The Hardest Part About Arabic

Some believe it's the grammar, but I have to say that the hardest part about Arabic is how different the pronunciation is from English. There are just so any difficult letters that give learners problems. In other languages you might be able to just ignore the strange letters, but in Arabic if you don't get them right then people are going to have a hard time understanding you at the very least. At times they won't understand a thing you are saying.

I knew a guy who spoke Arabic with a southern US accent and he always got really angry at the teachers because he thought they were picking on him, but in reality they (and the rest of the students) just couldn't understand anything he said. I've also known people who can understand just about everything in Arabic, but when they try to speak no one can understand them. Pronunciation is a very very important part of the Arabic language.


Brad Urani said...

Well done, keep it up!

Keith said...

Good post! I enjoyed your video too.

makkay said...

Salam the Arabic Student

It's just incredible how you can enunciate those sounds so perfectly.

Although Arabic have some heavy sounds that are hard for non-native speakers, I don't think Arabic pronunciation is as hard as English for ESL learners. Once you master those sounds, it becomes pretty straightforward to articulate all Arabic words correctly. There is no much inconsistency between spelling and pronunciation. Vowels in Arabic can be easily learned. And most importantly, you don't have to care about which syllable is stressed.

For me as an Arabic learner of English, When I started to learn English, I treated the letter A as "fatha or alif mad", E and I as "kasra", O as "dhama or wow mad" and U as "dhama". So I used to pronounce sex exactly like six. I simply made and analogy between the sounds in Arabic with the vowel letters of English. When I first knew how many sounds English really has, I felt It's impossible for me to learn. To be honest with you, I had struggled a lot hearing and distinguishing this huge number of sounds for my Arabic ears in conversations and normal speeches, not to mention producing them myself, till I watched hours and hours of educational videos on Youtube about vowels, word stress and linking. I still find it hard to hear the the difference of the sound of [a] in cat and cart in native-speaker pace speech, even though I actually can make it.

The point I'm trying to make is that anyone is actually able to produce and correctly articulate the ardulous Arabic sounds if s/he has the willingness, determination and dedication to learn them.

one remarkably great resource for teaching you how to to articulate all Arabic sounds correctly is this Youtube channel go to playlists then Arabic pronunciation .. and I can't recommend it more highly for anyone who is starting to learn Arabic

I have some questions about American English pronuciation for you the arabic student or anyone American English speaker if I can ask :)

1- Are the vowel sounds of the words [god], [guard], [dog], and [dark] the same in the American English?
2- Are the vowels of the words [bot] [bought] the same?
3- If the answer is yes for both questions, Is the long a sound as in [father] and [dark] the same as the sound in the word [bought] and [thought]?

I know there are a lot of varieties of English in the US, but I'm asking about the pronunciation of what's known as General American, the variety that's used in the media

Thank you in advance for answering ^_^

Keith said...

I'd like to ask for your opinion. What do you think about language learners trying to learn to pronounce these sounds before they are able to distinguish them aurally? Does that make any sense to you? What do you perceive as being the best path towards correct pronunciation?

The Arabic Student said...

makkay, I have noticed what you are talking about from Arabs speaking English. One guy I knew had a lot of trouble with the words pit, pat, pot, put, and pet. Arabic just doesn't have the "e" in pet so it's hard for Arabic native speakers. I guess that's the same problem you were having with "sex" and "six". And then the "o" in pot and the "au" in words like "caught" and "not". Those vowel sounds are hard to pick up since Arabic doesn't have them. I also know a Jordanian guy who has trouble with the difference between "pump" and "bomb".

As for the answers to your questions, I can do my best, but since I'm not an ESL teacher I have to think hard to give these answers :)

1. Those are all the same.

2. These 2, "bot" and "bought" are different vowel sounds when I say them. "Bought" sounds like "awful", but "bot" doesn't. I do know a lot of people who say them exactly the same though and you just have to know which one they are using from context.

3. They're all similar enough to be the same to my ears.

Take my responses with a grain of sand though. Other people may say different things so I would ask around. It's hard to tell if those sounds are the same or different because, even if they are different, they are REALLY close.

The Arabic Student said...

Keith, I think a lot of listening before you try to speak is the best thing. That's how I start on a new language. I listen to it a TON before I try to learn anything. Babies are listening to the muffled intonation of their native language before they even come out of their mothers'. After that they go for about 2 years before really saying much. It takes the brain time to absorb the new sounds and the rises and falls and new emphasis that a new language has. However this is something that gets skipped over very often because usually if a person wants to learn a language they want to learn it very quickly. So I think if someone wants good to perfect pronunciation they need to listen a lot before they speak.

Keith said...

I have an Egyptian friend and he thinks that Chinese sounds like a difficult language to pronounce. To him it sounds like all vowels and hardly any consonants. Of course I told him he just hasn't listened to enough Chinese. As for me, I think Chinese would be easy for most people to pronounce. Arabic sounds like it has the most difficult sounds to reproduce.

Didi said...

You're right pronunciation is hard. I'm very lucky in that I have access to people who are willing to listen to me repeat myself 3 or 4 times.

But I also watch the same TV show over and over and repeat what the presenter is saying.

If anyone is working on North African colloquial Arabic, this show is great
It's a slice of life and the presenter speaks very clearly.

Anonymous said...

Well, I believe we do in fact have the E-vowel in "pet" in Arabic; it's just not that common in colloquial accents. It's called "Imaalah 8u3`raa" (minor tilting [of the A-vowel]) or "taqleel" (reduction [of the A-vowel]) and is frequently used while reciting the Holy Qur'an in the Maghreb, since the mainstream Riwayah there is that of Warsh, which implements it a lot.

As a native speaker of colloquial Arabic, I indeed found vowels the most cumbersome aspect of the English language I had to deal with when trying to reduce my accent. You guys have so many of them. I went through the IPA chart, and had to pick them up one by one and master them one at a time. The consonants were a breeze though, since our consonants virtually cover all places of articulation.

Makkay, please refer to the Cot-caught Merger article on Wikipedia.

Linguist said...

Note: Arab = native Arabic speaker – English = native English speaker
---->see your YouTube site at:

I disagree. Arabic pronunciation is no more difficult to learn than English pronunciation (if you want to get it truly correct).

Because Arabic has no V or P, for example, Arabs have a hard time distinguishing between the 2 (so they say ABBEL instead of APPLE). English words like BIRD, WERE, WEAR, CROSS, etc are almost always pronounced incorrectly by Arabs. (They can’t “curl” their tongue to get that correct R sound). Instead, they “flap” the R (like Spanish speakers do).

English has “aspirated” P for another example, Arabic doesn’t, so the English word PUT comes out sounding like BOOT. Same with the aspirated T of English (aspirated means the letter has a puffed out H after the letter), like in the word TIP. An Arab makes this sound like TEEP or DEEP.

That’s just for the CONSONANTS in English, which is the easy part.

The VOWEL system in English is the real killer for Arabs. English is much more complex in this regard than anything Arabic has. Taking the word PUT again. Not only does it have an aspirated P which Arabs can’t really pronounce, the U actually sounds almost like a (uh) but Arabs will almost always pronounce it like OO--> POOT or BOOT. The phrase PUT IT HERE comes out something like BOOT EET HEEr. I mean, it’s “understandable”, but it’s not really English.

Then there are the DIPHTHONGS in English which every foreigner gets wrong which I won’t go into here. (SPELLING in English is another killer, but that’s another issue).

Of course, as you said, Arabic has some letters (sounds) that English doesn’t have so English speakers almost always get these wrong. BUT MY POINT IS, even if they pronounce these consonants wrong, IT’S UNDERSTANDABLE.

For example, if you want to say DO YOU HAVE MONEY? in Arabic, you would say (in most dialects) 9ANDAK FELOOS? Very few English speakers can get that first 9AYN correct. They will say something like ANDAK FELOOS? (pronouncing the 9 like an ordinary A), but even though it’s “wrong”, everyone will understand it (and so on).

Check out, for example, this Indian guy speaking Arabic. His pronunciation is totally “Indian”. He even “lilts” his Arabic as if he were speaking his native Indian language. But again, although his intonation, pronunciation and stress are almost all incorrect, he is understandable. Hear him at:

Bottom line? = You actually CAN speak Arabic with an English pronunciation and make yourself understood, just like you can speak English with an Arabic pronunciation and be understood.

In fact, English pronunciation is much more difficult than Arabic pronunciation – a lot more difficult overall) – for most non native speakers.

(By the way, Spanish pronunciation is also extremely difficult (I’m speaking, of course, if you want to attain a perfect or near native level pronunciation). Almost all Americans (and Arabs) that I’ve heard speaking it get it all wrong (but understandable).

In fact, and this may surprise you – I’ve heard better Arabic spoken by English speakers than I’ve heard Spanish spoken by English speakers, even tho “Arabic is difficult”. What "Arabic is difficult" means is: “There are fewer native English speakers who can speak Arabic than there are native English speakers who can speak Spanish”.

(PS I’m a native English/Spanish native speaker and a “near-native” Arabic speaker so I know what I’m talking about) (I think).