Rosetta Stone Language Software

Introduction to Arabic

Arabic is not an inherently difficult language, but it works very differently from English. Here are a few things you might want to know before starting.

1. Arabic is a consonantal root language. That means that the consonants carry the main meaning, the vowels (as well as prefixes and suffixes) modify it:
aKTaB - I write
KiTaaB - book (written thing)
maKTaB - desk (written on)
KaaTiB - writer
As you can see, all the words have K-T-B in them, but the vowels, suffixes and prefixes change.

2. For simple sentences with active verbs, English word order should be understandable, though it won't necessarily be what you hear others using. However, Arabic also has - and makes much use of - nominal sentences where in English we say "to be." For example, where we say:
John is an engineer...
They say:
Juun, huwa muhandis -
John, he engineer.

I am happy...
They say:
ana mabsuut -
I happy.

The construction may seem a bit odd to English ears, but it will come quickly enough.

Rosetta Stone Arabic Level I


3. Arabic has gender – and number. Some words are masculine, some are feminine. In sentences like those above, you need to make adjectives agree with their nouns for masculine vs. feminine and singular vs. plural. There are complicated rules for forming the feminine in some cases, for forming the plural in most. To get by, stick an “a” on adjectives if the noun ends in “a” (just one “a,” not two). The big thing to pay attention to here is the set phrases I’ve given. If an entry has a slash (faDl-ak/-ik) or parentheses (mabsuut(a), for example), the second possibility is feminine. Use the feminine version if you’re talking to a woman and the entry has an “*”. Use the feminine version if there’s no star and you are a woman.

4. The hardest bit for Arabic will be the pronunciation. For simplicity’s sake, this course eschews perfect, or even close to perfect, pronunciation. The use of this guide is simple: pronounce the capitalized letters with extra emphasis. You won’t make quite the right sound, but you’ll come up with something close enough to be differentiated. And where there’s an apostrophe (’), choke your voice for half a second, like the middle non-sound in “uh-oh.” The “q” is like a “k,” only in the back of your throat. Imagine saying “could” while gargling – the sound at the start will be close. Finally, where a vowel is doubled, say it twice as long.