Yes, you read that headline correctly. Kaleela.com, the premier online Arabic language learning source that has brought you countless lessons in Arabic grammar, Arabic vocabulary, Arab culture, and a soon to be released Arabic language learning app (available for both Android and iOS) will no longer be teaching you the Arabic alphabet. And the reason behind our decision is simple: We’ve never taught you the Arabic alphabet in the first place, because the fact is, there is no such thing as an Arabic alphabet.
Arabic does not have an alphabet; it has an abjad.
What exactly is an abjad? In simple terms, an abjad is a writing system made up of consonants. The vowels? Well, although and abjad can have markings which represent vowels, they are usually not included in Arabic writing.
An alphabet, on the other hand, is defined as a writing system in which each written character (or grapheme) represents one unit of sound (or phoneme) such as the Roman alphabet found in most Western languages.
For example: f nglsh wr wrttn n bjd, t wld lk smthng lk ths. You can probably recognize most of the words in this sentence, but it’s difficult. (And for those who didn’t get it, it says “If English were written in abjad it would look something like this.”)
Understanding what an abjad is and the difference between it and an alphabet will not only help you learn to read and write Arabic faster but will also help you understand how the entire language works.
There are 28 canonical letters in the Arabic abjad with three of them representing long vowels (ا alif, و waw, and ي yeh). Much like the English “w” and “y”, the Arabic و waw, and ي yeh can also function as consonants. Except for these three vowels, no other vowels are normally marked in modern writing, though you will see them marked in the classical Arabic of the Quran, where they are known as tashkīl. They are written like that in the Quran to help the learner know how the word should be correctly pronounced.
When learning Arabic, this means two things: 1) writing and vocabulary must be learned in tandem with the sound, and 2) understanding how these work together will help you understand the Arabic language even better. As you may already know, the best way to learn to read and write is to practice reading words in conjunction with their pronunciation; if not, reading is nearly impossible at first. As you practice more and more, you will begin to recognize the words and their pronunciations even more.
In the end, this all starts not with the alphabet, but with the abjad and learning it will blow the doors wide open while you’re learning to speak Arabic. From now on we may still sometimes refer to it as the Arabic “alphabet”, but in actuality, you’ll be learning the Arabic abjad.
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