The young woman stood before me speaking English clearly with an accent that rounded out sounds. Her eyes lit with joy as her tight curls framed her face.
She struggled with her writing, she said, and wondered if she could join our ESL classes. When she told me she spoke Arabic, I understood the trouble. Most of the Arabic speaking students I have met wrestle with writing more than with speaking, and I imagine I would struggle much more with written expression, too, if I studied Arabic.
Arabic uses a writing system that, like Dari, reads from right to left. The alphabet has 28 letters that are, for the most part, nothing like the English Roman alphabet. A quick look at Wikipedia had my eyes spinning in their sockets when I tried to begin to learn this system.
Here’s the alphabet’s pronunciation from the BBC’s language page. (Which I just found! Hurray!).
- Arabic is a Semitic language in the Afro-Asiatic sub-group varieties of Arabic.
- 200 million people speak Arabic as a part of their everyday lives. About a billion people use Arabic to study the Qur’an.
- Arabic words adopted into English include cotton, lemon and guitar. (I always wondered about that guitar word. It has a non-English feel.)
- Many plurals in Arabic are formed by changing the word in the middle rather than adding a suffix. (In English we often add the suffix -s.) For example, one dog is kalb and two dogs are kilaab.
I asked a wise friend who stretches far beyond the American Top 40 to tell me her favorite singers in Arabic. She could not narrow it down to one, so I picked a Moroccan singer at random for you from her list so you can hear this language of our world yourself: