This is another one of those frequently asked questions that we get emailed to our inbox. Fortunately, the answer is quite simple and straightforward.
We simply use numbers when writing on English keyboards to represent certain Arabic letters that have no equivalent sounds in English. The examples below should clarify the matter.
The Arabic letter ح is represented by the number 7. Even though this particular Arabic letter sounds close to the English letter 'H', it would be deceiving for the letter 'H' to represent it. 'H' actually represents the Arabic letter ه which has the same pronunciation.
حبيب is therefore written on English keyboards as 7abeeb, if you saw it written as 'habeeb' and took that pronunciation literally as it was written, it would be incorrect.
The arabic letter ع has absolutely no equivalent pronunciation sound in the English alphabet, therefore we use the number 3 to represent it. For example, the Arabic word for 'eye' is عَين, and this is written as '3ayn' using an English keyboard.
'3' represents ع
'a' represents the short vowel Fat7a that lies on the ع
'y' represents ي
and 'n' represents ن
The following chart shows the mapping between the Latin script and Arabic. It is included in every transcript accompanied with the podcasts.
We highly recommend you try the Arabic Pronunciation Guide. This is a web based app that we developed to help you with the pronunciation of all the Arabic letters and numbers. It also shows the mappings between Latin and Arabic. (Requires Premium Subscription)
Further useful reading on the Arabic Chat Alphabet can be found on Wikipedia here