The Beginning

Congratulations on your decision to start learning the Arabic script! We shall start with the letter Baa: As you may have guessed from the name, this is the Arabic equivalent of the letter B. It is also used as P when writing foreign words and names, because Arabic doesn't natively have a P sound and B comes closest. To associate the picture and the sound, think of it as a boat, with the dot representing a paddle. The Arabic script is cursive; almost all letters will be connected to each other. On the bright side, this means that you don't have to learn a whole new way of writing the letters in order to be able to decipher handwriting. On the down side, it means that you immediately have to learn to recognize each letter in its connected shapes. Here are the possible shapes Baa can take:

Arabic is read right-to-left so what you see on the very right is how Baa will look at the beginning of a word; then the form when it's in the middle, and third from the right is the form it takes when at the end. Finally, on the left is the isolated shape. To illustrate, here's how to write 3 Baa's as one word: The most reliable way to identify Baa is to look for the the dot underneath. When writing Arabic by hand, move from right to left and write dots and diacritics last.

Practise writing Baa in its four distinct shapes:

You can also use an exercise book for additional practise. Now try to find all the Baa's in the following sentences:

Solution: there are 5 Baa's, as highlighted below.

If you didn't find all, that's fine - just keep sharpening your eye for Arabic letter shapes! One letter is not enough to read anything. We need a vowel. May I present to you: 'alif. This letter is pronounced as a long "aah". We'll transliterate it as "aa".

Remember that Arabic is a cursive script, so letters naturally connect. Here's how the syllable "baa" is written:

'alif is an isolating letter though, meaning that you can attach 'alif to something, but you can't attach another letter to the end of 'alif. Think of the entire Arabic alphabet, including Baa, as pieces of double-sided tape, which can stick on both sides. So you have this box full of double-sided tape, and you just merrily use bit after bit, except then you add 'alif and you notice you can't attach anything to it anymore, because someone left a bit of one-sided tape in the box. Annoying, isn't it? Anyway, 'alif can connect to the previous letter, but the following letter cannot connect to 'alif. So to write "baab", the Arabic word for "door", you have to do



Let's have a little reading exercise. These will come up throughout the lessons, to help you practise. I will show you an Arabic word, and you should try to read it and to understand it, because it's something you can recognize. I'll give you hints. The solution for this is at the bottom of the page. This is something a baby might say: A Swedish band: ‫* ابا‬ * This one was cheating a bit, because in Arabic this band's name involves extra diacritics. Maybe you want to copy the above words into your exercise book. The more you write Arabic, the more natural it will become. Solutions: baabaa = papa, dad aabaa = Abba


The next letter is Taa, the Arabic equivalent of T.

Compare to Baa: the only difference is that there are two dots on top rather than one dot underneath (these may become a line in handwriting). There are Two dots so it's a T, get it? The way Taa connects is exactly the same. Practise writing Taa:

Now find the Taa's below:

There are 4 Taa's:

Here are some words you can read with this knowledge.

‫* ات‬ Short form of a woman's name: ‫بات‬ A key on your keyboard: ‫تاب‬ Popular song by Miriam Makeba: ‫باتا باتا‬
Found in e-mail addresses: Solutions: aat = at (sign) = @ taab = Tab baat = Pat baataa baataa = Pata Pata

The more letters you learn, the easier it will get, because you can read more. The hardest part is already over. It would be good to have another vowel. Here's Yaa:

The initial and medial forms look like Baa with an extra dot, but the other two forms have a new shape, which is like tracing out the path of a couple going down a water slide shouting "Yay!". Yaa has two uses: as a consonant it's the same as the Y in 'year' and as a vowel it's like the long EE in 'meet'. Since Modern Standard Arabic doesn't have an equivalent for the E in 'bed', Yaa also replaces this. We'll transliterate it as y or ii. Practise writing:

Can you spot the Yaa's in these sentences? There are 10 of them.


Try to read and understand the following words now. If you have trouble understanding, say them aloud. Fruit: ‫بابايا‬ Greek letter: ‫بيتا‬ Woman's name: ‫بيتي‬ Solutions: baabaayaa = papaya biitaa = beta biitii = Bettie

( ‫ ييي‬- ‫ب ت )ي‬
Yaa Taa Baa

The last of the long Arabic vowels is Waaw:

Like 'alif, Waaw only connects to the preceding letter. Waaw either sounds like the W in 'water' or like the OO sound in 'boot'. As Modern Standard Arabic doesn't have an O sound, Waaw also sometimes takes the place of O in foreign words. We'll transliterate it as w or uu. Practise writing Waaw:

Look at the previous page's text. Can you find all 6 Waaw's? Time for a big review - with every new letter, there will be more words to try. American state: ‫يوتا‬ Capital city: Ulaan ‫باتور‬ Famous Desmond: ‫توتو‬ Russian girlband: ‫تاتو‬ Car brand: ‫تويوتا‬ Marley for example: ‫بوب‬ Solutions: yuutaa = Utah tuutuu = Tutu tuuyuutaa = Toyota baatuur = Bator taatuu = t. A. T. u. buub = Bob

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