For Arabic speakers and speakers of similar languages, the name of this year’s World Cup host is a no-brainer. For English speakers, however, it’s literally one tricky letter at a time. That’s because even the word Qatar is a romanized version of the original Arabic قطر , which means that not every letter is exactly what it seems. Let’s try our best to find out.
How do you say “Qatar” like a native speaker?
American English speakers usually say “kuh-TAR” with the stress on the second syllable sounding like the word “tar”.
British English speakers add an “a” sound more like “cat” and give the two syllables more equal weight.
However, English pronunciation is only an approximation of Arabic pronunciation, which uses a fuller sound for the “q”, a blunter “t” and a roll on the final “r”.
“The Arabic word for ‘Qatar’ actually has only three letters: qāf, ṭā and rā,” she explains. These are romanized to q, t, and r, respectively. And unfortunately none of them have a close English equivalent.
- qaf (ق ): “It’s one of the most difficult sounds for English speakers,” says Abdulhamid. “To learn this sound, we recommend students put water in their mouths and use their throats to avoid swallowing. That’s how this guttural sound is made.” The resulting sound is somewhere between an English “g” and a “k”.
- ṭā (ط) : Abulhamid describes this sound as an English “t” with a fuller tongue. When you pronounce an English “t,” you’ll notice your tongue hitting behind your front teeth. “A ta sound is made further back, and your tongue touches your palate,” she says.
- ra (Ñ) : This one is a little easier. “Unlike the English letter ‘r,’ ‘ra’ doesn’t have a strong vowel,” says Abdulhamid. In English, consonants like ‘r’, ‘m’ and ‘b’ are called voiced consonants because you have to use the vocal cords to move their to produce sound. (Try it now. Nobody’s listening!) Consonants like “t” and “p” are voiceless, meaning you can just say them with your mouth and some air. The Arabic “ra” is technically voiced, but much shorter than an English “r” and closer to a short trill, as in the Spanish word “perro”.
where are the vowels “There are no long vowels in the Arabic word for Qatar,” says Abdulhamid. “Instead of letters, our short vowels are represented by accents.” In an Arabic pronunciation of Qatar, the a’s are formed further back in the throat, just as an American would pronounce “alone”.
Where’s the stress? Although the Arabic language naturally uses stressed and unstressed consonants, Abdulhamid says that this particular word is stressed equally. “It might sound like the first syllable is stressed,” she says, “but that’s because ‘qāf’ is a strong initial sound.”
In translation “Forgive me, I only have a keyboard with letters from the Roman alphabet and I have no idea what IPA is” the pronunciation would be something like this: ghu-terh.
How to say it like a non-Arabic speaker trying their best
It’s important to learn about one of the world’s most spoken languages, but conjuring up a perfectly pronounced “Qatar” can sometimes feel a bit out of place. Just as English speakers tend to converge on other non-English words like “croissant,” there’s a happy medium that shows you’ve given at least some thought.
“If you can get the Ra sound right, that’s a good start,” says Abdulhamid. “And remember that the initial isn’t a hard ‘k’ sound.”
Also, don’t be too discouraged. All second speakers have sounds that are difficult to master. Abdulhamid says that Arabic speakers learning English stumble over “p” sounds, which often sound like a “b”.
“Second-generation Arabic speakers love to tease their parents,” says Abdulhamid.
Now that you’ve mastered an in-depth pronunciation of Qatar, you can move on to the next most important World Cup event: trying to figure out why Americans call it “soccer.”
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