How to Teach "Harakat" or Diacritics of the Arabic Alphabet to Your Child Like a Pro
Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Ok, I'll be honest here. I have really been dreading starting this "essential" topic with Angela. How will I even begin to explain to a four year old English speaking child what diacritics are used for in Arabic? I have just taught her the alphabet. Isn't that hard enough.
Thankfully, we have been watching for some time great YouTube videos, like this one, which kind of introduced the idea subtly to her. In many of these songs, each alphabet letter is sung and pronounced in three ways, for example :"Ba, Boo, Bee, Za, Zoo, Zee, Ta, Too, Tee...", resembling the three main diacritics: "Fatha, Damma, and Kasra". For more insight about these and others you can read more on Wikipedia (link here) .
Knowing them and differentiating between the three is a necessary part of learning Arabic language, especially once you have learnt the alphabet and some basic vocabulary. The way a word is pronounced can completely change with diacritics. Short vowels and consonants in Arabic are made clear to the reader by opting to use these diacritics; whereas longer ones don't require them. For example: حِصان , pronounced "Hisaan", consider the "Kasra" under the letter"Haa" ح ; it helps indicate to the reader that it is a short consonant. Whereas, for the letter "Sad" ص , this is not needed, as it is made clear that it's a long consonant by following it with the vowel "Alif" أ . In short, using diacritics makes reading easier, since they act as a "phonetic guide". Sounds complicated to me even, trying to explain to you. So, how to get the idea across to a little one?
As I've just mentioned, YouTube has been our friend so far. I used my basic and simple approach, "show, practice, and watch", which I've used before to teach here the alphabet in just 15 days (full video here). On the chalk board I wrote examples of some letters, where for each I used the three diacritics. I asked Angela to try and copy me (The idea is not to test her writing skills, but just to introduce the subject to her). Then, we watched the videos again on YouTube and chanted the letters together, and of course, I had to play an interesting game with her to conclude the lesson.
I used some colored cardboard to cut out the shapes of the three main diacritics "Fatha, Damma and Kasra". I had already made before, from when we started learning the alphabet some letters flashcards. I picked a random letter and showed Angela where each is positioned on or under the letter, and of course I pronounced it clearly and slowly to her. Then, I asked her to do the same, picking out random letters. I was quite surprised and VERY pleased at the same time to see quick progress; i.e. the idea has sunk in, and literally in no time.
I hope sharing these ideas would be helpful for you. For more free Arabic learning and reading resources, check out our Stories and Downloads pages. Don't miss out on any new additions and free resources, subscribe to the blog (click subscribe from the main menu). And stay tuned by Liking our Facebook Page. It's the best way to stay in touch! Please feel free to share any ideas, comments or resources with other readers by leaving a comment below or emailing directly to the blog.