Comprehensive Guide on How to get Started in Learning Arabic!

Chapter 01

Overview of the Arabic Language

Learning Arabic alphabets is the first step to learning the Arabic language. The Arabic language is famous for being the language of the wise and intelligent. That doesn’t mean it’s a hard language. Being a student of Arabic for many years now, I would like to say it’s one of the most beautiful languages I have ever come across. There is a smart manner of conquering this language and incorporating it into one’s life. Acquainting yourself with the Arabic letters is a great start! The aim of this section is to provide an extensive guide to learning the letters of Arabic language. Before that, a brief overview of Arabic language is important to help us visualize its vastness and popularity among Muslim and Non-Muslim nations alike.

The Influence of the Arabic Language

Arabic language, also known as the language of Daad (ض) is the language of the Qur’an. It is one of the oldest and richest languages known to mankind and has a diverse history involving various regions of the globe including the Middle East and parts of Africa. It is the national language of the Gulf countries (Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar) and is commonly spoken by the inhabitants of Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon and countries of Africa like Mali, Chad, Senegal, Eritrea and South Sudan.
ِArabic is also one of the six official languages in the United Nations and is the fifth most spoken language in the world. Some of its characters are not found in any of the other languages in the world. Arabic language’s complexity and sophisticated manner of conveying the message indicates a thorough understanding of its rules and styles.

Beginning the Journey of Arabic

ِOne of the first and basic starting points to start studying Arabic is to acquaint yourself with the letters of the Arabic Language. The letters of the Arabic language are written from right to left. The script known to write these letters is called abjad (abjad is derived from the first four letters of the Arabic language, أ, ب, ج, د) script. 
ِBeing an old language, Arabic has influenced many other languages including Persian, Turkish, Hindustani (Hindi and Urdu), Kashmiri, Kurdish, Bosnian, Kazakh, Bengali, Malay (Indonesian and Malaysian), Maldivian, Pashto, Punjabi, Albanian, Armenian, Azerbaijani, Sicilian, Spanish, Greek, Bulgarian, Tagalog, Sindhi, Odia and Hausa and some languages in parts of Africa. Conversely, Arabic has borrowed words from other languages, including Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, and Persian in medieval times and languages such as English and French in modern times.
ِThe Arabic alphabet is the third most used writing system in the world, after the Latin alphabet and Chinese characters. It is the most common script to write for the Arabic language, and it is also the most common script used to write for some other languages with large numbers of Muslim speakers such as Persian and Urdu, and it is one of the variant scripts used to write in other languages such as Punjabi, Malay, and Indonesian.
ِLearning Arabic can be an amazing experience.  For Muslims, one of its greatest benefits is in helping one understand the sacred words of the Qur’an, the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be upon him), as well as a treasure-trove of scholarly works from Islamic history.  For those interested in the culture of Arabic-speaking people or in living in the Middle East or North Africa, it’s a great means of opening up communication with people and building bridges towards understanding.  I once heard someone say that to really get to know a person one needn't walk in their footsteps for forty days, but spend forty days speaking their language.  In so doing one begins to see things from their perspective and gains important insights into their culture and world-view.

Origins of the Arabic Alphabet

ِThe origins of the Arabic alphabet can be traced to the writing of the semi-nomadic Nabataean tribes, who inhabited southern Syria and Jordan, Northern Arabia, and the Sinai Peninsula. Surviving stone inscriptions in the Nabataean script show strong similarities to the modern Arabic writing system. Like Arabic, their written texts consisted largely of consonants and long vowels, with variations on the same basic letter shapes used to represent a number of sounds.
Chapter 02

Facts about the Arabic Language

1. Arabic Doesn’t Actually Have An Alphabet

ِInstead, the system is called “abjad” or consonantal alphabet. For English speakers, reading and writing without vowels seems impossible, but it’s something common among Semitic languages – such as Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic or Maltese.
ِHow does it work? When writing in this language, you only sign the consonants and the long vowels (like “ee” in the word “exceed”) – which makes it an impure abjad, because it has three symbols for vowels among the consonants.
ِShort vowels are considered less important and you don’t have to illustrate them – but some do, through diacritic symbols, such as dots, dashes and curves. Simplifying this example, Canada becomes “Cnda”, where the last “a” is signed because it is considered a long vowel.This writing system is possible because, in Arabic, it’s easy to identify words even without short vowels – or at least, that’s what they say! For beginners, it’s actually anything but easy. Both reading and writing can constitute incredibly complex tasks.
ِReaders can easily get confused by similar words. If the author wants to give clear clues about the meaning of one word, he’ll indicate short vowels using specific symbols. Otherwise, everything stays in the context.
ِAnd if that wasn’t fascinating enough, there’s more about vowels to confuse you! Long vowels can also be considered consonants. But, in this situation, they’re properly marked with diacritic signs, to avoid confusion.

2. Its Characters Are Used For Writing Many Languages

ِThe Arabic alphabet is the second most widely used, after the Latin one. It spread together with Islam, and was used in writing various languages worldwide.
ِPersian (spoken in Iran and Afghanistan), Malay (used in Brunei and Malaysia), Urdu and Punjabi (spoken in Pakistan) are just some examples of Asian languages using Arabic characters to write.
ِBut there’s more than 30 languages who write with these characters. Even Chinese has a writing style inspired by Arabic calligraphy, rarely used today, but not entirely lost.In the first years of the 20th century, this influential alphabet was used also in Europe, by Turkish and Tatars living in Belarus, Finland, Georgia, Lithuania and Russia. Ottoman Turkish is now an extinct language, while Tatars passed to the Cyrillic alphabet around 1930. 

3. Reading Arabic Challenges Our Brains Differently

ِWith the absence of vowels, the brain works differently to recognize words during reading. This is because identifying dots and symbols that make the distinction between one letter and another needs more time–and a different part of our brains!
ِA study conducted at the University of Haifa, in Israel, has shown that while reading English or Hebrew involves both sides of our brains, reading Arabic is too complex for the right side. It leaves all the job to the left side of the brain. A similar study by the University of Leicester confirmed this theory. 
ِIn a nutshell, it’s believed that the left hemisphere is in charge of logic, maths, speaking and processing what we hear. The right hemisphere mainly processes music, face recognition, spatial abilities and what we see. However, both hemispheres work together in almost all processes, including when learning languages.
ِThe fact that reading the Arabic language doesn’t involve the right side of our brains doesn’t mean we can’t learn this language. When learning a foreign language, we use our left hemisphere for rules and structures, while the right is usually responsible for remembering words and sounds.
ِHowever, the studies could explain why most people find Arabic so difficult to read and why reading it needs more time to be automated while learning.

4. Arabic Calligraphy Is Visual Art

ِArabic letters are always joined together in words, even when typed, leaving the impression that all scripts are handwritten.
ِActually, there’s no handwritten and typed letters – like we have in English and Romantic languages. There’s only one set of symbols that goes for all occasions.
ِThe Arabic language doesn’t have capital letters, either. But, a letter takes different forms depending on its place inside the word – at the beginning, in the middle, at the end, or isolated.
ِA single set of symbols doesn’t make things easier, either. Scribes and calligraphers have developed various types of script over the years.
ِThe major types are:
ِKufic – the oldest script, used at the beginning for writing the Qur’an. After the 12th century, it was used less for the Holy book and mostly for decoration purposes. Today it is used in design.
ِNaskh – it substituted the Kufic style around the 11th century. It’s easier to read and faster to write, being used massively today in newspapers, magazines and books.
ِThuluth – its main characteristic refers to the presence of vowel signs and ornaments. It’s mostly used to decorate mosques and write holy names.  

5. 420 Million People Speak It

ِArabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin, English, Hindustani and Spanish.
ِCountries that speak this tongue are very different when it comes to their history, culture and dialects. However, most speakers manage to understand each other, despite regional differences.
ِ27 countries have Arabic as an official language. Among them, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates, Tunisia and Yemen. Malta is the only country in the European Union to have Arabic recognized among its official languages.

Differences between the Roman alphabet and the Arabic alphabet

ِThe familiar Roman alphabet uses both print, in which each letter stands alone, and script, in which letters are connected (i.e., cursive).In Arabic, however, print does not exist. It is written entirely using script. Therefore, it may be hard for beginners to distinguish between individual Arabic letters.
ِWords are written from right to left. Numbers are written from left to right. Some Arabic letters also change form depending on where they are placed in a word (beginning, middle, end, or standing alone).
ِArabic has a root system – massive help when it comes to vocabulary! Every noun, adjective and verb is built on a system of 3 key letters, with changes in consonants and vowels.

But how special is the Arabic alphabet?

ِUniquely, Arabic follows an Abjad rather than an alphabet. One of the qualities that make Arabic unique and a bit tricky until you get the hang of it is that its writing system follows an Abjad rather than an alphabet. So what does that mean? An Abjad is a system in which each letter stands for a consonant and not a vowel, which requires the user of the language to provide the vowels using vowel marks. However, now it is considered an “impure Abjad”, as it contains 3 vowels.
Chapter 03

Letters Of Arabic Language

The Arabic language has 28 letters. They are as follows:
خ ح ج ث ت ب ا
kha’ ha’ gem tha’ ta’ baa’ alef
ص ش س ز ر ذ د
sad shen sen zain ra’ thal dal
ق ف غ ع ظ ط ض
qaaf fa’ ghain ain tha’ ta’ da’
ي و ه ن م ل ك
yaa’ waw ha’ noon meem lam kaf
Following Arabic letter chart displays the letters names and their Arabic script, transliteration, isolated form, and the initial, medial and final contextual forms of the Arabic letter.
Name  Letter name in Arabic script Transliteration Isolated form Initial Contextual Form Medial Contextual Form Final Contextual Form
ʾalif أَلِف ā / ʾ(also â ) ا ا ـا ـا
bāʾ بَاء b ب بـ بـ ـب
tāʾ تَاء t ت تـ ـتـ ـت
ق ف غ ع ظ ط ض
thāʾ ثَاء tha (also ṯ ) ث ثـ ـثـ ـث
jīm جِيم j(also ǧ ) ج جـ ـجـ ـج
ḥāʾ حَاء ḥ(also ḩ ) ح حـ ـحـ ـح
khāʾ خَاء kh(also ḫ, ḵ, ẖ ) خ خـ ـخـ ـخ
dāl دَال d د د ـد ـد
dhālʾ ذَال dh(also ḏ ) ذ ذ ـذ ـذ
rāʾ رَاء r ر ر ـر ـر
zāy / zayn رَاء z ز ز ـز ـز
sīn سِين s س سـ ـسـ ـس
shīn شِين sh ش شـ ـشـ ـش
(also š )
ṣād صَاد (also š ) ض ضـ ـضـ ـض
ṭā طَاء ṭ(also ţ ) ط طـ ـطـ Letter ـط
ẓāʾ ظَاء ẓ(also z̧ ) ظ ظـ ـظـ ـض
ʿayn عَيْن ʿ ع عـ ـعـ ـع
ghayn غَيْن gh(also ġ,ḡ) غ غ ـغـ ـغ
fāʾ فَاء f ف فـ ـفـ ـف
qāf قَاف q ق قـ ـقـ ـق
kāf كَاف k ك كـ ـكـ ـك
lām لاَم l ل لـ ـلـ ـل
mīm مِيم m م مـ ـمـ ـم
nūn نُون n ن نـ ـنـ ـن
hāʾ هَاء h ه هـ ـهـ ـه
wāw وَاو w / ū / ∅ و و و ـو
yāʾ يَاء y / ī ي يـ ـيـ ـي

Hamza: The 29th letter?

Hamza (Arabic: الهَمْزة‎, (al-)hamzah) (ء) is a letter in the Arabic alphabet, representing the glottal stop [ʔ]. Alif doesn't have a sound of its own but when you say "Aaa" it's actually Hamza (and Fatha on top) which is making the sound. Hamza can also be on top of Yaa (ي) and Waw (و).

Contextual Forms of the Arabic Alphabet

In Arabic script, letters take different shapes depending upon their position in the word and whether they are connected to a preceding letter. All letters can connect from the right side (i.e. to the preceding letter), but some do not connect from the left side (i.e. to the subsequent letter). Therefore, every letter may be classified either as a connector, i.e. a letter that connects from both sides, or as a non-connector, i.e. a letter that does not connect to the subsequent letter. Most letters are connectors; there are only six non-connectors.
Connectors have four shapes:
Independent: not connected to any other letter
Initial: connected to the subsequent letter only
Medial: connected to the preceding and subsequent letters
Final: connected to the preceding letter only
Shown below, as an example, are the four shapes of the Arabic letter bāĀ.
Final Medial Initial Independent
ـب ـبـ بـ ب

Non-connectors have two shapes:
Independent: not connected to any other letter
Final: connected to the preceding letter only
Shown below are the two shapes of the Arabic letter Āalif.
Final Medial Initial Independent
ـا ـ ـ ا
Chapter 04

Pronunciation Of the Arabic Letters

ِPronunciation of the Arabic letters is extremely important while learning your way through the letters. The articulation of these letters differs ranging to voice coming from the lips to that coming from the throat. Here are the details of the pronunciation of the Arabic letters.
In Arabic, this exit point is called makhraj – مَخْرَج, its plural is makharij– مَخَارِج. It comes from the Arabic triliteral verb root خَرجَ, which means “he came out”.
Scholars differ as to the number of these points of articulation. Some believe there are 16, others 14. For our part, we lean towards the grammarian Al Khalil’s opinion and most of the specialists of Tajweed, such as Ibn Al Jazari, who consider that there are 17 makhârijs.
The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters, and counting the Hamza- ا makes 29 letters. The Arabic letters are divided into two parts:
Asliya – أَصْلِية (original, main): These are the 29 known letters of the Arabic alphabet.
Far’iyya – فرْعِية (auxiliaries, annexes): These are those composed of two letters and whose makhraj oscillates between two points of articulation.
The 17 makharij are grouped into five main places of phonation:
The space in the mouth – الجَوف. There is no place where these letters come from: it is the estimated exit point.
There are 4 other precise exit points – makharijs:
The throat – الحَلْق
The tongue- اللِّسان
The lips – الشَّفَتانِ
The nose – الخَيْشُوم

1. The space in the mouth – الجَوف

Al jawf – الجَوف: it is the space inside of the mouth. From this space come out the letters of prolongation, which are:
  • The ا which forms the sound “a” when it bears sukoon and is preceded by a fatha.
  • Theو which forms the sound “oo” when it bears sukoon and is preceded by a damma.
  •  The ي which forms the sound “ee” when it bears sukoon and is preceded by a kasra.
 They are collected in the Holy Qur’an in this part of the verse:  
 تِلْكَ مِنْ أَنبَاءِ الْغَيْبِ نُوحِيهَا إِلَيْكَ
These letters have the point of phonation al jawf (space inside the mouth) and are not obstructed by anything. The sound stops when the air is exhausted.
The exit point of these letters is estimated but not specified. They are based on breath.
They are also called al huruf al hawa’iyya – الحُرُوفُ الهَوَائِيَّة about the air.
Note: These three letters (alif ا, wâw و and yâ ي) must come out only from the mouth. The nose does not intervene in any case.

2. The throat – الحَلْق

The throat includes 3 exit points:
أَقْصَى الحَلْق –aqsâ al-halq: the back of the throat
وَسَطُ الحَلْق – wasat al-halq: the middle of the throat
أَدْنَى الحَلْق –adnâ al-halq: the entrance to the throat.
أَقْصَى الحَلْق –adnâ al-halq: the entrance to the throat.
This region is located at the level of the larynx. Two letters emerge from this point, hamza ء and hâ ه.
وَلَا يُحِيطُونَ بِشَيْءٍ مِّنْ عِلْمِهِ إِلَّا بِمَا شَاءَ
قُلْ هُوَ اللَّـهُ أَحَدٌ
وَسَطُ الحَلْق – wasat al-halq: the middle of the throat.
It is the region located at the level of the pharynx, the glottis. The letters ‘ayn ع and Hâ ح come out of this place.
إِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَإِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِينُ
بِسْمِ اللَّـهِ الرَّحْمَـٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ
أَدْنَى الحَلْق –adnâ al-halq: the entrance to the throat.
It is the part closer to the mouth. It is the point of articulation of the letters ghayn غ and khâ خ.
صِرَاطَ الَّذِينَ أَنْعَمْتَ عَلَيْهِمْ غَيْرِ الْمَغْضُوبِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا الضَّالِّينَ
وَهُمْ فِيهَا خَالِدُونَ
Note:  The letters غ and خ must be emphasized because they are strong letters. It means that you have to fill your mouth when you spell them. 

3. The tongue- اللِّسان

The tongue includes 10 different points of articulation and produces phonation of 18 letters:
The roof of the mouth is divided into 2 parts:
The hard palate: the top roof-area, near the teeth
The soft palate: deepest part of the roof, near the throat
The tongue touches the hard or the soft palates to produce different letters.
Deepest part of the tongue and the soft palate
The posterior part of the tongue (aqsâ al lisan) at the pharynx level and the upper part of the palate form the point of articulation of the letter qâf ق.
The upper part of the tongue, slightly above the point of articulation of the qâf ق with the upper part of the palate forms the point of articulation of the kâf ك. The letter qâf ق is closer to the throat.
Middle part of the tongue and the hard palate
The middle of the tongue (wast al lisân) with the upper part of the palate form the articulation point of the jîm ج, shîn ش, and yâ ي (the yâ as a consonant and not as a long vowel).
The side of the tongue
One of the edges (or both) of the tongue resting against the upper premolars and molars form the point of articulation of the dâd ض. The Arabic language is also called “the language of ض'' because it is a letter specific to the Arabic language and the most difficult to pronounce.
One of the edges of the tip of the tongue resting against the palatal mucosa forms the point of articulation of the letter lâm ل.
The tip of the tongue slightly above the lâm pressing against the palatal mucosa forms the point of articulation of the letter noûn ن.
The tip of the tongue under the point of articulation of the noûn ن pressing against the palatal mucosa and making the back of the tongue vibrate forms the point of articulation of the râ ر.
The head and tip of the tongue
The tip of the tongue resting against the palatal mucosa of the upper central incisors forms the point of articulation of the ta ت, dâ د and Tâ ط.
The tip of the tongue with what separates the lower central incisors forms the point of articulation of sâd ص, sîn س and zey ز.
The tip of the tongue resting against the tip of the upper central incisors, taking the precaution of sticking out the tongue slightly between the teeth, forms the point of articulation of the letters Zâ ظ, dhâl ذ and thâ ث.

4. The lips – الشَّفَتانِ

The lips include 2 makharijs:
The inside of the lower lip resting against the upper central incisors point forms the point of articulation of the letter fâ ف.
The role of the lips is significant, even if it is not these letters mentioned above. If we ignore the lips’ position, the letters will not come out correctly.
For example, for the kasra, we will make sure to stretch the mouth lengthwise (make a smile) to pronounce an “i”, which does not look like an “è”; the key is to articulate well.

5. The nasal cavity – الخَيْشُوم

This is called nasal noise (ghunna – الغُتة). This happens with the letter noon ن and the meem م when they wear a shadda, when the noon – ن, the meem – م are sakin and the tanween.
Note: In the recitation, a vocalized letter must be pronounced with 1 beat, while the letter with sukoon must be pronounced with a little more than a beat.
Following diagram shows a summary of all the articulation points with the appropriate letter positions.
Chapter 05

Commonly mispronounced letters

The following table groups letters which are commonly mispronounced due to lack of knowledge of Tajweed, please keep these sets in mind and note that they must sound distinct and different from each other.
Letter Arabic script Letter Arabic script Letter Arabic script
‘ayn ع

’alif ا
ṭā’ (Full mouth) ط

ṭā’ ت
sad ص sīn س thā’ ث
hā’ (chest) ه

ḥā’ (deep throat) ح
ghayn غ’

khā’ خ
ḍād ض

dāl د
ẓā’’ ظ zā’ ز dhāl ذ
kāf ك

qāf ق

Three (3) Short Vowels

The short vowel-marks enable the letter to make a sound in a similar way to the English language. In the same way a word cannot be made in the English language without one of the 5 vowels (a, e, i, o or u), in Arabic language one cannot make a word without a vowel being used. In case of Alif a "Hamza" is used and then the short vowel is placed on top of it. The sound is a single beat and no further elongation is required.
جِ جَ جُ Arabic letter with Short Vowel
Kasrah Fatha Damma Short Vowel Name
Bottom Top Top Short Vowel placement
i a u Short Vowel Sound
The "i" in sit The "a" in ba The "u" in put Similar English Sound

The first few letters are shown with the short vowels in the following table:
Letter with Kasrah Letter with Fatha Letter with Damma Isolated (Original) Form
اِ اَ اُ ا
بِ بَ بُ ب
تِ تَ تُ ت
ثِ ثَ ثُ ث
ِج َج جُ ج

Double Short Vowels

The double vowel-marks signs are an extension of the single vowel-marks. The double vowel signs add the '-n' sound to the single vowel and it is called "Tanween".
جٍ جاً جٌ Arabic letter with double short Vowel
Kasrah-tain Fatha-tain Damma-tain Double short Vowel (Tanwin) Actual Name
Bottom Top(An Alif is added and the vowel placed on top) Top Double short Vowel placement
in un oo followed by an "n" Double short Vowel Sound
The "in" in sin The "un" in funn The "un" in uno Similar English Sound

The following table illustrates the double short vowels in the first few Arabic alphabets:
Letter with Kasrah-tain Letter with Fatha-tain Letter with Damma-tain Isolated (Original) Form
اٍ اً اٌ ا
بٍ باً بٌ ب
تٍ تاً تٌ ت
ثٍ ثاً ثٌ ث

The explanations made in this article are the basic and starting points for new learners of the Arabic language. We would like to conclude our topic with some tips on gripping the basics of this charismatic language!


Don't just say the letters on their own. Try to find words with those letters in them. See how they turn out in different positions in the words, beginning, middle or end.
Listening to the pronunciation of those letters helps a lot. But remember not to trust your inner ear for the accuracy of these sounds. It's better to record your voice while saying these words and comparing them later to actual pronunciation.
Be gentle on your throat! Repeating those letters alone all the time might leave you with a sore throat since you're not used to it. Take your time and proceed slowly.
Lastly, read! Learning how to speak by reading gets you used to these letters faster and gives you much less stress than when saying them alone.

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