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A Chat With An Arabic Learner

لَقَدْ يَسَّرْنَا الْقُرْآنَ لِلذِّكْرِ فَهَلْ مِنْ مُدَّكِرٍ ﴿

And We have indeed made the Qur’ân easy to understand and remember, then is there any one who will remember (or receive admonition)? (54:17)

Is it too late to start learning Arabic? The answer to this question is in the chat I had with Aunty Hamida who has started learning at the age of 76. It was an honour to have a chat with her about her Arabic learning journey.

Give us some background information about yourself.
Asalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah, My name is Hamida and I am 76 years old. I am a widow. I was married at 17. I was a Christian at that time. Then my husband died when I was 35 years old. I converted or should I say reverted to Islam when I was 36. I was educated in the USA then worked as licensed clinical psychologist. I didn’t give much attention to my deen until I retired at 60. At the age of 61 I realized that time was running out on me and needed to re-focus my attention. All my energy went on my profession, it was time to understand and live my deen.

Reading Quran

How did you start learning Arabic?
Before I was a muslim I was part of a small close Christian community. However, when I reverted to Islam I became all alone. So to begin with I was praying in English as I didn’t find anyone to teach me then. I was concerned and very troubled that I was praying in English and not Arabic. Then when I was a councilor in a school in Carlifornia, Mr Rashid, an elderly man, may Allah have mercy on him as he died, taught me to pray over the phone using transliteration. I was reading using transliteration for many years. Then Just under a year ago I joined an online class to learn Arabic but when I realized it was conversational Arabic I asked for private tutoring as I wanted to be able to read and understand the Quran in its entirety. My teacher helped me to read and now I am reading. I am so happy, alhamdulliah. She had to correct my pronunciations.

Why did you start learning Arabic?
The chief purpose was to learn to read the Quran. I strongly believe that Allah sent us that Quran and that He gave it to us in Arabic and I feel He wants us to recite the Quran in Arabic. I often hear Arabic speakers say that when you read the Quran in English it is like eating dried food and when you read it in Arabic it is like eating fresh
fruit and I kept thinking to myself I want to eat the fresh fruit.

How long have you been learning Arabic?
When I first became a Muslim I prayed in English then I learnt to read Arabic using transliteration and continued with my transliteration for many years. However, just under a year ago I joined one to one online lessons and had to start from learning the alphabet and I am now already reading.

What difficulties do you or did you encounter in learning Arabic?
As I learnt to read using transliteration, I realized, as time went by, that my pronunciation was not correct which was very disappointing and disheartening. My journey in learning Arabic was a lonely one but I was determined to carry on. The most difficult bit I found was learning the alphabet, but once I concord that, I started to actually read and recognize the words in Arabic and begin to join the words and the letters together. Also, the sounding I learnt from transliteration was not accurate so I had to leave it and re-learn the correct pronunciation. I am actually now reading the Quran in Arabic, alhamdulliah. It is the most rewarding, it makes me happy when I am reading the Quran.

Are you still learning Arabic?
Yes, I am still learning. I am attending one to one lessons online. I have 3 lessons a week and I look forward to these lessons. I read Quran, memorise duas as well as study the meaning of the Quran.

How fluent would you say you are in Arabic?
I understand words from the Quran and I am reading fluently now. I am much better than when I properly started 7 or 8 months ago.

Have you used transliteration in your Arabic learning journey? If so, What do you think of it?
I first learnt to read using transliteration. I learnt how to read the Quran with the wrong pronunciation, which I am still trying to undo now. Also, I found with transliteration you can’t learn how to join the words and you can’t learn how to read phonetically especially as Arabic is a phonetical language. I found learning with transliteration very disappointing and disheartening. To me, it is sad that anyone would spend so many hours learning to read the Quran like that. It is sad because it is not Arabic and Allah sent the Quran in Arabic and He said that it is easy to memorize it. Our Lord is saying, just go for it and you will get it.

What advice would you give to those who are embarking on the Arabic learning journey?
I would say to a beginner like myself, do not waste time on transliteration. It is a really waste of time. I am so glad I reverted and took the time to learn the alphabet and I am reading, I am reading Arabic. When I sometimes go back to have a look at the transliteration I find the pronunciation wrong. As a new beginner, take the time to learn the alphabet. It will be much more rewarding in the long term.

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How to teach your child to read Arabic

Although children can be taught how to read Arabic as soon as they start speaking, there is no hurry in getting them to read quickly at a young age. I started teaching my first child Arabic when she was 2 years old as she started speaking short sentences. However, when one gains experience and more children come along, you realise that the age at which they learn to read does not matter. In fact the older they are the quicker they learn as they start to retain the information for longer.

Where do you start teaching your child to read Arabic? Arabic is a phonetical language. What ever is written is read, except in very rare occasions, therefore reading is the easiest step to learning Arabic. Before we look at the steps of learning to read, it is important for the child to have a positive experience. The following method ensures that by teaching the child to read full meaningful words from the beginning.

Step 1: using flash cards of the Arabic alphabet with the fetha on the letter, flash the card with the letter كَ to the child soget a quick look. Then flash the flashcard with the letter بَ and then the letter تَ . Do this 5 or 6 times for each letter. Put the card away. Micro learning for small children when their attention span is short is better because they get to learn the letter and be eager to read it again. Curiosity keeps interest going. Flash the same letter in the same manner for a few days and put it away. Make it fun with lots of laughter. If the child shows interest flash it again. Play some of the suggested activities below. The order of the letters introduced should be according to the order in The Steps to Arabic Reading Scheme so that the child ends up reading meaningful words. The more letters you introduce the more different kinds of games you can play with the cards.

Flash cards’ Activities

  • Play the memory game. Place all cards facing down, each player picks 2 cards at a time. If they are the same letter, read the letter and keep the cards.
  • If the flash cards are laminated, the child can trace over the letter with a feltip pen or with their fingers while sounding the letter.
  • Stick the cards around the room, shout out the letter for the child/children to get the letter.
  • Put the letters on the floor facing up. Ask the child to give you the letter you sound. Or even better, allow your child to be the teacher where they sound the letter and you have to give it to them.
  • Have the flash card of a letter in front of you and open a children’s Arabic reading book. Find the letter in the text in the book so that the child recognises the shape of the vowelled letter in different texts. Here is a good time to point out the letter in the beginnig, middle and end of the word.
  • Open the Quran and find the letter in the Quran so that the child is connected with the Quran from a young age.
  • Once the child is familiar with some of the letters, play the spelling game. Say a letter sound with fetha and the child has to write it using white board/chalk on the ground/sand etc… If the child learns the pronunciation correctly, they will write the letters correctly.
vowelled arabic flashcards letter baa
Vowelled Arabic Letters Flashcards

It should be emphasized that fetha is a short sound and should not be stretched at all. Introduce the letters broken up. Using Arabic books or the Steps to Arabic cards, point out what the letter looks like when joined up. By the time they finish the letters with fetha, they will be able to recognize all the letters when joined up in a word. You can also use Baitul Huroof Activity Pack to re-enforce the shape of the letter in different parts of the word.

Baitul Huroof
Baitul Huroof Activity Pack for Arabic letter recognition
arabic alphabet handwriting book for studying arabic letters and recognise them within arabic words
Use Arabic Handwriting Activity Book to help with the writing of the Arabic alphabet

Why start of with fetha on the letters? Why not introduce the names of the letters first then introduce the fetha sound?

When a child reads a letter they don’t read the name, rather they say the sound of the letter depending on what the vowel on that letter is. Therefore, why confuse the child with the names to begin with and then teach them how to sound the letter. For a young child, you can spend a whole year with the fetha sound on the letters, before introducing the kesra sound. By the time they finish of the fetha sound, they should be able to recognise the letter in any clear Arabic text including the Quran.

Read meaningful words using the letters introduced

Alongside the flashcards, use the Steps to Arabic Reading scheme where the letters are introduced with the fetha sound in a particular order, so that the child reads meaningful words. It also shows the letters in broken up form and in joined form. Once the child can recognise the letter with the fetha sound and knows how to sound it, encourage them to read the words on the first card of the Steps to Arabic Reading Scheme or use Qaidah books such as Al Baghdadiya Qaidah.

Steps to Arabic reading scheme letters stage
Steps to Arabic Reading scheme the first cards to be used the with flash cards of the letters كَ تَ بَ قَ رَ أَ

Once the child can read word with the fetha sound, introduce the letters with kesrah. Do all the letters with kesrah and read words that have the kesrah and fetha sounds. Then when the child is ready, introduce dhammah, then sukoon then go onto long vowels, emphasizing it is a long vowel. Play the spelling game on a regular basis to re-enforce the letter with the sound correctly. The spelling game plays a big role in spelling words out correctly in later on years. Learning to read Arabic correctly is the foundation of spelling, therefore, it is a very important step.

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When To Start Teaching Your Child Arabic

“When to start teaching your child Arabic?” is a common question. My answer is, before the child is born, they are ready to memorise the Quran and as soon as they are beginning to talk, they are ready to learn Arabic. Yes, believe it or not!

Studying Suratul Adiyat to demonstrate the vivid descriptions in the Quran
Picture by my 15 year old.

The Quran is in Arabic. The more the child listens to the Quran the easier it is for them to pronunce the Arabic letters. The child absorbs what they hear right from when they are in their mother’s womb. Therefore, that is an excellent time for the mother to read a loud and listen to a lot of Quran. Listening to the Quran before birth sets the scene for Arabic. After all, we learn Arabic to be able to read and understand the Quran.

My fifth pregnancy was a very tiring one. I was so tired that I spent lot of my day sitting or sleeping in an arm chair in front of my patio door looking onto the garden. And since I was enrolled on an online course for Quran memorisation, I had the Quran on a table next to the chair. Whenever I sat I would revise and memorise aloud. When Y was born he would only be soothed by hearing the Quran. Whenever he cried I would put on or read Quran to him and he would calm down almost always. I wish I knew that before my previous children were born!

The Quran should play a big role in the child’s life from the minute they are born. Playing Juzz Amma was part of my children’s bed time routine. Juzz Amma was on a loop and it started from the time trying to put them to sleep, through the night, till the time they woke up. You will be surprised by how much children absorb while they sleep and how much of that came out on their tongues when they start talking. My second child was playing when all of a sudden he started reciting Suratu Teen from beginning to end and we hadn’t even started memorsing Quran. But he was memorising. When he was asleep his brain was absorbing all that he was hearing. Juzz Amma was also playing in the car and we were out alot in the car. It brings such joy when you see your children recite Quran while they are playing.

So before the child could even talk, they are exposed to the Quran. As soon as the child is able to say a few words, they are ready to learn to read Arabic.

Subscribe to stay tuned with the next post which will be about how to teach your child Arabic even from the age of one and a half years old.