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Your Ultimate Arabic Pronunciation Guide

Would you like to have a perfect Arabic accent?

Scratch that.

Would you like to speak Arabic and be understood?

To be honest, both are just two sides of the same coin when you learn Arabic pronunciation.

In my linguistics research, I’ve come across some pretty compelling evidence that says adults really can learn to pronounce Arabic like a native speaker, along with other languages. Even if that’s not your goal, focusing a little bit on Arabic pronunciation can really help you be an overall better user of the Arabic language. If you have good pronunciation, you simply end up with a better model of the language in your brain.

So your listening improves because you can more easily pick out subtle distinctions, and your reading improves because the mental voice you read with sounds like a native speaker already. You may find that a good Arabic pronunciation app will help you with learning about Arabic pronunciation, along with our practical Arabic pronunciation guide and fun Arabic pronunciation lessons!

But what do I really mean by good pronunciation?

Download Your FREE Guide to Beginner Arabic!

If you want to master the Arabic language and become fluent, you must learn the Arabic alphabet letters first. And you need physical worksheets to practice on.

This eBook is a MUST-HAVE for all Arabic learning beginners!

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This is a must-have guide for absolute beginners

1. A Note on Pronouncing MSA

Arabic learners and Arabic speakers always love trading advice—and arguments—about whether it’s better to learn MSA or a dialect when studying basic Arabic pronunciation.

This article is going to focus only on MSA, as it’s something that pretty much everyone in the Arab world is taught to understand.

But the interesting thing is that it’s a learned pronunciation, and one that’s always going to be influenced by local dialects. Only people who are really into MSA are able to pronounce it exactly by-the-book.

So even though this article is going to go into a lot of detail, don’t worry about really nailing every single word. Knowledge of the correct pronunciation is valuable, but thanks to the natural variation, speaking MSA perfectly is almost overkill.

While there’s no way to make Arabic pronunciation easy, the most important thing for both pronunciation in Arabic language and comprehension is knowing about the set of sounds you’ll have to deal with. And that brings us to…

2. Your Ultimate Guide to Mastering Arabic Pronunciation like a Boss


Part 1: The Sounds of Arabic

It’s easy to get good pronunciation if you take the time to figure out just which sounds are possible in a given language.

For example, someone learning English would have to learn at some point that the rolled “R” and the back-of-the-throat “R” are just not found in any standard English dialect. So if you catch yourself making those sounds in English, you know you’ve just slipped up a little.

And this gives language-learners the extra foundation of knowing which sounds are actually distinguished. Again, using English as an example, if you think that the “a” in bat and the “e” in bet are the same sound from the start, your English pronunciation obviously has much room for improvement.

But you’re likely to always have comprehension problems with certain words. And if you later on learn to distinguish the two sounds, you have to go back and re-learn all the words with those sounds individually. 

Which sound does “hat” have? How about “red?” You can see what a challenge it is to re-learn an accent after you’ve laid the wrong groundwork!

1. All the Sounds in the Standard Arabic Language

Just what are those sounds?

We’ll start with the hard ones: The consonants.

First, the Arabic sound system has a ton of consonant sounds that you already know very well from English. While there’s really no easy Arabic pronunciation, starting here should make this part of Arabic pronunciation in English fairly simple once you get the hang of it.

Those are: b, f, h, k, d, t, m, l, n, s, w, j, z, y, sh, th, dh, and ‘, the glottal stop.

The only one you might not be familiar with is the glottal stop, but it’s just the hitch in your voice when you say”uh-oh!” That sound can come at the beginning, middle, or end of a word in Arabic, and it’s treated just like any other letter. This little fact about pronunciation in Arabic grammar will come in handy as you progress in your Arabic-learning journey.

Also, the l sound is light, like in the word “illicit.” It’s never dark, like in the word “Zelda.”

Furthermore, the “j” sound is always soft, like in the words “Asia” and “usually.”

Ten new consonant sounds exist beyond those, and these ten are the ones that give Arabic its reputation as a difficult language to pronounce. But if all goes well, hopefully you’ll see in the next few paragraphs that it’s not so hard, after all.

First, the rolled “R” sound from the Spanish or Italian word perro and the “ch” sound from the German word Bach both appear in Arabic.

Then there are four “emphatic” consonants, which you can think of as being pronounced with your whole tongue raised up, and a bit of a kick at the end. 

These sounds are often transcribed in the Latin alphabet with the capital letters D, TH, T, and S, because they’re emphatic versions of these four consonants you already know. 

Sometimes you’ll see them underlined instead, or with no special marking at all—unfortunately, there’s no single widely-used romanization for Arabic.

Lastly, there are four sounds made pretty far into your throat. I’ll transcribe them here as q, gh, 7, and 3. Though again, since there’s no standard Latin transcription, people will handle this task in different ways. 

Why use numbers? 

Simple: That’s what the Arabic letter kind of looks like. Sometimes, instead of 7 and 3, people write H and GH to separate them from the lower-case letters.

Q is a sound very similar to K, just made further back in the throat, as if you were popping the back of your tongue against your tonsils.

Gh is a smoother, flowing sound, kind of like the “y” in you,but as if you were trying to say it with the back of your tongue.

7/H is a pretty tricky sound to put into actual conversation, but you actually already know how to say it! It’s simply a whispered “h.” Say”ahhh” and whisper “ahhh,” and listen to how the “h” sound becomes a little bit higher-pitched.

The 3/GH is considered most difficult for English speakers. It’s a voiced version of 7, meaning that you’re not whispering anymore, but instead engaging those throat muscles out loud to make a kind of strangled, throaty sound.

All of that is a whole lot of description for something that really needs an audio guide.

2. Vowels in Arabic

The Arabic vowels are a snap in comparison. MSA has just three vowels, which are distinguished by length.

These vowels are represented in romanization by “a,” “u,” and “i.” They’re “pure” vowel sounds, which means they’re not diphthongs (combinations of two vowel sounds like “oa” in boat). Instead, they’re just the “a” in father, u” in tune, and “ee” in green.

English writes that last sound with “ee,” but most of the time, you’ll see it as just a plain letter “I” in Arabic.

As I said, they’re distinguished by length, so there are some word pairs in which the length of the vowel makes the difference in meaning.

Let’s have a look at some examples of this contrast, and more, in some actual Arabic words.

3. Learning Arabic Sounds with Names for Ordinary Things

Here are some common Arabic words with English meanings that, despite their simplicity, nevertheless contain all the sounds you need. Consider this a small sample of pronunciation in Arabic vocabulary!

  • أَرنب (arnab) meansrabbit.”
  • Right away, you’ve got the familiar “a,” “b,” and “n” sounds that you can use as an anchor. The “R” sound is rolled, of course, but that shouldn’t trouble you too much.
  • جمل (jamal) means “camel.”
  • That soft “j” is back again, and the “m” and “l” sound just as you’d expect them to.
  • Remember not to pronounce that “o” as in the English word “Roman.” Instead, it’s a pure vowel, as it is in Spanish.
  • زهرة (zahra) means “flower.” 
  • Note that the “h” sound appears in a slightly unusual place for English speakers, who are used to saying it at the beginning of words—not at the end of a syllable, as shown here.
  • شكرا (shukraan) means “thank you.”
  • The only thing you should note here is the long vowel, which again, just simply means that you hold the sound a little longer than you might otherwise.
  • صار (Saar) means “to become.”
  • Note the capital “S!” That means this “S” sound is more “emphatic,” and that actually changes the vowel very slightly. Because you’re lifting up the back of your tongue to produce that sound, the “a” vowel changes, too. You don’t have to worry about making it consciously—it happens pretty automatically.
  •  بعض (ba3D) means “some.”
  • This is a great word to practice two tricky sounds at once, going straight from the 3 to the emphatic “D.”
  • ظل (THall) means “to stay.”
  • For this word, you’ll have to pronounce the “TH” and the “a” as heavy sounds in the back of your throat, and then go back to that light “l” for the last sound. And don’t forget that the double letter means it’s twice as long!

Part 2: Speaking Naturally: The Feeling of Speaking MSA

In English, tons of sounds get skipped over, or “elided,” in natural speech. It happens so frequently and so naturally that native speakers have no idea it’s happening until they’re asked to speak carefully for the benefit of a learner.

Take the phrases “you and me” and “looked back.” In connected speech, they’ll come out as “you’n’me” and “lookback.” Try it yourself!

It’s not just English. This happens in every spoken language out there, including MSA.

Interestingly, the type of sound that gets deleted is quite different when we compare MSA to English.

By far, the most common elision in English is with the “t” and “d” sounds, like in the examples above. (Pay attention to a recording of native English speakers, and you’ll be shocked at how many more examples you hear!)

In Arabic, though, the most common elided sounds are the glottal stop ‘ and “w.” Let’s look at a couple of examples.

For example, yaw3idu (to promise) and yawsifu (to describe) become ya3idu and yasifu respectively in natural speech.

After r, n, and f, h tends to be dropped. Compare written harhun with spoken harun, sanhah with sanah, and shafhah with shafah.

And there are more sound changes in store.

However, if you’re a beginner, we wouldn’t recommend using elision at this moment but it’s still good to know that Arabic also has elision just like English.

Part 3: Arabic Dialects

One of the biggest distinctions between Arabic dialects is the actual sound inventory of each one. Just from hearing somebody recite the alphabet, you can make a really good guess as to where they’re from.

No living dialect today perfectly reproduces all of the sounds prescribed in Modern Standard Arabic. If there was one that did, all of its speakers would probably have great jobs as voice actors.

An immediately noticeable difference is the presence of the schwa sound (the “u” in the English word “up“) in most Arabic dialects. 

Usually, the short vowels in Classical Arabic became schwas or disappeared altogether, broadly speaking. This might be most obvious in Darija, or Moroccan Arabic, where you can easily have clusters of consonants not permissible in other varieties.

You may have noticed that although MSA has a healthy inventory of “k-,” “gh-,” and “q”-type sounds, there’s no ordinary “g” as in gate. Not so, if you turn to dialectal Arabic, where “g” is quite a common sound. Sometimes, the “q” sound in MSA turns into “g,” and sometimes the “j” sound does.

The perfect example of this is the word jamal. This word is qamal in some dialects and gamal in others, making it easy to see how it entered English as “camel!”

3. Why is Correct Pronunciation in Arabic Important?

Secrets to Learning

Proper pronunciation is important, very important. Some say it’s even more important than getting the grammar perfectly correct! Why would this be?

1) Good Understanding 

If communicating with native speakers matters to you when learning Arabic, you need to be understood when you talk, and you need to be able to understand the native speakers. After all, without understanding, the purpose of language is null and void! In order to be understood, you need to be able to speak the language in a way that is familiar to native speakers, or at least recognizable by them. 

When learning to speak a new language, you will learn that the more you progress the more intricate it becomes! For instance, almost every language has vocabulary that may look the same in writing, but because the words are pronounced differently, they have very different meanings. This means that you may say a word in Arabic, and because of a slight change in pronunciation, the meaning of the word changes completely. Understandably, this can make for pretty embarrassing situations! At worst, your mispronounced Arabic will sound garbled to a native speaker. 

Knowing the nuances of how a word or letter is pronounced will also help you to understand spoken Arabic better.

No worries if this feels hard; you’re learning, and with our help at ArabicPod101, you will not have a problem with mispronunciation if you follow our advice and examples carefully.

2) Good Communication 

Not pronouncing Arabic or any other language correctly can lead to a lot of frustration because you’re unable to express what you mean, and you will not be understood correctly. Even if you have total knowledge of Arabic grammar, and can write it like a native, not knowing how to speak it properly will only make for very frustrating communication all around.

3) A Good Impression 

Even if you’re only a beginner, it is possible to speak any language correctly. This way, you are bound to make a good impression on native speakers, and when you’re more fluent, you will be likely to garner a lot more respect than a fumbling newbie speaker who doesn’t care much for correct pronunciation. 

People often have a lot of patience for someone who learns to speak a new language, but native speakers are more likely to address you and engage with you in conversation if you work hard on your accent. This is simply because you’ll be able to understand one another! So, proficiency in pronunciation can mean the difference between having none or plenty of Arabic speaking friends. It will also serve you well in the workplace, and make you popular with your Arabic speaking managers and employers or employees.

Learning to speak Arabic properly is also a sign of respect for not only the language, but also the native speakers and their customs. 

4. Secrets to Learning the Correct Arabic Pronunciation

Correct Pronunciation

1) Use voice recording tools to perfect your pronunciation

ArabicPod101 has plenty of resources to help you with your Arabic pronunciation, so be sure to make thorough use of our recordings with native Arabic speakers. These are available not only to demonstrate to you how you should pronounce Arabic vocabulary, but also sentences and dialogues. Watch and listen to these over and over again to train your ear, and watch the teacher’s mouth as she speaks in the video lessons. Then, copy the speech as best you can. Later, you can record yourself to hear if you sound like a native speaker and compare yourself with native speakers. Great for self-motivation.

2) Practice in front of the mirror.

And see that you’re copying the correct lip and mouth movements.

3) Use our ArabicPod101 dictionary!

Use the Arabic dictionary provided by ArabicPod101 to look up words and listen to the audio pronunciation. This will go a long way towards giving you an idea of how to pronounce a word or letter correctly.

4) Train your ear to the language!

Make an effort to listen often to Arabic music and recorded books, and watch plenty of Arabic movies and/or TV shows in Arabic. This will train your ear to the language, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you pick up the accent. Remember, this is the way we learned to speak when we were young - mostly by listening to the adults talking, and repeating what they say!

5) Practice, practice, practice… 

Repetition of the same thing may be boring, but in learning a new language, you’re creating new pathways in your brain. For these to remain and become habitual, you will need to repeat the correct pronunciation often.

6) Make friends with a native Arabic speaker.

Don’t be shy to address them in Arabic! Ask them to correct you when you make a pronunciation mistake - this is a wonderful way to practice and learn the language first-hand, and also to make new friends.

7) Practice your pronunciation with your Arabic teacher!

If you’re a serious student and don’t know where to meet native Arabic speakers, consider investing in ArabicPod101’s Premium PLUS plan. This means you will have your own native Arabic teacher available to practice your pronunciation with, and much more! Send recordings of yourself speaking Arabic and get feedback from your Arabic teacher.

5. Conclusion

Introduction

Learning to speak MSA with good pronunciation is really an investment in your language future, if you think about it.

You come across to Arabic speakers as someone who has put an enormous amount of work into mastering their standard language. That’s valuable social capital! People really do respect that.

And you also lay the groundwork for excellent pronunciation of other languages, as well. If your goal is to move to an Arabic-speaking country, knowledge of dialectal words and phrases becomes pretty necessary with time.

So all in all, excellent MSA can be a beginning. The beginning of a lifelong learning journey.

Know that ArabicPod101 wants to accompany you on this journey, and will be here for every step of the way with practical learning tools and encouragement to boot! Stick with us as you continue improving your Arabic pronunciation and other Arabic skills.

How confident do you feel with Arabic pronunciation after this lesson? What are you still struggling with? Let us know in the comments!

6. How to Download Your Free Guide to Beginner Arabic

Download Your FREE Guide to Beginner Arabic!

If you want to master the Arabic language and become fluent, you must learn the Arabic alphabet letters first. And you need physical worksheets to practice on.

This eBook is a MUST-HAVE for all Arabic learning beginners!

FREE Arabic eBook

Download your FREE Arabic practice sheets PDF today and learn the Arabic language in no time!
This is a must-have guide for absolute beginners

Log in with Your Free Lifetime Account and we’ll give you a bundle of PDF cheat sheet including Survival Phrases, Romantic Lines, Learning Tips… — absolutely FREE!

3 Reasons to Learn Arabic Through PDF Lessons

Let’s now take a closer look at how studying Arabic lessons in PDF format can help you reach your dream in up to half the time of normal video or audio lessons!

① Saves Minutes on Your Data Plan

Learning Arabic through PDF lessons can dramatically reduce your data use. Once a lesson or tool is downloaded, you can then access it offline via your computer or smartphone any time or place regardless of Internet access. And once you’ve downloaded the Arabic lessons in PDF format, you can actually access them faster than logging in and trying to do so via a live site. So not only will learning Arabic using PDF lessons save minutes on your data plan—it will save you some significant time as well as the lessons add up!

② Print and Take All Arabic Lessons and PDF Tools With You Anywhere

Sometimes, a tiny smartphone screen just isn’t adequate, especially when you are trying to learn something new. The great thing about PDF lessons, tools or files is that they can be quickly printed and taken anywhere after you download them. In fact, printing out Arabic lessons in PDF format can actually save you time when compared to going through the material on a smartphone with a small screen—even with the extra printing time!

③ Great Study Tool to Boost Retention and Mastery

Studying video or audio lessons online is a great way to learn a language because students can play and rewind sections as many times as needed until the lesson is mastered. But when you review the same Arabic lessons again in PDF format, an incredible thing happens: your retention dramatically improves! Thanks to Time Spaced Repetition, seeing the information again in written format helps reinforce the information in your mind and improves both retention and recall. The benefits of learning Arabic using PDF lessons quickly add up to significant time savings for you, your data plan, and your dream of learning a new language!

Why are we giving it away?

Learning to read and write is a must for all beginners. Although you get video lessons on how to write in Arabic at ArabicPod101, you’ll still need physical worksheets to practice on. That’s why you’re getting this printable tutorial PDFs as a gift.

7. Related Lessons

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How to Introduce Yourself in Arabic
Can you introduce yourself in Arabic? Don’t worry! Check out the 10 Arabic Lines You Need To Introduce Yourself with this free Review Sheet. From “My name is…“ and “I live in…” down to “My hobbies are…” Just review the 10 lines. It will only take you 2 minutes. Then, introduce yourself in the comment section below!
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Has anyone thanked you today? We will. Thank you for reading this article and learning with us! In fact, today, you’ll learn the many different ways to say “Thank You” in Arabic. It’s one of the most important Arabic phrases. Check it out and watch the video too to practice your pronunciation.

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