beginning, Duolingo

Duolingo: Alphabet 1

The Alphabet 1 skill introduces six letters (و waaw, ا ’alif, ي yaa’, د daal, ر raa’, and ز zaay), as well as the diacritical mark َ   fatḥa (used to write the short vowel a). No actual words are introduced, the objective of this skill being to get you started reading the Arabic alphabet.

Reading right to left

Let’s start by combining to letters, just as in the official course Tips and Notes:

Transliteration Arabic script
d د
aa ا
daa دا

As you can see, Arabic is written from left to right.

Long vowels

Standard Arabic (which is the variety of Arabic taught in this course) has three long vowels (aa, ii, uu) and three short vowels (a, i, u). The long vowels are written with letters, and all three of them are introduced in this skill. The short vowels, on the other hand, are written with diacritical marks (extra symbols, such as accent marks in Western languages). We’ll talk about one of those in a minute.

We need a way to distinguish between the long vowels and the short vowels in transliteration, so in the Duolingo course the long vowels are transliterated with double letters (aa, ii, uu). These three vowels are represented with the following three Arabic letters:

Name of letter Transliteration Letter
‘alif aa ا
yaa’ ii ي
waaw uu و

Note that the aa vowel will usually sound like the e in the English word bed, although depending on other sounds in the word it will sometimes be pronounced like the a in either the English word father or bad.

All three of these letters have multiple functions and are not used solely to represent long vowels. We will see the other function of the و waaw and ي yaa’ a bit further below.

A few consonants

The following letters introduced in this skill are consonants:

Name of letter Transliteration Letter
daal d د
raa’ r ر
zaay z ز

We can combine these consonants with the long vowels we learned. Let’s look at a few examples. Remember that we read from right to left!

Transliteration Arabic Script
dii دي
ruu رو
zaa زا
daar دار
zaad زاد
zuuzuu زوزو

If you have made it this far, you should now be able to read the Arabic word for ‘worms’:

If you pronounced this as duud, you were right!

Letters و and ي: sometimes a vowel, sometimes a consonant

It was noted above that the three letters that represent long vowels also have other functions. Now we will see this with the و waaw and ي yaa’. These two letters can represent either a long vowel or a consonant:

Function as consonant Function as vowel Letter
y ii ي
w uu و

Do not worry too much at this point about how to know whether in a particular word the letter is pronounced as a consonant or a vowel. That will become clearer later on. However, it might be useful to mention that in Arabic you can never have two vowels next to each other. So, if you clearly have a vowel either to the right or left of one of these letters, then that letter must represent a consonant.

Let’s look at a few examples of these letters used as consonants:

Transliteration Arabic Script
wii وي
yuu يو
waa وا
yuud يود
wiiz ويز

One short vowel

The Alphabet 1 skill also introduces one short vowel: the short a. This vowel is written not with a letter, but with a diacritic, that is an extra mark added to a letter. The diacritic for the short a is called the a and is a short diagonal line written above a letter. Note that the vowel is pronounce after that letter, not before it. Let’s look at a few examples:

Transliteration Arabic Script
da دَ
ya يَ
za زَ
zaraa رَزا
duuza دوزَ

Good luck!

I hope that this page gave you a better understanding of the materials presented in the Alphabet 1 skill. Perhaps you are ready to go on to the Alphabet 2 skill.

For your convenience, here is a brief summary of the entire Arabic writing system on the Bite-Size Arabic website.

If you would prefer a more structured presentation of the alphabet than that given in the Duolingo course, why not consider working through my book Bite-Size Arabic?


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.