Romanisation v Real Arabic.

Romanisation v Real Arabic.

The new leaner to Arabic usually leans towards using a form of romanization of Arabic, called transliteration, to try and read Arabic. Transliteration is written from left to right and uses English characters to try and achieve like for like sounds.

In fact I have heard people who when you listen to them sound like they can read Arabic but actually when presented with Arabic text they would scratch their head. In the short term it may be used as a quick crutch but I would get rid of it as soon as you start learning those alphabets. If you have to sit with someone for 6 months it will be better than to keep learning in transliteration for years.

There are certain books on the market for beginners to Arabic which I would not wate my money buying. Usually travellers to Arab countries would buy these books, so it would be for short term use anyway until they actually start learning from Arabs the correct pronunciation.

Transliteration will always be second best and the time that people put into trying to read, correct and memorise the transliteration they could actually be learning the real thing.

Transliteration is just a short cut that can be addictive and make a person quite comfortable in the knowledge that 'well at least it sounds Arabic'. The other thing is that the person still has to rely on the translation of the text from another language, be it English or something else. So transliteration does nothing to make the meaning any clearer.

There are many ways to transliterate one word whereas in Arabic the word is spelt in one way. For example the word book in Arabic is written كتاب when transliterated it can be spelt/read kitaab, kitaab, ketab. Also the word pen قلم can be written/read Kalam, Qalam. The learner is on a very slippery slope here that will end up in many letters being mispronounced.

Can you transliterate the word ضوء (light)? Dhawi? Thaw? Dowe?

There are tons of words like this in Arabic where transliteration is of little use.

What some people also do these days is to use numbers to try and make up for certain letter sounds like the number 3 would be used at the end of a word to signify the (Ayn) letter ع. Or the number 7 for ح (Ha). Usually used when texting on the phone or chatting online.

So why not just learn Arabic the way Arabic is meant to be learned? Arabic is not Spanish or French.

So should we never use transliteration?
I do not say that and I am not here to make everyone stop using transliteration. Sometimes if you are speaking to a Muslim or a learner of Arabic certain words are almost unavoidable when texting or emailing. Like Salam alaykum, afwan, inshaAllah, fi amaanillah etc. these are fine.

What about Muslims who learn Quran via transliteration?
If the Muslim is new to Islam and needs to learn 2 chapters of Quran for salat then this will be ok. But they also have an obligation to learn the correct pronunciation. They should try to find someone with good Quranic pronunciation. If they are depending on transliteration to learn Sarah's which they then use in salat then this is problematic. All Sarah's learnt via transliteration should be checked with someone first before using in salat. And new, as well as existing Muslims should all be bettering their reading and speaking of Arabic. Even is it is just the basic letters and a few Surahs.

As for the oft repeated sentence that 'Arabic is too hard'.

I have first hand experience of teaching people who have said this and I have proved them wrong all the time. The problem is not that Arabic is too hard at all. The issue is TIME. People need to sacrifice time to learn, they need to do homework and not expect that just because you have a teacher he will do everything for you. The teacher also used to be a student and in most cases the teacher still has to learn. So before you tell someone next that Arabic is too hard, just think to yourself 1. How much time did I invest in trying to learn the topic area? 2. Who did I ask for help when I got stuck? And 3. Why am I really learning this is it to impress people, is it for a piece of paper? Or is their a deeper more substantial reason? The better the reason to learn the further you will go.