Arabic pronunciation is one of the more difficult aspects when you are learning Arabic. It’s unavoidable.
If you're a native speaker of any language that isn’t closely related to Arabic (most of them), you will have trouble at first. There are literally sounds that you have never made before.
And some of them are quite hard!
So it’s normal to feel frustrated when first starting out with Egyptian Arabic pronunciation. Plus, let’s face it: correct pronunciation is important. And it may just be THE most important thing if you are trying to speak Egyptian Arabic.
Because if your pronunciation is off, it doesn’t matter how much of a new language you know.
It doesn’t matter how big your vocabulary is. It doesn’t matter how many grammar rules you know.
Bad pronunciation KILLS any chance at effective speaking. Luckily, correct pronunciation of Egyptian Arabic CAN be learned. Just as long as you learn how to say the letters and actually practice, correct Arabic pronunciation is well within your reach.
So let’s talk about it!
The Difference Between Standard Arabic & Egyptian Arabic Pronunciation
First, it’s important to know that Standard Arabic (fus7a) and Egyptian Arabic are not the exact same when it comes to pronunciation. Yes, they use the same alphabet.
And yes, for the most part, a person speaking Standard Arabic and a person speaking Egyptian Arabic will sound (more or less) the same.
But there are differences! And these differences can actually be a bit confusing.
That was definitely my first experience in Cairo. Words that are the same in both Standard Arabic (which I studied) and Egyptian Arabic (the dialect in Cairo) could be quite difficult for me to pick up.
Well….Egyptians just said them differently! Out of the 28 letters in the Arabic alphabet, six of them are pronounced differently by Egyptians. Not a ton, but still important to know.
Arabic Letters Aren’t Always Pronounced The Same
This should be obvious for everyone. And pretty much all languages are like this.
But however obvious it may be, it bears repeating: Arabic letters are not always pronounced the same. Especially the “vowel” letters. So take the guide below with a grain of salt.
One letter in a word might sound totally different somewhere else! Also, you should also keep in mind that these descriptions can be misinterpreted.
If you really want to master Arabic pronunciation, it helps to actually hear these letters being said. I have included some tips at the end for how you can practice Arabic pronunciation.
Also, because I am a native English speaker, I have described the Egyptian pronunciation of these letters via comparison to English.
Something to keep in mind. With those points out of the way, let’s get started with a guide to Arabic pronunciation.
How To Pronounce All Arabic Letters
Your basic “a” sound. Like the “a” in apple. This is one of the letters that can vary quite a lot, with a short “a”, long “a”, or even “ee” sound. However, it’s quite easy to pronounce.
Your basic “b” sound like in boy.
Here's a fun fact for you: Arabic doesn’t have the equivalent of “P”. Because of that, things like “Pepsi” look like “Bebsi.”
Sounds like the English “t” in toy. One of the easiest letters.
This is a letter that was really confusing for me at first. That’s because Standard Arabic says this as a standard “th” sound like in the word three. Egyptians, meanwhile, simply say it as a “ss” like sand.
A good example is the word for culture. While pronounced “THuakawfa” by most Arabic speakers, Egyptians say “SSuhkawfa”.
This is perhaps the most famous example of Egyptian Arabic pronunciation being really different than the majority of other Arab countries.
While most Arab speakers will pronounce this letter as “j”, Egyptians (usually) say it as a “g.”
I say usually because this really depends on where you are in Egypt.
The further south you go in Egypt (called “upper Egypt”) the more prevalent the “j” pronunciation becomes. For the most part, though, stick with “g.”
This letter is one of the more difficult for non Arabic native speakers to get used to.
Because it’s not just a simple “h” sound…but a bit trickier.
It’s basically what you get when you open your mouth and produce a very deep “hhh” sound from the very back of your throat.
I have heard it compared to the sound that ocean waves make in the distance. That’s actually pretty accurate.
This one seems hard at first, but is relatively easy to learn.
Sorry for the description of the “kh” sound, but it really is quite accurate: with this letter, you are gathering spit in the back of your throat before you actually spit it out.
I’ve also heard it compared to gargling water. Either way, it’s at the back of your throat.
A normal “d” sound. A nice break from the previous letter, right?
Here is another hard letter. Luckily, Egyptians will usually pronounce it as a “zz” like zebra.
A basic “r” sound like in really.
Another “zz.” No problems here.
This is just a normal “s” sound. Doesn’t vary at all.
Same thing here. A basic “sh” sound like you would find in “shine”.
This is one of these sounds that I as a native English speaker never really knew existed.
Sure, we have the “ss” and “sh”…but the deeper “SS?”
Definitely give this one a listen.
This is when we start to get into the really weird sounds. And by “weird,” I mean, of course, different. This is like saying the sound “daw,” but clicking your tongue when you do it. At least in Standard Arabic. With Egyptian Arabic, simply pronounce it as a “zz” again.
Imagine saying the sound “taw,” but very forcibly with your lips. That will get you close to the correct pronunciation.
Like the one before, but now you are saying “daw.” This one is extremely difficult to pronounce in Standard. Luckily with Egyptian, it’s another “zz.”
It’s commonly said that this letter is the most difficult letter to correctly pronounce in Arabic.
And it’s equally difficult to describe.
When people say “Arabic pronunciation sounds like it’s at the back of your throat”…this letter is probably what they are talking about.
And they’re right. It’s often described as a “guttaral stop” because you have to do a “choking sound.” Like anything…practice. Seems impossible at first, but is actually quite doable.
Another letter that is probably unlike anything you have ever said.
This tends to be easier for non natives, though. Especially if you speak a language that has a similar sound (the German “r” is a good example).
It’s like pronouncing the “g” in great, but doing it from the very back of your throat.
A normal “f”.
While this letter is pronounced as a deeper “kk” in Standard Arabic, it’s skipped over completely in most Egyptian Arabic words.
In practice, that ends up sounding like a very slight “alif”, or “a” sound. However, not all words are like this.
The best way to know whether you should pronounce it or not? Besides rote memorization, there’s really no system to whether Egyptians say the “cc” or not. However, because it’s skipped in MOST words, play it safe and omit it.
A normal “k” sound.
A normal “l” sound.
A normal “m” sound.
A normal “n” sound.
This letter changes quite a lot, but is usually a “slight h” sound.
Either the “wuh” or “oo” sound.
Either the “yy” sound like in you or the “ee” sound in me.
Tips For Improving Your Egyptian Arabic Pronunciation
So now you know how Arabic is pronounced.
You know that Arabic letters aren’t the easiest, but you also know that it CAN be learned.
- But how do you do you actually do that?
- How do you improve your pronunciation, knowing how important it is to be understood?
One thing is to look up videos of people pronouncing these letters. Videos like this are easy to come by on Youtube. And with sounds that you’ve literally probably never said before, they are super useful.
Say these letters out loud, and repeat as many times as you need before you start to sound similar to the video speaker. No joke – this is what it takes. Repetition after repetition.
Your mouth has never had to say these things before, and with Arabic, it’s not uncommon to go weeks before you approach proper pronunciation.
Just keep in mind that these pronunciation videos are usually covering how to say them in Standard. As we’ve discussed, there are a few key differences. You want to make sure you are pronouncing them like an Egyptian would.
One other thing I also found was helpful was to repeat what people said in TV shows. Literally.
Listen to a 3-5 second clip of somebody speaking, and then rewind it repeatedly, mimicking them as you do it. While this is not the most scientific way, it certainly helps. This assumes, of course, that you have Egyptian Arabic subtitles.
Arabic Pronunciation: You Don't Have To Be Perfect
So there you have it.
A list of the entire Arabic alphabet, how Egyptians pronounce the letters, and extra information if it differs from Standard Arabic. You also have some basic tips for improving your Arabic pronunciation.
While this is not the “end all be all” of Arabic pronunciation, it certainly helps. And one last point: while correct pronunciation in ANY language is important, it’s not like you have to get it right 100 percent of the time.
Just try your best. It might sound cliche, but it’s true.
My own pronunciation of Arabic is still not perfect, and I still sometimes make mistakes. But just like anything, the more you do it, the better you get at it.
And it’s the same thing with Egyptian Arabic pronunciation. Arabic letters are pretty hard at the beginning (especially the ones where you have to create a completely new sound). But they get easier.
There are a lot of reasons to learn Egyptian Arabic.
It’s a great language, and tricky pronunciation shouldn’t stop you!