Jul 29, 2015

Reading Arabic fluently without harakat (Vowel marks)

بسم الله الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ

Asalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

A common question I get asked by students is "How can I read and understand Arabic fluently without the harakat (Vowel marks)?". It will probably come as little surprise to most students that this process will take years and years of dedicated study. I have included advice for students who want to achieve this goal biithnillah ( with the permission of Allah).

Intention and aim

We all need to ask Allah to help us in any task we undertake. There is nothing difficult if Allah makes it easy for one. One of the ways he makes something easy is to create a desire for it. The majority of people learning Arabic today are Muslims who want to understand the Quran. Students with lofty aims and aspiration reach their desired goal more than often. I remember once hearing a university professor speaking about how to learn a language in a short space of time and one of the key ingredients he mentioned was to make the language relevant to oneself. If wanting to know what the Creator of the Universe is telling us is not enough of a motivation, then I don’t know what is!

"Ya Allah, Make us of those who learn the Quran and teach it to others for your sake, Ameen!"

Increase you vocabulary

Like with any language, increasing ones vocabulary is essential in order to understand what one reads. If you read a text and come across a word or two that you don’t understand then make it a habit to check the meaning of the word(s) in a dictionary. If the word is derived from a triliteral root then memorize this 3 letter root and the meaning that it holds. Use the newly acquired word in a sentence and write it down for future reference.

Arabic Grammar and Morphology

Understanding meaning of words and phrases alone is insufficient and one needs to have a firm grasp of Arabic grammar and Morphology. I will illustrate this point with a few examples:

There are words which change meanings with a change of a vowel mark . An example of this is the active and passive participle of a number of verb forms e.g.  مُفْعِل  and مُفْعَل (The former is used for one performing the act of أفْعَلَ and the later is the the recipient of this action.

We also can look at certain aspects of words like definiteness and indefiniteness. If we have two consecutive nouns which match in definiteness, number and gender then chances are we are dealing with a صفة / موصوف relationship. If you have an indefinite noun followed by a definite noun then chances are there is an إضافة ( possessive case) relationship and so on....

In Arabic we have a triliteral base system for the overwhelming majority of  words. An important  skill that will come with time is identifying base letters and extraneous letters ( ا,ء, ن, م, و, ي, ت etc.).

Don’t jump in the deep end immediately

A common mistake made by students is to believe they should be able to read Arabic texts without harakat after completing a 6 or 12 month course of Arabic grammar and Morphology. Knowing grammar and morphological rules can only take you so far. I had a student ask me once that if he learns more advanced grammar and balagha texts, whether this would make him more proficient in reading. I explained to him that this is not the case, because reading is a completely different skill than learning grammatical rules, especially if these rules are only used in ancient poetry and the Quran. 

What is crucial is  understanding what one reads. If you are not understanding Arabic texts with harakat then here are few steps you need to take before stepping up to read  without harakat.
When you initially start reading texts with no vowels then it can be quite difficult at first. The most important aspect to reading anything is understanding what one reads. Start off with simple children books that have harakat on them and that are translated into English or a language you are proficient with:

As an exercise go through the Arabic and try to understand what is being said. Check how your understanding compares to the translation. Identify any weakness you might have, whether its limited vocabulary, inability to identify the main parts of the sentence, problems with weak letters etc. 

This is a children book that one can use to try this. It can be downloaded HERE

After a while, try this again with more advanced books such as الرحيق المختوم (Al raheeq Al makhtoom) a book of Seerah of the Prophet ( peace be upon him) or any other translated book. There are many translations out there so you have a wide range to choose from.

NOTE: reading without harakat is a process that will occur gradually and will not come overnight.
I have provided a sample section of a children's story book entitled: طالوت و جالوت
Try translating the text yourself and compare it with the translation I have provided ( in some cases a word for word translation was not possible) .

ذهب بنو إسرائيل لنبيهم يوما.. سألوه: ألسنا مظلومين
قال: بلى
قالوا: ألسنا مشردين
قال: بلى
قالوا: ابعث لنا ملكا يجمعنا تحت رايته كي نقاتل في سبيل الله ونستعيد أرضنا ومجدنا
قال نبيهم وكان أعلم بهم: هل أنتم واثقون من القتال لو كتب عليكم القتال
قالوا: ولماذا لا نقاتل في سبيل الله، وقد طردنا من ديارنا، وتشرد أبناؤنا، وساء حالنا
قال نبيهم: إن الله اختار لكم طالوت ملكا عليكم


Banu Israeel went to their Prophet one day and asked him: "Are we not oppressed?"
He answered " Most certainly you are"
They said "Are we not Musharadeen (those who have fled out of fear)?"
He answered " Most certainly you are"
They said "Assign for us a king who will unite us under his flag so that we can fight in the path of Allah and reclaim our land and honor:
Their Prophet said, and he was more aware regarding them " Are you capable of (i.e. do you know what you are getting yourself into) fighting if fighting is prescribed upon you?"
They said "And why should we not fight in the path of Allah when we have certainly been removed from out of our homes, and our sons have fled for their lives, and our state is calamitous"
Their Prophet said " Certainly, Allah has chosen for you Taloot as a king (to rule) over you" 
Practice Often

Like with all things, practice makes perfect! You can't expect to read well if you don’t do it often. Try different types of texts from a wide variety of topics and authors.

A teacher

Having a teacher to guide you along is important and in many cases can save you plenty of time. The Sibaway Institute aims to provide students with all the prerequisites so that they are able to read and understand Arabic texts proficiently. 

An educational institute dedicated to the propagation of the Arabic language.

والحمد لله رب العالمين    

Article written by Nabeel Alkhalidy

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