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What is the "letter" "3" supposed to sound like?

I'm seeing the English translation of some Arabic words as the letter 3. Since when did 3 become a letter? And what is it supposed to sound like? I've been speaking English my whole life and I've never seen 3 used as a letter. Up until today, the English alphabet has always had 26 letters and 3 wasn't one of them.

I'm seeing 3 used as a letter in the "Description 1" skill and it's really distracting because I don't know how to translate it into an English I understand.

February 23, 2020



The explanation of the 3 is way down in the tips of the "Phrases" skill: ع = 3 Today, you’ll hear a sound that we don’t have in English: ع !

Pronouncing ع can be a bit tricky at first. Some people compare its sound to the sound you make when you yawn, some say it’s the sound you make when you hurt yourself and it hurts real bad — some even say it sounds like a duck.

You can try this: get close to a mirror, open your mouth wide and fog up the mirror with your breath. You should feel how tight your throat gets when you do this. Now, while doing this, say the vowel a as in cat. That’s about the right sound.

Because this letter, when it’s not connected to another letter, looks like a reversed 3, we’ll write it as a 3 in English letters. For example, we write the word عَرَبِيّ as 3arabiyy.


The romanization scheme used by the duolingo course uses numerals to represent consonants that don’t have any equivalent in the Latin script. Apparently the scheme was first developed by young Arabs who started texting each other on cell phones that only had Latin keyboards, so they had to improvise by turning numbers into letters. In this case, 3 is used to transcribe the letter ع, which represents the voiced pharyngeal fricative. It’s a kind of sound you make in your throat.

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