Typing in Arabic, with or without an Arabic keyboard

Keyboard Conundrum by Steve Petrucelli


If you’re learning Arabic, you’ve probably already figured out a way to type on your computer in Arabic (that is, when not using our online course, which provides a special keyboard). For anyone who hasn’t, you can read this discussion on our forum, which gives you a few options, including a virtual keyboard and switching the settings on your computer to use an Arabic keyboard.

Virtually all modern phones and computers have the capability to switch the language of the keyboard, but that wasn’t always the case. In the early years of digital communication, Arabic speakers had to come up with a way to type on their phones and computers using Latin characters. As a result, the Arabic chat alphabet was born. Also known as Arabish, Moaarab (معرب), Arabizi (عربيزي), Araby (عربي) and Franco-Arabic, this writing system encodes Arabic using the Roman alphabet plus numbers for sounds not easily represented in the Roman alphabet.  While not necessary anymore, it is still widely used, especially by people who want to also type in a left-to-right language such as French or English.  We asked our Arabic e-Tutor to introduce us to the system. (Wikipedia has a more comprehensive list with IPA symbols if you want to go more in depth.)

Letters Arabic chat alphabet Transliteration
ء أ ؤ إ ئ آ‎ 2 ‘ (glottal stop)
ح‎ 7 H
خ  7′ 5 kh
ص‎ s 9 S
ض‎ d dh 9′ D
ط‎ t 6 T
ظ‎ z th dh 6′ DH
ع‎ 3 x
غ‎ gh 3′ gh
ق 2 g 8 9 q q

Some examples of frequently used words and phrases are below:

How are you doing ? 3amel eih عامل ايه
I have a question. 3andi so2al عندي سؤال
sorry muta2ssif متأسف
well 6ayyb طيّب
Welcome. How are you? mar7ba kef el 7al مرحبا، كيف الحال؟

There are also some common abbreviations in Arabish, just as you might type brb (be right back) or np (no problem) in English. Some are shown below:

AA is used as an abbreviation for the greeting “Peace upon you”. Assalaam xalykum السلام عليكم
ISA is used as an abbreviation for “God Willing”. In Shaa’ Allah إن شاء الله
MSA is used as an abbreviation for “an Arabic phrase that expresses appreciation, joy, praise, or thankfulness for an event or person that was just mentioned. Ma Shaa’ Allah ما شاء الله
JAK is used as an abbreviation for “May God reward you well”. Jazakum Allah Khayran جزاكم الله خيرًا

Try these out next time you’re chatting or emailing with an Arabic speaking friend or colleague, but remember, because this system is not standardized, there is no “correct” way to spell in Arabish. You’ll probably notice some variation.

If you have questions about Arabish, Living Language online course subscribers can post questions on our Living Language Expert Forum and our e-Tutor will answer you. Inside our course, we also provide plenty of instruction on how to read and write in Arabic. If you’re a beginner, and you want to get started reading Arabic script, take a look at the free flashcards in our Language Lab, which provide transliteration and audio along with the Arabic script. It’s a great way to familiarize yourself with the new writing system.

Image credit: Keyboard Conundrum by Steve Petrucelli via Flickr licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0