All about learning the Arabic Alphabet online

So, starting to learn Arabic… on the web!?

I began some time ago, and have let the study lapse a while, which is ok, but wanting to start again, it will be good for me to review what I know to remind myself of some things and firm up the rest.  I will go step by step, as if I’m going through the process again, so people can follow me if they like.

My initial thought was to approach a number of sources for learning Arabic and to simply take in the information from these in parallel, rather than bearing down with just one source.  I found many ‘learn Arabic’ books and courses online, and at the beginner level, there is much for no cost.  My first goal, was to be able to say the Arabic alphabet.  I went looking for Alphabet charts, and read lots of web pages along the way, trying to identify good sources of learning material.

FINDING AN ARABIC ALPHABET CHART

Above is the first chart I found and printed, and it was useful in a general way, showing the Isolated, or ‘Capital’ letter forms and the names of each letter.  Very quickly I began referring to this second, more complete chart:

This chart breaks down the Arabic Script, showing the different forms of each letter.  In much the same way that European languages have Capital letter forms as well as small letters and cursive-form letters, Arabic letters change superficially depending on whether they are at the beginning, middle, or end of a word.  This chart is also complete with the IPA value of each letter, as well as the common Latin-script transliteration for each letter, which is very helpful.  I referred to this chart often for different reasons in the beginning weeks of my study!

Finally, I should add/emphasize that I did not study these charts. I kept them as reference materials, which I consulted often, but I moved on quickly looking to find a fun and enjoyable way to learn and become familiarised with how the letters look and sound.

HEARING HOW TO PRONOUNCE THE ARABIC ALPHABET

Wanting to learn in the same easy-going way kids do, I searched “Arabic Alphabet song” at youtube, and spent some time watching and listening to different videos.  I was hoping to find a good alphabet song I could sing that would stick in my head.  Songs, sonnets, rhymes and poems have been used for thousands of years to remember and pass on information, and they do this very well!

I’m told by a friend that kids sing the alphabet like this where he’s from in Lebanon.  I also watched this video once, which was a bit slow but which lets everything sink in, as it is informative and very thorough.

Watching several videos as I did, mostly just one time each, helped to reinforce what I was learning, and looking at diverse sources rather than the same one over and over made it more interesting and less tedious.  The only one of these sources I really every listened to more than once, was the song that I linked to above.  Being honest, it sounded sorta lame to my ears, but I benefitted quite a lot from it.  You can see why it is a good song for kids.  It sings through each consonant with each of the three Arabic vowels behind it, so it really reinforces the pronunciation of each letter as you would speak them in a word, rather than just the name of each letter.  Listening carefully as well as singing along helped me learn how to hear, as well as to pronounce better.

Through this process, I also found many youtube channels dedicated to teaching Arabic online.

BUILDING AN ALPHABET CHART

As I came across more sources, I began filling out my own chart of all the letters, their forms, how to pronounce them, and all the Arabic Punctuation and all that, so that I would eventually have every Arabic character and diacritic in one place.(link?)  (–Completing this took some time.  It was only my goal to start a place to deposit that knowledge as I came across, not to fill the chart out before I proceeded.  When I learn a language, I like to make reference charts for myself as an exercise, it helps with memory, and it provides in the end an excellent personalised resource.  I later began making charts of certain aspects of Arabic grammar and vocabulary as I progressed, that will be discussed…)

EXPERIMENTING WITH WRITING ARABIC

At first it seemed complex to grasp the different forms of each letter and how they fit together and how to pronounce them, but I found, by diving right in, it’s easy enough to figure out how to use these letters and write things with them.  What helped quite a bit with this was having some fun using an online Arabic keyboard. It showed me how each letter changed shape and linked up to each other and all that, and I began to get a solid feel for the form of written Arabic after I had played around writing things here and there…  I began by transliterating people’s proper names into Arabic, such as my own:

Phil
فل، فيل
Philip
فيليب

…and some place names:

Ottawa
أوتاوا
Canada
كندا
I also used Google translate(http://translate.google.ca/) and looked up how to write (and maybe say) the names of some random things around me in the house on a daily basis:

the pen
(al-Qlm?)
القلم

the car
(as-syara?)
السيارة

the cat
(al-QT?)
القط

I thought “cat” was sort of interesting, it seems to transliterate to “QT”, but I was aware at this point that I didn’t understand Arabic vowels very well, and that I could not be sure how to pronounce these words.  That is why I put “?” beside my english transliterations.  But it was useful to look at the words and try to make them out- you gotta start somewhere.  I tried not to worry about what I didn’t know, which was a lot at this point.  I was also already cruising around on Youtube and watching videos to pick up some spoken Arabic, and I was starting to have a lot of questions about a lot of things about writing and pronunciation, so I tried relax as I figured eventually these questions would clear themselves up through future grammar lessons and learning.

A READING CHALLENGE

I decided to test and see if I was familiar enough with Arabic to try to read something very simple.  Knowing that the names of places are usually quite similar in different languages, as in the case of Canada, I decided to look for some maps in Arabic.  With the first good map I found in Arabic, I found I could clearly make out many of the names: Libya and Sudan are quite easy to make out as being basically the same in Arabic and English, as well as Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Kenya and more.  Ethiopia and Palestine offer insight as to how the english “P” sound is transliterated in Standard Arabic:  Sometimes it turns up as a “B” (like in my name Philib or Ethiobia) and other times it’s an “F” (Falestine)  Other names, such as Egypt (maSr) are not obvious.

Then I got smart, went to google Translate, looked up the Arabic word for “map:”
خريطة
Putting that result in google images, I got better results for maps in Arabic, such as this one of Europe.

Then I tried “map Canada:”
خريطة كندا

Searching these words in google images gave me this map of North America.  The writing is small, but zooming in and using what charts I had I found I could easily sound out these words, and see how these English words and sounds were transliterated into Arabic.  This was a useful exercise, and it completed a process of familiarisation with the Arabic alphabet.  I was now able to look at words and sound them out to some degree, and transliterate english sounds into arabic text.  I began to feel comfortable working with the Arabic text, and was ready to apply that to the other sources I was learning from, by keeping notes and cataloguing the words, phrases and rules I came across.

WHAT NEXT…

By now I had also dipped my toes into a number of different online sources for learning Arabic, and had identified a couple which I thought would suit me well.  I decided to start working with a couple of these, and resolved to write a lot and keep good notes as writing things down is the key for me to have them sink in.  By this point, I was putting aside about an hour per day, to move ahead in whichever program/direction I felt like that day.  I didn’t care if there would be overlap, as such would just be good review, and knowing that Arabic, even the Standard Arabic I am learning, is a living language that is spoken by so many people from different places, it would be good to have “second opinions” on some things.  Also, when teaching oneself a language, relying on one source when its explanation or presentation of something is problematic, another source will clear that up, so it is good to have “second opinions” in that regard as well.  And I just wanted to have fun and keep learning, rather than being to rigid in my method!

So this is how I took my first steps in learning Arabic.  From here I will go back and review the different sources I have learned from, typing and posting my notes and charts as I go along, as I did the first time around.  In my next post(link?), we will look at a youtube channel by Maha Yakoub, which is excellent and been a big help in learning several aspects of spoken and written Standard Arabic.

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