1- Short versus long vowels – You need to develop an ear, while learning Arabic, for recognizing short from long vowels. This should not be taken at all lightly. Long vowels take twice the time to say as short vowels. As long as your ear can not hear the difference you will struggle with reading, spelling, and even speaking. Your ear should turn into a “radar” for detecting the length of the vowels. No arabic alphabet for kids ifs or ands about it!
2- Light versus heavy letters – For English speakers, who wish to learn Arabic, your ears need to stand straight and wake up. English uses only light sounds that are created within the dental area (mouth and upper throat). However, Arabic uses all these light sounds PLUS heavy sounds that are glottal (deep throat area). In the early stages of learning Arabic it’s a matter of realizing: Yes, I can create sounds from that part of my body! Later, it’s a matter of creating these sounds not only reliably but effortlessly without sounding like you took out a spoon to scrape your throat! Even though you are creating “harsher” sounds, ironically, these sounds need to be heard as soft/harsh if you get my drift.
3- Writing in Arabic – So what are all those funny looking letters? And do I really have to write from right to left? Yes, you do! It’s easy to change reading and writing direction but it takes a little practice to write in Arabic. Personally, I have found students not complaining too much, if at all, while learning to write the individual letters and words. It’s not that bad all. Get on YouTube and watch a video showing “an actual hand moving” while writing so you can see direction and what goes over and under the line.
4- The diacritics – Now we reach the good stuff! Diacritics do not exist in the English language and with limited usage in French and romance languages at large. But welcome to Arabic. What are all of those funny looking symbols (about six of them) written above and below most of the letters. Well, if you view some of these diacritics as “extra letters” it might simplify the mindset. The interesting aspect though is you need to reach a comfort level in not only reading all letters horizontally but also the diacritics vertically. Our eyes, as English speakers, are accustomed to moving from one letter to the next to complete a word; but Arabic requires our eyes to move from a letter to a diacritic back to a letter again — this takes practice. Therefore, your eyes are repeatedly traveling slightly above and below each letter as you read a word to capture the diacritics. Quickly you realize that these diacritics are as equally important as the traditional letters for the proper pronunciation of a word. Beginners wrongly treat diacritics as secondary or read them inconsistently. More seasoned students will never miss a diacritic.
But here is the thing: Diacritics are omitted in most Arabic texts while retained in Arabic language learning materials! “What?” you say! You just finished saying how important they are. Well, English has silent letters and many words are written not as they sound. We remember the pronunciation of the word because we have heard it before. Similarly, Arabic relies on phonetic memory as well so you do not need the diacritics to help you along at all times. If you have a problem with pronouncing the word you can look it up in the dictionary where the diacritics are retained.