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Sunday, May 24, 2015

Alif ba' ta' & Yaseen

Language Learning

Arabic. Windows, Macintosh. Quest Multimedia UK. $50.


This colorful CD-ROM can teach you the Arabic language and alphabet

Alif ba' ta' & Yaseen is a colorful and fun CD-ROM for people learning the Arabic alphabet. It presents the writing and sound system of Arabic through color animation, sound and a spelling game. It can be used by foreigners studying Arabic and by native speakers learning to read and write. It's suitable for both children and adults.

Each letter of the Arabic alphabet has from two to four shapes, depending on where in the word it occurs and which letters are adjacent. So when students are learning the alphabet, they have to master the shapes, in addition to the 29 basic letters with their corresponding sounds, plus a handful of special signs and diacritics. This process can be daunting, so any instructional material that's pleasant to use but also accurate is highly welcome in a field with very few modern, colorful, entertaining materials.

Alif ba' presents each letter and its shapes with engaging, brief animated sequences (a few seconds each), featuring Yaseen, a cute little character whose name is made up of two letters of the alphabet. The animations and sound effects illustrate a word or phrase with that shape. Yaseen moves back and forth across the screen making squeaky sounds for zig-zag or watches a creaking door open for door.

The program shows how the word is handwritten, printed and pronounced, and it lets you record and listen to your own pronunciation. Colors highlight the featured letter and shape. You have the option of seeing the word written and pronounced again as many times as you like.

For each letter shape there is at least one word and animation, and often there are more. In all, more than 90 words illustrate the Arabic writing system. The illustrations come up again in the game, where you see the opening scene and have to spell the corresponding words. There are three levels of difficulty to progress through in the game, which I thought was a lot of fun.

The program is easy to install, works on Windows and Macintosh, and has a bare minimum to learn in the way of interface. It's very intuitive. The downside of this simplicity is that there aren't a lot of options in moving around in the program. For instance, if you're the orderly type and you want to look at all the shapes of one letter in succession before moving on to the next letter, you can't go directly to the next shape, but first have to go back to the initial screen.

This CD would not be suitable for someone starting from zero (no knowledge of Arabic at all) without a teacher or some other materials. Ideally, it would be used by people who have a teacher or helper. Or, people with a basic knowledge of spoken Arabic (any dialect or standard Arabic would do) could use it mostly on their own. The program requires a teacher or prior knowledge because for some words it may not be clear what the animation is depicting (when Yaseen is going upstairs, is the word up, stairs, climb or what?), and the program could seem overwhelming without any explanations.

In addition, there are some special letter shapes that are included in the segments for the corresponding basic letter. This is nice, because it highlights the relationship: a special kind of final t is with the other forms of t. Students just starting out, however, could be confused without prior explanation.

The technical quality and linguistic accuracy of Alif ba' are high. One small flaw, which the company plans to rectify in future releases, is that if you listen carefully, some final consonants are not clearly pronounced.

Alif ba' adheres to the principle of leaving you wanting more. Students and teachers of Arabic will welcome other materials from ArabicQuest, for different skill levels and on different aspects of the language.globe.gif


—Jackie Murgida

This article reprinted from #14 Volume 8 Issue 3 ofMultiLingual Computing & Technology published by MultiLingual Computing, Inc. 319 North First Ave., Sandpoint, Idaho, USA, 208-263-8178, Fax: 208-263-6310.

June, 1997