Difficult Arabic Sounds

Difficult Arabic Sounds

Difficult Arabic sounds are the sounds that are produced from the same area of articulation. They differ very slightly. Unless we get enough exposure to and practice of these sounds in the early stages of our learning, most of us tend to mispronounce them. That is, we pronounce them in a way that resembles the closest sounds in our native language. Arabic is famous for confusingly similar sounds. This lesson attempts to make your aware of the difference between these sounds. In addition, it aims to help you pronounce them as intelligibly as possible.

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[س] vs. [ص]

As you can see in the diagram, س and ص are produced from (almost) the same area in the mouth. س is similar to the English /s/ whereas ص is more emphatic. That is, we raise the root / back of the tongue when we pronounce it. The list below helps you be aware of the difference.

[س]

[ص]

سَـهَرَ

صَـهَرَ

نَـسْـرٌ

نَـصْـرٌ

قَاسَ

قَاصَ

بَـسَـرَ

بَـصَـرَ

سُـورَةٌ

صُـورَةٌ

عِرْصٌ

عِرْسٌ


[ث] vs. [ذ] vs. [ظ]

ث is a straightforward sound as it resembles the English /th/ in ‘through’ and ‘thin’. Likewise, ذ resembles the English /th/ in ‘this’ and ‘there’. Generally, the difficulty concerns ظ. Looking at the diagram, you can see that these sounds are adjacent as to the place of articulation. Therefore, they are similar except for one or two features. ظ is similar to ذ, but is it emphatic. More specifically, we raise the the root / back of the tongue when we pronounce it. The following examples may help become aware of the difference.

[ث]

[ذ]

[ظ]

مِـثَـلَّة

مِـذَلَّة

مِـظَلَّة

نَـثَـرَ

نَـذَرَ

نَـظَـرَ

حَـثَّ

حَـذَّ

حَـظَّ

ثَـامِر

ذَامِر

ظَـافِر


[ت] vs. [د] vs. [ط]

ت is similar to the English /t/ in ‘tea’ and ‘plate’. The difference between ت and د lies in voicing. While ت is voiceless (i.e. produced without vibration in the throat), د is voiced (i.e. produced with vibration in the throat). ط and د are similar save that ط is emphatic; we raise the tongue root when we utter it. By saying the following words out loud and repeatedly, you can feel the difference between them.

[ت]

[د]

[ط]

تِـيْنٌ

دِيْنٌ

طِـيْنٌ

عَـتَـاءٌ

عَـدَاءٌ

عَـطَـاءٌ

عَـتَّـمَ

قَـدَّمَ

قَـطَّـمَ

تَـمَّرَ

دَمَّرَ

طَـمَّرَ

تَـمْـتَـمَ

دَمْـدَمَ

طَـمْـطَـمَ


[ك] vs. [ق]

ق and ك do not cause any difficulty for most learners. They are respectively pronounced like the English /g/ in ‘game, and ‘go’ and /k/ in ‘cat’ and ‘book’. Basically, most Arabs nowadays pronounce them in this manner. However, the formal (and classical) ق is lower than the ك in the mouth. When produced, the uvula (i.e. the hanging piece of flesh at the back of mouth and above the throat) blocks the air passage and the throat raises a bit. This pronunciation is particularly important while reading the Holy Quran. Here are minimal pair examples for practice.

[ك]

[ق]

كَـالَ

قَـالَ

كَـافٌ

قـافٌ

مَشْـكُـوكٌ

مَشْـقُـوقٌ

كَـافِيَةٌ

قَـافِيَةٌ

شَـكَّ

شَـقَّ


[خ] vs. [غ]

غ and خ are difficult for many learners, especially native speakers of English. The closest English sounds to them are /g/ and /k/. For example, غُبَار ‘dust’ is pronounced by an English speaker as قُبَار, and خَالِد ‘Khalid’ is pronounced as كَالِد. Looking at the diagram, we pronounce them from the upper part of the throat. The only difference between them is that غ is voiced (see above) and خ is voiceless. The best way to get these sounds right is to practice saying amply. Here is a list to begin with.

[خ]

[غ]

خَـالِدٌ

غَـالِبٌ

مَـخْـبُولٌ

مَـغْـبُونٌ

شَاخَ

شَاغَ

خَـبَّرَ

غَـبَّرَ

خَـلْـخَـلَ

غَـلْـغَـلَ


[ع] vs. [أ]

ع is another difficult sound for most learners of Arabic. أ is similar to the glottal stop in English, that is the ‘t’ in ‘water’ and ‘butter’ in North American English. Given that ع is closer to أ in articulation – as seen in the diagram –many learners of Arabic pronounce it as أ. Here is how it should be pronounced ع. Repeating the following examples loudly may help you comprehend the difference between the two.

[ع]

[أ]

عَـنْ

أَنْ

عَـلَمٌ

أَلَمٌ

يُرْجِـع

يُرْجِـئ

عَـيْنَ

أَيْنَ

سَـعَـلَ

سَـأَلَ


[هـ] vs. [ح]

هـ is similar to the English /h/ in ‘hat’ and ‘hot. ح, on the other hand, has no English counterpart. Since it is closer to هـ in articulation, most learners of Arabic pronounce it as هـ. Here is how it should be pronounced ح. Repeated practice is the best way to get the distinction between them. The following list gives you a good start.

[هـ]

[ح]

هَامِد

حَامِد

رَهِيم

رَحِيم

هَمَّام

حَمَّام

مَهْمُوم

مَحْمُوم

شَهَادَة

شَحَاتَة

سَاه

سَاح

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