Saturday, January 10, 2009

How to Read & Write Arabic; o1 ALIF

Because it's so simple to learn to read and write the Arabic script I'll be posting a blog entry, every Saturday, until all the letters (and a few additional points) have been explained.

The aim of the series is to:
1. help blog visitors decipher what is written in Arabic
2. prove it's (almost) the easiest thing in the world to learn to read Arabic, if it's explained clearly and simply.

I'll be using road signs and public notices throughout the series to explain each of the 28 letters of the Arabic alphabet. In this first blog posting we'll introduce you to the first letter of the alphabet, ALIF and a few basic rules.

Key Rule 1: Arabic is written from right to left and from top to bottom.

The first letter of the Arabic alphabet is called alif [aa-lif] and is written vertically, from top to bottom, like this:

Although alif connects with the letter before it, it never ever connects with the letter following it, which leads us on to,

Key Rule 2. Six letters in the Arabic alphabet never connect with the following letter. Alif is the first of these six letters.

Alif: Pronunciation
Alif is the name of the letter, but not the way it is pronounced when it occurs in a word (a bit like the English letter 'A' [aye] being pronounced 'agh' in 'cat'). When the letter alif forms part of a word it is pronounced, 'aaah', like the 'a' in father or car.

Key Rule 3. There are three 'long vowels' in the Arabic alphabet, of which alif is one. The word 'long' here simply means the length of time it takes to pronounce the letter. As a general guide; make the sound last twice as long as you would for the 'a' in father.

Beginning, Middle or End?
Key Rule 4: All Arabic letters change their form slightly depending on the location in the word (beginning, the middle or the end). As a consequence alif does not always look exactly the same; very similar but not exactly the same. Think a-A, b-B, c-C, d-D, e-E, etc. etc.

Only when alif appears at the beginning of a word does it look exactly the same as the example above. When an alif appears in the middle, or at the end of a word it will look like the example below:

NB; alif is written from bottom to top when it appears in the middle or at the end of a word.

Examples of the Letter Alif:

1. Unconnected
The following examples show the letter alif standing alone and not connected to any letter. In the examples shown, it's because it occurs at the beginning of the word and can not connect to the following letter. Don't forget to read from right to left!
pull [as-hab] and Saudi Arabia [as-sow-dee-a]:

2. Connected
The following example shows alif connected to the preceeding letter. Remember, alif is never connected to the letter which follows it:

3.Two Alifs in one Word
Some words contain more than one alif, both connected and unconnected:

Summary of the Key Rules
1. Arabic writing always starts at the top of the right hand side of the page and is written from right to left
2. There are 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet
3. There are three vowels in the Arabic alphabet
4. All Arabic letters change their form slightly depending on where they occur in the word (beginning, middle or end)
5. Six letters never connect to the letter which follows. There is always a break in the written word after these letters.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for this post and for the noble intentions to help others with Arabic :)

I smiled to myself when read yours "2. prove it's (almost) the easiest thing in the world to learn to read Arabic, if it's explained clearly and simply."

I want to believe it is so :)

P.S. I like the way you blog. You tend to write objectively, very informative. Inshallah I'll comment more on other entries.

wgaw said...

Hope you'll join me on Saturday for the letter Baa :-)

Janna said...

I am not really getting it. Are you going to make a series of teaching how to write and read Arabic or you've already made it? I would like to take a look or please continue to make it. Your approach is very good and easy to understand. Thanks.


wgaw said...


As from last Saturday I'm going to be posting a blog entry every Saturday which will explain one letter from the Arabic alphabet.

I started with alif and will continue through all 28 letters until we reach 'yaa', the final letter. Right now the series is not published on the web and I'm still working on getting the lanugage right. Tomorrow, Saturday 17th Jan, I'll post the second entry, baa.

Glad you're finding it easy to understand - looking forward to hearing more feedback from you.


Alan.. said...

Thanks for this guide.

I am hopefully going to visit Syria this year and I want to learn the alphabet before I go, so I can read at least read street signs, shop signs and simple stuff like that.

This guide is one of the best I have found so far. It makes everything very clear.

Tahina said...

That was great advice, it helped me studying tajweed, jazakallah may Allah bless you inshallah (: