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Lesson Transcript


Hi everybody! Nora here. Welcome to Ask a Teacher, where I’ll answer some of your most common Arabic questions.
The Question
The question for this lesson is: How does Arabic adapt to sounds that don’t exist in Arabic? and how are loanwords pronounced?
One way to sound like a native speaker is to know and avoid sounds native speakers of the language can't produce. It tells you how to properly pronounce many of the English loan words that exist in Arabic. As we said before, it's hard to generalize all "native Arabic speakers" because there are so many dialects and they vary wildly.
In this lesson, we’ll be talking about Egyptian, Levantine, and Gulf dialects in general. Of course, many Arabic speakers are bilingual and can speak English and other languages fluently, but in this lesson we’ll speak about the sounds these speakers sometimes struggle with.
As you have seen from previous lessons, the Arabic alphabet is missing many sounds that exist in English. The letter L, for instance, is pronounced differently from English. Listen closely to how it sounds in Arabic and in American English. lam(ل) vs “el” (L). For example, the word "Classic" in Arabic is klasiiki كلاسيكي. Now if you say "Classiki” (with non-Arabic L), it’ll sound very weird to a native Arabic speaker. So, in order to sound native, you have to adjust the L sound to the Arabic "lam" sound.
Let's take a look at another sound, the P sound. This one is pretty tricky for native Arabic speakers to pronounce. They usually end up pronouncing it as a "B" sound. For example, if you want to order a soda in Egypt, you’d usually use the word bebsi بيبسي, which is the common Egyptian word for soda. If you say "Pepsi," I guess people will understand you, but they’re going to give you “the look,” you know.
Another sound we have is the R sound. The R sound in Arabic is commonly referred to as the rolled R. Observe the difference in pronunciation of the word Rab. This word has the same meaning in Egyptian Arabic as it does in English, namely “rap music.” Notice how the R sound in Arabic sounds like "rrrr" as opposed to the English "R."
Next, we’re going to address the sound “th,” as in the words “this” or “that.”
Although this sound exists in Modern Standard Arabic and in some other dialects, it doesn’t exist in Egyptian Arabic and many other dialects. This makes it tricky for some Arabic speakers to pronounce, so they tend to change it into a "z" or a “d” sound, depending on the word. For example, the Modern Standard Arabic word ذكي (ḏakī), meaning “smart,” becomes زكي (zaki) in Egyptian Arabic.
The same case applies for the "th" sound in "three." This one usually changes into an "s" sound.
The phrase “Thug life” became very popular on social media, but in Egypt, many people say “sug life” instead, for instance.
So expect "the book" to sound like "za book," and "three" to sound like "sree."


Speaking of how languages influence one another, did you know that “Maltese,” the national language of Malta, is highly influenced by Arabic? Not only does it have tons of loanwords from Arabic, but also a lot of its grammar is very similar to Arabic.
Pretty interesting, right?
If you have any more questions, please leave a comment below!
Bye! إلى اللقاء (ʾilā al-liqaāʾ)