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5 Must-Know Arabic Sayings about Life

As salam alaykum! (Hi!)

If you’ve ever visited or lived in an Arabic country, you have probably noticed the repetitive use of Arabic sayings, especially in rural areas.

If that’s you, I can safely assume that it wasn’t easy for you to understand many of those Arabic sayings—even if you had someone to translate them for you.

5 Must-Know Arabic Sayings about Life

The reason why you failed to grasp the meaning of these sayings is that the translation of a certain saying in Arabic doesn’t usually mean its equivalent in English.

As a learner myself, not understanding those sayings has often disappointed me and made me doubt my language skills. This made me realize that I must dive deeper into Arabic and explore the meanings of these sayings.

After conducting a lot of research, asking questions, and having conversations on this topic with many locals, I’ve put together this short list of four popular formal Arabic sayings that almost every Arabic speaker uses. And I made sure to include their equivalents and explanations in English.

Before we move on, let me first give you a few techniques that I used to memorize Arabic sayings.

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How to Easily and Effectively Memorize Arabic Sayings

Actions speak louder than words. –Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln is utterly correct in this quote, especially when it comes to learning words and phrases. Writing down Arabic sayings in your copybook and telling everybody that you are going to learn them is usually insufficient. You should always put them into action, digest them, and say them out loud to make learning and memorizing them easier.

The classic “repeat method” that we are taught in language schools is not included in my list, as it’s usually boring and ineffective for most language learners.

Share New Sayings with Your Friends and Language Classmates

By teaching your classmates and friends the new Arabic sayings that you are learning, every proverb will stick in your mind. This is especially effective, as sharing those sayings will require you to explain and translate everything in detail. You can do this in your language school, on the basketball court, or even sitting at the table at home. !فقط إعمل بجد (Just work hard!)

Share New Sayings with Your Friends and Language Classmates!

Use an SRS

SRS is a type of software that automatizes flash cards. It uses a smart algorithm to help you keep up with every saying you add to your vocabulary list. You can add hundreds of flash cards to your SRS program, and it will automatically schedule and organize them for you. You can add any type of content you want to your virtual flash cards (explanations, translations, synonyms, etc.).

There are various SRS software packages available online. For me, Anki is my favorite laptop program for memorizing new sayings.

Get Feedback and Further Explanation from Your Language Partner

A language partner is someone who is a native speaker of the language you want to learn. Most—if not all—successful polyglots and language learners connect with virtual and real-life language partners to help them practice their speaking skills and take their language to the next level.

Get Feedback and Further Explanation from Your Language Partner

In the case of Arabic sayings, your language partner will help you find new proverbs, will explain them to you, and will put those sayings into context for you by giving you examples in which those sayings are used.

Personally, I use HelloTalk, Speaky, and HelloPal to network with new language partners.

Strike Up Conversations in Arabic and Use the Sayings You’ve Learned

Perhaps you’re on vacation with your family in Dubai, or maybe you’re teaching English in an Arabic country. Or maybe you’re just taking an Arabic course in your home country.

Strike Up Conversations in Arabic and Use the Sayings You’ve Learned

Dragging yourself out your house and striking up actual conversations will allow you to flex your language muscles and share the new sayings that you’ve learned. You’re not in an Arabic country? !لا مشكلة (No problem!) You can always record and send a voice note to your language partners or talk to your language school classmates.

Now that you’ve learned the necessary methods to memorize Arabic sayings, you’re all set to start learning your first five sayings.

5 Must-Know Arabic Sayings about Life (and Their English Translations and Meanings)

The sayings included below are merely a drop in the ocean of Arabic sayings, as there are thousands of other proverbs in this language. The purpose behind these that I have listed is to get you started and to introduce you to just a few Arabic sayings.

1. مصائب قوم عند قوم فوائد

Literal English translation: The misfortunes of some people are advantages to others.

English equivalent: One man’s meat is another man’s poison.

Example: محمد: لقد سمعت أن أحمد قد دفع 20 ألف دولار لطبيبه مقابل إجراء عملية جراحية بسيطة. يحيى: حقا, مصائب قوم عند قوم فوائد.

English translation:
Mohamed: “Ahmed’s doctor charged him $20,000 for a simple surgery.”
Yahya: “The misfortunes of some people are advantages to others.”

Meaning: What is misery for someone can be a victory for someone else.

2. السماء لا تمطر ذهبا ولا فضة

Literal English translation: The sky doesn’t rain gold or silver.

English equivalent: Money doesn’t grow on trees.

Example: قال أستاذ لطلابه: أدرسوا جيدا واستغلوا الفرص المتاحة لكم, فالسماء لا تمطر ذهبا ولا فضة.

English translation: “Study hard and don’t miss any opportunities,” a teacher said to his students, “because the sky doesn’t rain gold or silver.”

Meaning: This saying was used for the first time by the Caliph Omar when he heard about a man who was always praying for sustenance without attempting to earn it. That said, it means that if you don’t work, don’t expect to have success with anything.

3. في التأني السلامة, وفي العجلة الندامة

Literal English translation: In caution, there is safety; in haste, repentance.

English equivalent: Don’t rush it.

Example: ياليتني لم أسلم ورقة الإمتحان بسرعة, حقا إن في التأني السلامة, وفي العجلة الندامة.

English translation: I wish that I hadn’t handed the test back so quickly and that I had taken my time and not rushed through it. Indeed, in caution, there is safety; in haste, repentance.

Meaning: This saying can be used wherever speed plays a negative role in a certain situation.

4. تجري الرياح بما لا تشتهي السفن

Literal English translation: The winds do not blow as the vessels wish.

English equivalent: Life doesn’t always pan out the way you’d like it to.

Example: لقد أرادوا أن يأتوا غدا, لكنهم تعرضوا لحادثة سير. تجري الرياح بما لا تشتهي السفن.

English translation: They wanted to visit us tomorrow, but they had a car accident. The winds do not blow as the vessels wish.

Meaning: This proverb is used when someone’s plans come crashing down or do not work out. It’s usually a positive way of describing hard situations people go through.

5. دخول الحمام ليس مثل خروجه

Literal English translation: Entering the bath isn’t the same thing as leaving it.

Example: لبيب: أريد حقا ترك العصابة لكن بعض الأعضاء هددوني بالقتل إن فعلت ذلك.إليا: دخول الحمام ليس مثل خروجه.

English translation:
Labib: I really want to leave the gang but some members threatened me with death if I do that.
Ilya: Entering the bath isn’t like leaving it.

Meaning: This widely-known saying is very common in most Arabic countries, especially Morocco and Egypt. Its origins date back to the Ottoman empire, when a new Turkish bathhouse manager announced free entry for all clients and hung a poster to promote this offer.

This attracted many customers who wanted to try the new bath. While the customers were in the bath, he held their clothes, and when the customers decided to leave, the owner refused to hand over their clothes unless they payed for the use of the bath.

The customers were surprised by what they were told, and used what was written on the sign on the door as an argument.

The bathroom owner’s response was, “Entering the bath isn’t like leaving it.”

Conclusion

Now you might be wondering, “Where can I find more Arabic sayings?”

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ArabicPod101 has got you covered. There you can find more than 1,000 interactive audio and video Arabic lessons where you can learn anything from dialects to famous sayings, from basic day-to-day conversations to wise Arabic quotes, along with PDF lesson notes, flash cards, and effective vocabulary learning tools.

You can access all of this and more by signing up for free using the following link: ArabicPod101

Let’s keep that fire!

Author: Yassir Sahnoun is a writer, polyglot and co-founder of WriteWorldwide. You can learn more about Yassir at his website.

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