Can you learn Arabic without learning the alphabet?

The short answer, I believe, is YES.

Read on to find out why I believe this to be true and how to work out whether it’s the best approach for you.

It would probably be difficult to become fluent in spoken Arabic without being able to read the alphabet – you’d struggle to use a dictionary or read articles, so the amount of vocabulary you could pick up would suffer. However, it’s perfectly possible to reach a good conversational level without being able to read.

My experiences

I learnt Arabic for 2 or 3 years before getting serious about learning the alphabet. I dabbled with the alphabet a few times at the beginning but I found it a struggle, mainly due to not using the best method of learning.

During those years I used the English alphabet to write down all the Arabic words I learnt and reached the point where I could have basic conversations. My pronunciation probably suffered a bit, due to not knowing exactly which sounds were in the words, but it served me well enough.

If you’re someone who finds it difficult to learn and recognise visual forms (perhaps you’re even dyslexic) then thinking that you need to start learning Arabic by learning the alphabet, risks creating an unnecessary barrier for yourself.

Are you a visual or auditory learner?

It’s been proven that some people learn better using visual input and some people learn better using auditory input. Rather than worrying about the ‘right’ way to learn Arabic, give yourself the greatest chance of success in the early stages by getting started on the aspect you find easiest.

If you learn best by memorising and recognising spoken words, get started with a CD course like Pimsleur or an online audio course like Rocket Arabic. Of those two, Rocket Arabic is the cheapest.

If you’re especially good at remembering visual forms, get started by learning how to read the alphabet. Arabic Reading Course is the best way to teach yourself online.

But DO think about your reasons for learning Arabic

While there is an advantage to starting with what you find easiest, it’s also important to consider how and where you’ll use the Arabic you learn. If you’re learning Arabic for the purpose of travel, it’s probably going to be much more useful for you to be good at speaking than reading.

Learning to read is a fairly long process and is more complex than just learning the alphabet so spend your time on learning speaking and listening instead. You can always get a local to read something out to you if necessary!