The Arabic Chat Alphabet – A cool alternative to the Arabic Alphabet!

Have you heard about a special form of writing Arabic, called the Arabic Chat Alphabet?

It’s used mostly by young people across the Arabic world, and I used it myself to learn to speak Egyptian Arabic.

The Arabic chat alphabet (alternatively the Franco-Arabic alphabet, or ‘Arabizi’ عربيزي), it’s an alternative to the standard written Arabic that uses the Latin script.

It’s an interesting product of the online generation.

The reason for its evolution, was that when computers and mobile phones first began to spread, it was only possible to write in the Latin script. People started to look for ways to communicate in Arabic using the Latin script, and the Arabic chat alphabet was born.

Even now, with the spread of smartphones, where writing the traditional Arabic script is easy, many young people still prefer to write in this new way, because it allows you to keep the phone in English, and you can keep the writing setting from left-to-right (standard Arabic is written right-to-left).

I asked an Egyptian colleague in my office about it, and she wrote out the following diagram.

Arabic Chat Alphabet

franco arabic alphabet

The Arabic chat alphabet uses the Latin script to spell out words phonetically, with the special addition of 7 numbers, which represent those Arabic characters not found in English.

In the photo above, the special numbers are in the first column, with the Arabic letter they replace given in the second column. For example, the number “3” represents “ع” (ʿayn).

You can see the similarity in the shape of the letter!

So, to write the word “عـَر َبـِيـَة” in Franco-Arabic, you’d write it like this: “3arabia”, as you can see in the 3rd column.

Kind of cool, don’t you think?

Since there are only 7 numbers to learn, I hope to be able to memorise this pretty quickly.

Should you use it?

Here’s the big question!

For myself, I originally thought that I will probably avoid writing like this for now.

The simple reason was that in order to learn the traditional Arabic alphabet properly, I think it’s important to be completely immersed in it for a while.

Using the Arabic chat alphabet seems like too easy a way out! 🙂

However, 1 week later, I’m already using it to write everything – it’s too convenient! I’m already writing out all my flashcards using it!

I said before that I think it’s really important to learn the traditional Arabic alphabet, and I still think that. But since this month is dedicated to speaking as much as possible, I think I’ll put it off until I arrive in Cairo in September.

Click here to watch an interview with me in the streets of Cairo!

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This article was written by Olly Richards.

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  • When I write Egyptian Arabic words, I prefer using capital letters for some of the sounds e.g. instead of 7, I write H e.g. Hayah, aHmar, etc. Instead of 6 and 9, I use S and D. As for 3′ and 7′, I find easier to write “gh” and “kh”. The chat alphabet is quite useful however for “3ayn” sound, as it is difficult to find any better alternative. Some books advise to use ` or ‘ – one for 3ayn and one for hamza – however they look almost the same, so it’s easy to confuse them. Of course, this transcription is just for me. When I chat with Egyptian friends, I am forced to use the chat or Arabic alphabet.

    • Hi Konrad, thanks for your comment. Yes, I’ve seen people using that form, too, and it looks simple! The way I’m thinking at the moment, it probably doesn’t matter which I decide to use, there seem to be so many variations! After all, even with the Arabic script, I believe Egyptians write their own dialect in all kinds of ways!

  • Dorothea

    I really enjoy reading your blog though I never commented before…
    I agree that the chat alphabet is really, really practical…however I would be cautious to only rely on it in the beginning, since it doesn’t reliably show the vowel lengths (long vs short a, i, u) which are crucial in spoken (and written, of course) Arabic and are often are the only difference between two otherwise similar words, eg. baarid (“cold”) and bareed (“post office”).
    Enjoy learning Arabic, it’s a wonderful language!

    • Thanks Dorothea, and thank you so much for leaving a comment – I appreciate it! It’s interesting what you say, as I had exactly the same problem in Cantonese, where both consonant and vowel lengths were really hard to head and also difficult to represent in any kind of written format. Thanks for putting that on my radar – I’ll be sure to pay more attention to those pesky vowels!

  • I have some Bulgarian facebook friends who do something similar–they replace the Cyrillic with similar-looking letters and numbers in the Latin alphabet. Cool!

  • Mohammad Alquza’

    Hello
    as a native arabic speaker I dont like this way to chat among arabic native speakers it is disgusting awful it has so negative effect to the Arabic language they are killing the most beautiful thing in our language 🙁
    on the other hand it is so useful for whom are learning Arabic but
    just compare حياة with 7ayah
    I hope someday our people stop using this method

    • Hi Mohammad. I agree, there’s no comparison! The Arabic script is really beautiful.

    • Zak Bowman

      I am American, I do not know much about this language.. I am trying to learn, but what I have learned is that from playing certain games, Arabic script does not work, same with Cyrillic (Russian Alphabet) If you type in those languages or some others it will show up as either a “?” or boxes [] [] [] [] therefore someone found a way to speak in their native language still but in a code, that’s all it is. It has nothing to do with it being “Disgusting” but a way of communication. If you speak Arabic but the game you’re playing does not allow Arabic Script, then how can you and your friends communicate? You can’t.

  • Diaa Attia

    Hi you can chat with English native speakers at http://preply.com/en/skype/english-native-speakers

  • beto

    AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRRaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
    BBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBBIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICCCCCCCCCCCCCC letters