Language Differences of Arabic and English

Businessmen of different ethnicities are having a discussion.
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Arabic and English are two of the four most widely spoken languages in the world, but their popularity is not a product of their similarity. In fact, English and Arabic are radically different languages in several significant ways.

1 Script and Writing

One of the most obvious differences between Arabic and English is the way the languages look on the page. Unlike English, Arabic script reads from right to left. While print has been the standard format for English writing for centuries, Arabic relies on a curvy and fluid script. This can make it difficult for Arabic learners to differentiate letters. Additionally, Arabic speakers don't actually write most vowels on the page. The Arabic word "maktab," meaning office, is written as "mktb," for example. This presents a challenge for newcomers to the language, as they must infer the correct vowel sound from the surrounding letters.

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2 Vowel Sounds

The English alphabet only has five vowels, but those vowels can combine to form 22 distinctive vowel sounds. The word "boat," for instance, includes a vowel sound distinct from both "bot" and "bat." The Arabic alphabet includes six regular vowels and two occasional vowels, much like the letter "y" acts in English. However, these vowels only make one sound each. That means English has almost three times as many vowel sounds as Arabic. This makes learning English a challenge for Arabic speakers, many of whom have trouble distinguishing between words like "coat" and "cot."

3 Consonant Sounds

Stark differences separate the consonant sounds that are common in English and Arabic. English completely lacks six different phonemes present in Arabic, which is why many Arabic words are very difficult to translate into English. ABC News noted, for example, that English translators have used at least 112 different transliterations to identify the former Libyan dictator Moammar Gaddafi. Many Arabic sounds are difficult for English speakers to vocalize because they rely on contraction of the epiglottis, a region of the larynx not commonly used in English speech.

4 Verb Tenses

English includes several verb tenses and irregularities that are absent from Arabic. One of the most significant is that Arabic has no version of the verb "to be" in the present tense. As a result, many Arabic-speaking English students omit the present tense conjugations like "am" and "are." A student might ask, for example, "Where he go?" instead of "Where is he going?" Arabic also lacks a present perfect tense, so there is no way to say, "I have finished my work" in the language. Instead, an Arabic speaker would say, "I finished my work."

Nick Robinson is a writer, instructor and graduate student. Before deciding to pursue an advanced degree, he worked as a teacher and administrator at three different colleges and universities, and as an education coach for Inside Track. Most of Robinson's writing centers on education and travel.