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Alif Baa

Alif Baa: Introduction to Arabic Letters and Sounds by Mahmoud al-Batal, Kristen Brustad, and Abbas al-Tonsi

Primary Use: Beginning textbook
Format:10 units introducing the very basics of Arabic
Key:Separate volume
Meant For:Very beginner


This may seem like a small point, but be careful with the gluing on the part of the book that includes the DVDs. It can take off the skin on your fingers if you press down on it.

This book has ten units that focus on teaching a different part of the Arabic alphabet in each chapter. It mostly goes in Arabic alphabetical order, with the exception of the long vowels و and ي which are also introduced in the first lesson. Chapters 8-10 focus on the letters that are not in the regular alphabet such as ى and ؤ. The drills are found throughout each chapter and many times they correspond to an item on the DVD included with the book. The drills are varied and include dictation, understanding the differences between pronunciations, connecting letters, and so forth.

The book focuses heavily on pronunciation from the very beginning and includes lengthy descriptions of how to pronounce each letter. It also uses Arabic whenever it can on the DVD, even when students may not be able to understand everything in the very beginning. The idea is that students will be able to pick up on understanding the words as they progress; it is also good to hear the cadence and rhythm of Arabic from the very beginning.

The book includes directions on how to write the Arabic letters as well as visually via the DVD. Transliteration is also used, particularly to teach words and phrases before all the corresponding Arabic letters have been introduced.

Included in each chapter is a brief cultural note. Often included in the cultural notes are Egyptian dialect words both in print and on the DVDs. There are also vocabulary lists in nearly every chapter; however, the meanings in English will have to be gleaned from the DVDs. This can be frustrating since the words are only given in Arabic but there is no Arabic-English dictionary included. If one wants to study vocabulary away from a computer, a separate list will have to be made.

This book does not focus on grammar as much as it does getting the alphabet and the pronunciation of the language down pat.

The book is divided into the following sections and units:

    Unit One ا ب ت ث و ي الوحدة الأولى fatHa Damma kasra
    Unit Two ج ح خ الوحدة الثانية sukuun
    Unit Three أ د ذ ر ز الوحدة الثالثة
    Unit Four س ش ص ض الوحدة الرابعة shadda
    Unit Five ة ط ظ ع غ الوحدة الخامسة
    Unit Six ف ق ك ق لا الوحدة السادسة
    Unit Seven م ن ه الوحدة السابعة
    Unit Eight ال ا الوحدة الثامنة wasla dagger alif
    Unit Nine ى ا ئ ؤ الوحدة التاسعة madda
    Unit Ten تنوين الوحدة العاشرة
    Appendix: Transcriptions of the Egyptian Colloquial
    English-Arabic Glossary

How to Use It

In order to use this book to the fullest extent, you will need a computer that can play DVDs. The DVDs are an important part of the learning experience with this book.

This book is meant to be worked through starting from the very beginning, which includes a preface to the student complete with study tips for success in Arabic. Nothing should be skipped, including the DVD exercises. The key to the exercises can be purchased separately.

The table of contents is located before anything else, which makes it easy to be accidentally skipped. The appendix includes a transcription in Arabic of the Egyptian colloquial dialogues found on the DVDs. In the very back is an English-Arabic dictionary in alphabetical order in English. There is no Arabic-English dictionary in the back.


al-Batal, Mahmoud, Kristen Brustad, and Abbas al-Tonsi. Alif Baa: Introduction to Arabic Letters and Sounds. 2nd ed. Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2004.