Teaching Arabic Letters…to Non Native Speakers

The best approach when it comes to teaching letters to beginners

                      Teaching Arabic to beginners in the right way with the right methodology is a primordial step toward a future successful learning. In the last past two decades, many teachers elaborated several curriculums on the topic. Nevertheless, those curriculums were made by teachers specialized in teaching Arabic to native speakers, and those teachers did not experience in teaching Arabic to non native learners. Nowadays, parents and children feel lost amidst an endless list of materials available in the market. Because any language is built upon letters, the major cue while teaching Arabic letters is focusing on the names of letters instead of their sounds.

             Teaching Arabic letters’ names to Arabic learners should be the first step. First of all, it helps learners to acquire a complete understanding of Arabic’s alphabet. For example, some letters do not have a sound like “ Alif ” since it is a prolongation. If a teacher is willing to pronounce “Alif”, he should pronounce before it an other letter. In other words, the teacher will confuse students because they are not yet ready to distinguish the letter “ Alif “ from stretched sounds (Fig. 1).


Fig.1: Alif cannot be pronounced without connecting a letter before because it does not have a sound if alone

                  In addition to that, the letter “Al Hamza” does not have any similarity with the sound that it makes. If a teacher teaches its sound before its name, students will not be able to recognize or to name it since they do not know its name (Fig. 2).


Fig.2: Al Hamza sounds differently from its name

               Moreover, when a teacher starts by teaching sounds to students, that means that students already learned the concept of vowels which is crucial in pronunciation. In real classes, learners have no idea about vowels. Therefore, they will struggle indefinitely if they start learning letters’ sounds before letters’ names. Finally, teaching students Arabic letters’ names will simplify things when it comes to learn how to write. Teachers could be able to explain word structure easily if students already have a full control on letters’ names. Thus, teachers should start teaching Arabic by teaching letters’ names.

               To tie things together, Arabic classes must start by teaching students letters’ names before sounds and vowels in order to provide complete lessons to students, to avoid confusing information, and to prepare the ground for the writing step. Teachers and parents should take into account the previous points before using any material in their classes.

teaching Arabic letters methodology

– Arabic Seeds’s team member.

Related resource on Arabic Seeds:

Arabic writing letters alphabet

In TarkEasy are included the flashcards of all the Arabic letters with their name.

2 thoughts on “Teaching Arabic Letters…to Non Native Speakers”

  1. Assalamu alaikum,
    Thank you for your genuine and goodhearted intent on attempting to teach Arabic to non-native speakers. You are doing great work, so please keep doing so! However, I am inclined to say that there are grave errors in this post that will further confuse than help non-natives. The first one is very obvious. The Alif. The rule above that says it always has to come after a letter is not very accurate, I’m afraid. What about the word “Ahmed?” What about stretched alif in the word “Adam”? The alif and the hamza are two stand-alone letters as well. An Alif can have multiple sounds, just like the English “y” has multiple sounds. So saying that it has to connect and follow another letter is a little misleading, and needs to be amended in the article. It gives a myopic view of what the alif can do, and it’s placement in the word. The hamza has a similar sound to the clipped alif, (the clipped alif has a hamza on top of it) but it is not an alif, as there are words spelled with hamza and not alif. Alif has variants within it as well. They are written differently and sounded differently, but in the end, they all fall under the name of alif. So how is that going to help a child or an adult learner read? If he does not know the various sounds and only knows the name, how is that going to help him or her?
    As for whether to teach names first or sounds, I am of the opinion that it depends on the style of the teacher, and the student he or she is teaching. I am of the opinion, due to the above reasons I have stated, that teaching the various sounds, playing sound games with the child where you say a word and have them sound it out for you, and then afterwards showing them the letter, is more efficient in the long run. And faster, but speed here is not an issue, efficiency is. If the child, through sound games, has been exposed to all the variant sounds an alif makes, and then is presented with the shape of it and how it looks, he/she will read faster. Please note, however, that the “sound-sound game-letter name” stage happens before the child is given a word to read. It’s all oral-aural at this point. Isolating the different aspects of reading is simpler and easier for a learner to grasp than throwing the letter at him/her, giving them the name, giving them the sound, and telling them to read a few words all at once. I am inclined to say that this can also be done with an adult as well — learning the sounds without recourse to seeing the symbols or the written word just yet. I’m an adult learner of foreign languages, and this approach helps me as well. I guess teaching the letter name at the point when a learner begins to look and read written letters is useful, but I don’t believe it is all that helpful prior to it. But then again, this is just my opinion, and my observations from teaching Arabic to non-native speakers and observing their progress (I’m a native speaker).
    I do hope that you take these ideas to mind. Thank you for your hard work making this language possible to so many. Wassalam.

    1. و عليكم السلام و رحمة الله
      I will go through your comments and simplify the difficulty you have to figure out our method.
      First of all, ” the word: Ahmed أحمد” starts with Hamza followed by alif, and the role of this Alif is ONLY to hold the Hamza. In other words, we never read the Alif because it is not a letter that has a sound when it is alone.
      In the stretched words like آدم “Aadam” the origin of the word is ءادم: the Hamza is stretched by the Alif and the combination Hamza+Alif”Alif as a prolongation” is written آدم “Aadam. This is the way we write it. You should know that Hamza was not written in the past because Arabic native speaker do not need to write it. They were able to recognize it easily.
      You have said: ” An Alif can have multiple sounds, just like the English “y” has multiple sounds. ” this statement is wrong. Alif sounds as the letter it stretches. Without a letter before Alif, there is no sound. The proof is that, in Arabic, we do not have any word starting with Alif only.The reason behind: Alif is considered as a letter that has Soukoune as a vowel, and the basic rule in Arabic claims that words never starts with Soukoune.
      The names of letters are mandatory to know. How will you spell a word if you are not able to give names to the letters that compose the word? How will you call them?
      We have been teaching arabic for non native speakers, and we know how much it is difficult when teachers are not qualified. If you are a native speakers, it does not mean that you are able to teach correctly. Teachers struggle to teach Arabic because everyone is improvising his methodology without actual academic or professional experience.
      Alif and Hamza are big chapters in Arabic, and I will give you some examples:
      1- In Quran, Hamza is read in several ways. Compare “Hafs” and “Warch”
      2- Alif implies stretches and linked to many other rules. You should have enough knowledge in reading Coran to be able to figure out the issue.
      Thank you for the comment. We will be thrilled to clarify things for you if you are interested to have a good methodology in the future.
      Arabic Seeds.

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