With almost 25 countries where Arabic is designated as an official language, and many others where it’s a common second language, there are many people around the world reading the Arabic alphabet.
With 290 million native speakers and over 130 million non-native speakers of Modern Standard Arabic, also known as literary Arabic, and spoken dialects, Arabic holds an important place in the modern world. Therefore learning Arabic is of the upmost importance, and this is a process which starts with the very basics; the alphabet.
But where does the Arabic alphabet come from? What are its origins ?
Historians have struggled to pinpoint the exact date when the Arabic language first originated.
But there are a few traces of the language throughout history which help us track its evolution over the centuries. We’ll go over that history below because when you learn to write in Arabic or the strokes of the Arabic script, you get a little glimpse into the past. Here are our different tips to learn Arabic online or via an app!
Before you start learning the Arabic alphabet, we think it’s important to learn a bit about the language’s history, evolution, and spread.
From North Africa to the Middle East, Indonesia to Europe – Arabic is spoken all over the world!
Today, you can find Arabic speakers almost anywhere in the world. It’s estimated that there are around 290 million native Arabic speakers on the planet. And if you include all the people who speak Arabic as a second language, there are more than 420 million Arabic speakers globally.
It’s important to note that Arabic is a sacred language for Muslims; its Holy Book, the Quran, is written in Arabic and is revered by an estimated one billion worshippers around the world.
The number of people speaking Arabic, whether at a lower level, or bilingually, is enormous.
However, as a mother tongue, Arabic is the 5th most spoken language, behind Chinese, English, Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Indonesian.
A number of countries use Arabic script, and have designated Arabic as an official language. They are :
Arabic has influenced the modern world in many different ways in the past, but today the number of Arabic speakers is growing rapidly around the world. Even if it isn’t as mainstream as Spanish or French in most countries, its stature internationally is drawing attention which is reflected by the increase in blogs and online courses dedicated to helping people learn the language
Like many foreign languages, Arabic has gone through many perturbations. The first written record of the language comes from poets recording their work (we’re talking about classical Arabic, not spoken dialects here). The Arabic alphabet letters and its script hasn’t always looked the same as the one we know today, however.
Arabic historians and linguists believe that the script originated from the Aramaic script, which is itself based on Phoenician. One variation on Aramaic script Nabatenen. However, Arabic is not the only modern day descendent of Phoenician. Their alphabet also gave birth to Hebrew and Greek, which is why all three scripts have some similarities.
It’s generally well established that the Arabic alphabet is based on Nabatenen, a variation of Aramaic. Looking at the two scripts it’s easy to see similarities, much more than if you compared Arabic to standard Aramaic.
It isn’t until 512 AD that we have the first written record of the Arabic language; the famous ‘Zabad inscription’ in Syria. This is the first written trace of Arabic script. Prior to 512AD, if you squint, you can just make out the historical origins of Arabic.
Today Arabic is strongly associated with the Muslim religion, but in 512AD the first Islamic writings were Christian
It seems that the Nabatenen began using a form of Arabic in the 5th or 6th century BC, in the region now known as Petra, in Jordan. But there’s no hard proof that this happened.
It isn’t until the 2nd century AD that there’s any trace of Nabatenen – based on Aramaic, it contained several Arabismes. The latest recordings of Nabatenen date from 355, and then there’s nothing between 355 and the Zabad inscription in 512 in terms of Arabic history.
One justification for this lack of historical record is that the Nabatenen script was generally written on papyrus and heavily influenced the Arabic script. As papyrus is not very durable, it is very likely that the records that did once exist have simply disappeared over time.
There are plenty of records of Arabic alphabet from the 7th century AD, and you can even notice traces of Aramaic, which was at that point mostly dead.
And it was just at this time that the Arabic alphabet underwent one of its most important developments. The letters and forms at that time weren’t sufficient to record all the complexities of the Arab language. And this is when the number of Arabic letters increases from 22 to 28. There are therefore just 28 letters to learn if you want to learn Arabic…or perhaps you want to learn the Arabic numerals?
It was therefore necessary to create 6 new letters, which were created by adding markings over or under existing letters. The markings helped to distinguish the new letters from the old ones. And this is where one of the main difficulties in learning classical Arabic and the Arabic alphabet comes from.
How to learn Arabic, the script, the letters, and their variations
When you want to learn a foreign language – and its especially true if you’re learning a language that doesn’t use the latin alphabet – the vowels and consonants of that new language are the first thing you need to wrap your head around. Learning the consonants and vowels, and their pronunciation is key. And in the case of Arabic, you also need to know how to form the letter in Arabic script – there’s something very artistic about learning to write in Arabic!
Learning all the different forms of each Arabic letter is an art form.
In order to learn Arabic, it is crucial that you learn each of the 28 letters. Each letter has its own pronunciation, some of which are relatively easy for English speakers. But others are much more guttural than we’re used to.
Above all, (and this is the most difficult thing about Arabic) is that there are three versions of each letter. Similar to Latin, where words change depending on the declination and their position in the sentence, each Arab letter changes depending on its place in the sentence. In order to learn the Arabic alphabet and its script, you should know that in written Arabic each letter has its own form depending on if it’s:
How you write each letter therefore depends on where it falls in the sentence. If you’re good at math, you’ll have already realized that you’ve run into your first obstacle to your goal of learning Arabic. The Arabic alphabet may have just 28 letters, but each letter has 4 versions! That’s 112 letters to write altogether.
Vowels are very important in the Arabic language.
Even if it might be possible to bypass written Arabic and just learn everything phonetically, improving and becoming truly bilingual in Arabic will require you to learn all the letters.
That’s all we wanted to say about the history of the Arabic alphabet and its script. Now let’s move on to the studying!
Learning Arabic online has become a totally achievable goal these days. It’s still difficult, but not impossible, thanks to all the Arabic classes now available on the internet. But before you sign up for a more hardcore class, it’s best to learn the Arabic alphabet!
Luckily, there are plenty of easy ways for people just starting to learn Arabic to master all of the letters. There are some great tables that go through each symbol and letter in detail, as well as their pronunciation and the different versions of each letter depending on their place in the sentence. It’s a great way to quickly learn the Arabic alphabet. And it isn’t too bad; as you may have realized already, the different versions of each letter all relate back to the stand alone form.
Most online teaching hubs will have a combination of pronunciation and symbols for each letter.
In order to write in Arabic on your keyboard, you can download a new keyboard or order new key covers to make it easier.
This site lets you download entire books for free Arabic classes, and is great for total beginners, or people hoping to improve their level of Arabic. The lessons on Arabic writing cover:
The method for each lesson is the same and marries writing with pronunciation. It is possible to listen to the pronunciation of each letter, vowel, consonant, word, and combination of words to get the right sound.
The website also offers lessons in Arabic literature, studying the Quran, and Islamic conversions, or you can sign up for personalized classes for a fee.
This website is perhaps more appropriate for children, but easily walks you through the different Arabic letters and numbers with a downloadable flash app.
There’s also a video of people singing the Arabic alphabet, and lots of games and quizzes to help make your learning more fun.
This website has a free complete course to walk a complete beginner through the first steps of learning to read and write Arabic script.
There’s a downloadable PDF, as well as a series of videos which help you master the pronunciation of all the letters. There’s also a follow up course in basic Arabic grammar
The whole Arabic alphabet is available with:
The site also has videos to help you work on the shape of your mouth and the muscles to use for each letter, and explains how to write each letter properly in Arabic script.
There are also many different YouTube channels that can help you learn Arabic. Vloggers and teachers talk you through the basics of each letter of the alphabet and its pronunciation.
Wisam Sharieff teaches Arabic classes in real life, and online he offers plenty of advice. One of his top tips is to look in the mirror when you learn how to pronounce the different letters of the Arabic alphabet, so that you can understand the different shapes you should make with your mouth and the muscles you should use.
ArabicPod101’s YouTube channel offers a complete series of 20 videos to learn the Arabic alphabet. Taught by a native Arabic speaker, lessons are broken down into small segments to make learning all 28 letters and their variations nice and simple. It’s a great way to learn without trying too hard!
The teachers walk you through the strokes of the Arabic script as well, so you aren’t just learning how to read and recognize the Arabic letters, but how to right them too.
You can also find lots of other videos online to help you learn the Arabic alphabet, but these two channels are our favorite because you’re getting professional advice from a teacher.
Other videos are more suitable for children (things like learning the alphabet by singing), but they can still help you learn this sometimes tricky alphabet!
In order to easily learn the Arabic alphabet and begin speaking Arabic, it can be a good idea to try out some less serious options – after all, you never learn as well as when you’re having fun at the same time! Why not try out an app on your smartphone or tablet?
Unlock your Android or iPhone and check out all the apps to help you learn Arabic!
There are many different apps to help you learn Arabic, but one of our favorites is Arabic Alphabet. This app does just what it says on the tin, and has dedicated itself to teaching the Arabic alphabet, the 28 letters, and all of their variations.
The app was notably created by a native-Arabic speaker, and is designed to make learning the alphabet as fun and easy as possible. You see each letter in a flashcard like format, before hearing its pronunciation. For each letter, you’ll also learn a word that begins with that letter in order to start building your vocabulary.
Generally meant for children and young students, this app can also be helpful for learners of all ages.
The app uses quizzes and flashcards to keep you engaged, and help you memorize the letters of the Arabic alphabet whether you’re 5 years old or an adult. It also covers Arabic numbers and fun facts about the language’s history and usage, and has integrated audio examples and pronunciation from native Arabic speakers.
There are lots of useful websites to help learn the Arabic alphabet.
This app doesn’t just help you to read Arabic and learn the letters of the alphabet, but also teaches you to write the script! This innovative app is kid friendly but also helpful for mature learners of Arabic.
Like most of the other apps, Cute Arabic Alphabet walks you through all 28 letters and the numbers, their different forms, and their pronunciation.
However, its uniqueness comes in its ability to also teach you Arabic script by tracing your finger on a touchscreen. Best done on a tablet, the app even corrects you as you go to help learn the best ‘writing’ position possible!
While you are exploring some of the apps in the app store, it’s worth keeping in mind that there are also many other apps to help you learn Arabic. Different apps can help with Arabic grammar, conjugating verbs, vocabulary, phrases, pronunciation, translation….
Private classes are often the best way to learn at your own pace!
It’s often quite difficult to teach yourself something – you struggle to stay motivated, misunderstand information, can’t keep to a schedule, and feel defeated just trying to learn the basics. In these cases, it’s a good idea to find a private teacher who can help you learn to read and write Arabic properly.
You can easily find a teacher near you on our Superprof platform, as we have a wide database of Arabic teachers. You’ll find that private classes are often a great way to learn Arabic quickly. Lessons are totally adapted to your needs and level, and you can quickly start to see improvements while also tackling your weak areas.
Arabic classes with a private teacher, will help you avoid all the interruptions and disruptions of group classes. And when faced with a professional Arabic speaker, you’ll be forced to stay focused. It’ll also be easier to learn the Arabic alphabet, before you move on to learning Modern Standard Arabic.
On Superprof, students can find teachers based on cost, location, or level of knowledge.