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Common Mistakes Among Learners of Arabic (1) Posted by on May 17, 2018 in Pronunciation, Vocabulary

Our native language has a strong influence on our learning of another language. This influence is mainly due to the dissimilarities or similarities between the two languages. When similar, we learn the language faster. If dissimilar, we face difficulties and our learning is slowed down. This post is about the common mispronunciations of Arabic sounds, namely [ذ and ظ], [ت and ط], [د and ض], [س and ص], [هـ and ح], and [ع and ء]. They affect understanding; therefore, it is essential that these sounds be pronounced as accurately as possible.

Arabic has some sounds that don’t exist in other languages. These sounds are difficult to articulate for new learners. They normally pronounce them like the closest sounds of their native language. Owing to the lack of sufficient practice at the earlier stages of their learning, they continue to mispronounce them even after they have achieved considerable proficiency. Therefore, it is vital that these sounds are practiced amply from the outset of your learning so that they become easier to articulate as you progress with your learning.

The sound pairs listed above share many pronunciation features and differ only in one or two features. This is the primary cause of their difficulty. Let’s look at each in more details.

(1) [ذ vs. ظ]

Both ذ, which is like the English /th-/ in this and then, and ظ are produced from the same place of articulation, that is the tip of tongue between the front teeth. The only difference is that ظ is pronounced with root of the tongue being raised; therefore, it is called emphatic. The following minimal pairs illustrates:

/ ذ / / ظ /
ذّلَّ ظَّلَّ
نَذِيْر نَظِيْر
مَذَلَّة مِظَلَّة
حَذّ حَظّ
نَذَرَ نَظَرَ

Since emphatic sounds, which entail raising the root of the tongue, are rare in many languages, many learners pronounce /ظ/ as /ذ/. Some mispronounce it as /ز/, which is like /z/ in English and is non-emphatic. Here are some examples:

Correct pronunciation Mispronunciation
ظُهْر ‘noon’ زُهْر
حَافِظْ ‘memorizer’ حَافِز
ظُلْم ‘aggression’ زُلْم
عَظِيْم ‘great’ عَزِيْم
(2) [ت vs. ط]

Like the two pairs in (1), the only difference between /ت/, which is like the English /t/ in tea and hat, and /ط/ is that the latter is emphatic, that is pronounced with root of the tongue being raised. The following minimal pairs help you articulate the /ط/ accurately.

/ ت / / ط /
قُنُوت قُنُوط
شَرْت شَرْط
تَاب طَاب
أَعْتَى أَعْطَى
مَتَر مَطَر
(3) [د vs. ض]

/ض/ is the most confusing Arabic sound not only learners of Arabic, but also for native speakers. This is why Arabic is called the language of /ض/. Unlike /ظ/, it is not emphatic. Like /ذ/ and /ظ/, it is produced from the same place of articular, i.e. interdental, that is the tip of the tongue between the front teeth. The only distinguishing feature of /ض/ is that the edges of the both sides of the tongue must touch both side teeth. The following examples illustrate its mispronunciations:

Correct pronunciation Arabs’ mispronunciation Learners mispronunciation
رَمَضَان ‘Ramadhan’ رَمَطَان رَمَدَان
أَرْض ‘earth’ أَرْط أَرْد
حَوْض bathtub’ حَوْط حَوْد
فَيَضَان ‘flood’ فَيَطَان فَيَدَان
مَرَض ‘disease’ مَرَط مَرَد
(4) [س vs. ص]

/س/, which is similar to the English /s/ as in Sam and glass, differs from /ص/ in that it is non-emphatic. In pronouncing /ص/, you must raise the root of the tongue. The following minimal pairs help you articulate it the way it should be.

/ س / / ص /
سُوْرَة صُوْرَة
بَسْمَة بَصْمَة
سَاحِب صَاحِب
صَرَّحَ سَرَّحَ
نَصْر نَسْر
(5) [هـ vs. ح]

Both /هَـ/ and /ح/ are produced from the area of the throat; however, /هـ/ is from the lower part of the throat, just like the /h/ in English, as in hot and height. /ح/ is produced with some friction in the middle of the throat. It is normally mispronounced as /هـ/ because it (هـ) is the closest sound to it in other languages. The following minimal pairs help you pronounce it more accurately.

 / هـ / / ح /
هَامِد حَامِد
سَحَر سَهَر
هَبْ حَبْ
شَرْه شَرْح
فَلَاه فَلَاح
(6) [ع vs. ء]

Like the pairs in (6), both /ع/ and /ء/ are produced from the area of the throat, but /ع/ is from the middle of the throat, and /ء/ is from the lower part of the throat. /ع/ is pronounced with a vibration in the throat; no vibration accompanies the production of /ء/. The following minimal pairs help you pronounce the /ع/ more accurately.

 / ع /  / ء ، أ ، ـئـ ، ئ /
عَشْرَة أَشْرَة
عَمَل أَمَل
كَعْب كَأب
بَاع بَاء
شَاعَ شَاءَ
بَاعِد بَائِد

The following sentences are examples of some common mistakes among learners of Arabic:

Correct pronunciation Mispronunciation
رَجَعَتْ إِلَى البَيْت. ‘she returned home.’ رَجَأتْ إِلَى البَيْت
هَذَا اللَّحْم حَلَال. ‘this meat is Halal.’ هَذَا اللَّهْم هَلَال
مَطَار صَنْعَاء مُغْلَق. ‘Sanaa airport is closed.’ مَتَار سَنْأء مُقْلَق
أُرِيْد مَاء فَقَط. ‘I want water only.’ أُرِيْدُ مَاء فَقَت
هَذَا القَمِيْص كَبِيْر. ‘this shirt is big.’ هَذَا القَمِيْس كَبِيْر
اِنْتَظَرْتُ فِي المَطَار. ‘I waited in the airport.’ اِنْتَزَرْتُ فِي المَتَار
أَمْرِيْكَا تَحِمِي السِّعُوْدِيَّة. ‘US protects Saudi’ أَمْرِيْكَا تَهْمِي السِّئوْدِيَّة
صَلاةُ الظُّهْر ‘noon prayer’ سَلَاةُ الزُّهْر
بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمَن الرَّحِيْم ‘in the name of Allah the Merciful the Compassionate’ بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّهْمَان الرَّهِيْم
اِتَّصِل لِمُحَمَّد! ‘call Mohammed!’ اِتَّسِل لِمُهَمَّد
الظُّلْم حَرَام. ‘aggression is forbidden.’ الزُّلْم هَرَام.

Other mispronunciations include [خ vs. ك] and [غ vs. ق], but they are less common. Because the /غ/ does not exists in many languages, learners tend to pronounce it as /ق/, which is the closest to it in the oral cavity as far as articulation features, as in these examples:

Correct pronunciation Mispronunciation
غَرِيب ‘strange’ قَرِيب
غَيْر ‘except / not’ قَيْر
شُغْل ‘work’ شُقْل
فَارِغ ‘empty’ فَارِق

So is the case with /خ/. It is pronounced like the closest sound to it, that the sound with which it shares more features, which is the /ك/, as in these examples:

Correct pronunciation Mispronunciation
بَخِيْل ‘stingy’ بَكِيْل
خَرُوْف ‘sheep’ كَرُوْف
خُبْز ‘bread’ كُبْز
بُخُوْر ‘incense’ بُكُوْر

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About the Author:Ibnulyemen

Marhaban! I am from Yemen. I am a language teacher. I teach English and Arabic. Besides Arabic and English, I speak French and some German. I have a strong flair for languages; most of my foreign language competency has been self-learning. For Arabic, I have a strong command of its formal aspects. So, if you have any question about Arabic grammar or morphology, feel free to ask any question you may have. In this blog, I will be leading you through Arabic language learning in a sequential and interactive fashion. I will focus on Modern Standard Arabic. Arabic dialectal expressions and vocabulary will be highlighted whenever pertinent to the topic of each post. Enjoy learning!


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