using this type of table as your basis for learning is not going to get you very far. Or at the very least, it’s going to make your learning take much longer.
You could spend several days, or even weeks, memorising these tables. After learning you’d feel very pleased with yourself (and quite rightly so, memorising something like this is no easy task!) but then you’d realise that, despite everything you’ve learnt so far, it still feels like a huge challenge to read an Arabic word.
The reason it feels so challenging is that you didn’t use the best approach for learning (don’t worry, it’s not your fault, so many Arabic alphabet websites and apps don’t focus on what’s most helpful).
This article will explain 3 reasons why this is not the best approach. It will also give useful advice on how to change your approach to learning the Arabic alphabet.
Why is it not a good idea to start by learning to recite the alphabet?
1. You’re focusing too much on letter names.
This is very distracting because they’re just names and don’t accurately represent the sound the letter makes in a word.
Take this letter for example.
Its name is ‘ya’.
But, when included in a word, this does not make the sound ‘ya’ it makes the sound ‘ee’ (like in the English word ‘feel’).
3. You get too used to the isolated forms
As you probably know, the letters of the Arabic alphabet take on different forms depending where they are in a word. On top of that, letters are joined together when they appear in words, making it difficult to see where one ends and the next begins.
That means that when reading, you never see an Arabic letter written in isolation. In the table at the start of this article, even the ‘beginning, middle and end’ are misleadingly written separately from any other letters.
When seeing all these letters joined together for the first time, it’s a challenge for the beginner to work out where one letter ends and the next begins. Throughout your learning you had a safety net of seeing the forms isolated, with space around them. Unfortunately in the real word it’s not that easy.
You can learn all the different forms of ‘ya’ and you’ll know that in the middle of a word ‘ya’ looks like this.
But you’ll never see it isolated like that.
Here are some Arabic words. Some contain a letter ‘ya’, some don’t. Can you spot which are which? For the beginner, it’s not that easy.
Here are those words again with the letter ‘ya’ highlighted in blue.
3. You have to process 28 letters at a time.
If the first time you ever try to read an Arabic word is only after learning all 28 letters of the alphabet, you’re making life difficult for yourself. Once you have managed to decipher where one letter begins and ends, your brain then has 28 possible letters to work through in order to identify the right one. That’s a lot for the brain to process.
So what is the answer?
If you’re new to learning Arabic, everything I’ve just said could make the language sound intimidating. It’s not. As long as you learn in the right way, mastering the alphabet is easily achievable.
‘Reciting the alphabet’ versus ‘reading’
To help you approach your Arabic alphabet learning in a more effective way, you need to be clear on the difference between being able to recite the alphabet and being able to read Arabic. They’re two very different things.
It’s my belief that it’s a waste of time learning to recite the alphabet before you learn to read. How many times in your every day life does someone need you to recite an alphabet to them? I’m assuming your ultimate goal here is to be able to read genuine Arabic words in situations in the real world.
If you’re really dedicated to learning to read Arabic, you need to use a course, such as Arabic Reading Course, that focuses on the pronunciation of sounds (rather than letter names) and focuses on recognising the letters in real words as early as possible in your learning journey.
In the very first lesson of Arabic Reading Course when you only know one letter, you’re already being challenged to recognise it when it’s hidden within words.
At the end of lesson 2, when you know just 5 letters, you’re already reading real Arabic words that contain only those 5 letters. Don’t wait until you have 28 possible letters to think about before starting to read – do it when you only have 5 possibilities to choose from! Not only does that approach feel really rewarding, it builds up your knowledge and practice gradually.