Get 31% OFF With The Pretty Big Deal Sale. Ends Soon!
Get 31% OFF With The Pretty Big Deal Sale. Ends Soon!

ArabicPod101.com Blog

Learn Arabic with Free Daily
Audio and Video Lessons!
Start Your Free Trial 6 FREE Features

A Basic Introduction to Arab Culture

Thumbnail

Whether you’ve enrolled in a formal Arabic class or are picking up the language out of personal interest, you should probably start getting familiar with the culture as well.

Becoming familiar with Arab culture and traditions means understanding a lifestyle and point of view far removed from what you’re used to.

Of course, Arabic is spoken in many countries and each of them has its own cultural norms. However, on this page, you’ll get a brief glance at the way culture and language intersect in Arab society.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. Values and Beliefs
  2. Philosophies and Religions
  3. Family
  4. Art
  5. Food
  6. Traditional Holidays
  7. Conclusion

1. Values and Beliefs

An Arab Man Wearing a Turban

Generally speaking, Arab culture values tradition and strength. 

You can see that in the language to some extent, where the Classical Arabic language has diverged significantly into the modern dialects spoken by millions of people in different countries today. Even though this change has taken place naturally, the standards and styles of the classical language, or fus’ha, have been artificially preserved as the only correct way to write in Arabic.

Arabs look to their leaders, both religious and political, for guidance. For example, many Arabs living abroad are happy to follow the teachings of religious scholars in their home countries instead of local ones.

Individual strength and power are also considered very desirable qualities in Arab culture. People strongly dislike being embarrassed in public, and so it’s practically unheard of for an employee to directly contradict their superiors in business meetings, for example. Societies, schools, and businesses are organized into rigid hierarchies, and it’s considered quite rude for an outsider to “shake things up” by subverting that hierarchy.

This sense of hierarchy extends into the household, as parents are seen to have absolute authority over their children. Even in households that aren’t particularly conservative, young adults routinely ask for their parents’ advice on life choices in a way that seems unusual to people living in more independent societies. From a Western point of view, this seems overly restrictive, but from an Arab point of view, it provides much-needed structure and allows young people to learn from the mistakes their elders made.

The other side of this, of course, is the famous culture of welcoming and hospitality. No one can say that Arabs are unwilling to receive guests or share what they have with others.

Anyone who’s traveled to an Arab country knows this from experience. People are extremely welcoming to foreigners and strangers in general, showing them great respect and going the extra mile to make sure they’re comfortable. You can see this even in big-name brands like Emirates Airlines, where customer service is a main selling point.

2. Philosophies and Religions

A Muslim Man Reading the Quran and Praying

In Arab culture, religion is a cornerstone of society.

The stereotypical person living in the Middle East follows Islam, and indeed an overwhelming majority of Arabs are Muslims. This is hardly surprising, given that the Middle East is the birthplace of Mohammed and the site of the Kaaba in Mecca, the destination for millions of Muslims around the world every year during their Hajj.

Different countries in the Middle East (and different regions in those countries) follow different schools of Islam such as Shia, Sunni, and Khariji.

The Middle East also conceived the other Abrahamic religions, Judaism and Christianity. Virtually none of the Jews in the Middle East identify as Arabs, though they may speak Arabic fluently and live among Arabs.

Arab Christians, on the other hand, number in the millions in Egypt, the Levant, and abroad. Arab Christians, despite their religious minority status, tend to be well-educated and relatively wealthy. Many have also played major roles in the culture and politics in their own countries.

Islam is the official religion in: 

  • Algeria
  • Egypt
  • Iraq
  • Jordan
  • Kuwait
  • Libya
  • Morocco
  • Qatar
  • Palestine
  • Oman
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Somalia
  • Tunisia
  • United Arab Emirates
  • Yemen

Of the Arabic-speaking countries, only Lebanon and Syria have no state-mandated religion.

Turning our attention away from religion briefly, philosophers from the Islamic Golden Age (a period from about 700 CE to 1200 CE) have been sorely overlooked in most Western educational curricula. Many, like Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Zakariyya al-Razi, were extremely well-educated polymaths who wrote on medicine, law, chemistry, and ethics. Although one imagines them as religious scholars, some (like Al-Ma’arri) were agnostic or irreligious.

Today, since most Arabic speakers can read Classical Arabic, their texts are available and read in their original form much more widely than those of European philosophers of comparable times!

    → To learn the names of different religions in Arabic, check out our Religion vocabulary list!

3. Family

In keeping with the more traditional attitudes that have been the norm in many Arab societies, the family, or أسرة (‘usra), is extremely important.

Most families are nuclear, with a husband, a wife, and two kids. Same-sex relationships are strongly looked down upon by society in virtually all of the Arabic-speaking countries in North Africa and the Middle East, and same-sex marriages are illegal in all of them as of 2020.

The father figure is the center of the Arabic family, and he is expected to protect and take care of his wife and children financially. A woman is traditionally expected to focus on her children first, though in modern metropolises it’s becoming more common for the wife to work as well.

Although men hold power over women in theory, they also seek their partners’ opinions on business and financial matters. Spouses generally make decisions as a couple.

Children are taught to respect their elders and assume their gender roles early. In Arab culture, elders (such as a grandparent or elderly aunt or uncle) will live in the same house as the nuclear family to be taken care of in old age.

4. Art

Antique Arabic Ceramic Art

If you’re keen on understanding Arab culture, becoming familiar with its artwork is a must. 

Just as the Classical Arabic language has been preserved in Modern Standard Arabic, the art of writing the language has been finely developed over the centuries. Arabic calligraphy is a highly respected art form, tightly associated with Islam.

Just look at the flag of Saudi Arabia, for instance, featuring a sword under the shahada, or Islamic creed: “There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet.” That’s perhaps one of the most recognizable phrases in Arabic calligraphy. By the way, since these are holy words, the Saudi flag is never printed on merchandise or lowered to half-mast in order to avoid disrespecting the creed.

The Arab world has an extremely rich architectural heritage. It’s known for richly dyed stone, soaring arches, intricate tilework, and iconic pillars. This design language has spread around the world, so that whether you go to a mosque in New York, Baghdad, or Kuala Lumpur, you’ll see the same types of designs.

5. Food

Dates, Milk, and Other Arab Foods

We’ve actually come out with a separate article on food recently, so we won’t go into too much detail at this point.

However, suffice it to say that Arab food is based on a lot of grains, meats, herbs, and light sauces without being either spicy or bland.

Chickpeas and beans are staples in the Arab diet, as are rice, pocketbreads, and flatbreads.

Some cuisines require the whole family to share! Food is a social activity in Arab culture, way more so than in Western countries. It’s not unusual, for example, for wedding feasts or even birthday celebrations to involve massive consumption of food and drink—on the level of an entire roasted goat or cow!

Out at restaurants, Arabs tend to fight over who gets to pay the bill, not who has to pay the bill. This can cause feelings of discomfort for people who aren’t able to reciprocate, but the message is one of warmth and kindness. If you feel like you need to pay your friends back for a meal, then you’ll be more likely to hang out with them and enjoy their company in the future.

The Arab palate is no stranger to foreign food, such as Italian pasta, American steak, Chinese noodles, and Japanese sushi. Unfortunately, delicious Arab food from either the Middle East or North Africa has yet to make its way to mainstream culture in the rest of the world.

One thing to note is that pork and alcohol are almost never served in restaurants because they’re considered haram (“forbidden”) in Islam. Pigs are considered unclean animals, and devout Muslims are forbidden from touching or eating them. Consumption of alcohol and drunkenness are considered sins in Islam.

Despite that strict proclamation against both, spirits are brewed and pigs are raised in smaller numbers in many Arab countries such as Egypt and Lebanon. In international areas of major cities, it’s also easy to find hotels catering to foreign guests and serving alcohol or the occasional bacon sandwich. Not in Saudi Arabia, though—it’s actually illegal to bring any pork or alcohol into the country.

    → To learn more on this topic, check out our Culture Class lesson on Arab Foods!

6. Traditional Holidays

Day of Arafah Pilgrimage

In Arab culture, holidays are often a time to get together with loved ones and enjoy each other’s presence. 

The most famous holiday in the Middle East is the same for Muslims everywhere: Ramadan, the holy month of the Islamic calendar. From sunup to sunset each day of this month, Muslims are not allowed to eat or drink (though of course, concessions are made in case of illness or emergency). This is a time for joyous celebration and visiting friends and family. These days, it’s also a huge shopping holiday, with brands offering Ramadan specials left and right.

Different Arab countries naturally have their own holidays as well. New Year’s Day is a big one, and since all Arab countries were colonized by European powers at some point, their relative independence days are great cause for celebration!

7. Conclusion

Culture and language are always deeply intertwined.

In order to really get to know Arab customs and culture, you’ve got to learn Arabic. These are things you can’t see through the lens of translation.

Fortunately, you’re already in the best place to do that: ArabicPod101.com. We offer podcasts, videos, vocabulary lists, and flashcards to help you start from zero and get all the way up to an advanced level. 

Each of our podcast episodes and most of our blog articles have a heavy focus on cultural notes, too. By the end of your Arabic education, you’ll feel like you’ve developed a deep and comfortable understanding of Arab culture. Create your free lifetime account today and start uncovering Arabic with ArabicPod101!

After reading this page, what are your thoughts on Arab culture? Is there any aspect we didn’t include that you want to learn about? Let us know in the comments!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic

A Mouth-Watering Introduction to Arab Food

Thumbnail

The best way to remember things is to connect them with your senses in some way. Remembering new words and rules on paper is a tough task unless you also have something you can feel. Something in the heart.

And they always say food is the best way to the heart.

Fortunately for you, you’ve chosen to learn Arabic—a language spoken across an enormous cultural and culinary tapestry.

In this article, you’ll get the barest glimpse at the amazing diversity on display in the world of Arab food. You’ll even learn some interesting Arabic phrases to go along with your meal!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Let's Cook in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. What They Eat in Arabic-Speaking Countries
  2. In-Country vs. Overseas
  3. Unique Food You Can Only Get Abroad
  4. Food-Related Vocabulary
  5. Bonus: Simple Recipes to Practice at Home
  6. Conclusion

1. What They Eat in Arabic-Speaking Countries

Egyptian Dessert Maamoul

Every country has a national dish (whether or not it’s actually favored by most of the citizens). Since the Arabic language is spoken in so many different places, it’s only fitting that we introduce several different national dishes across the spectrum.

A- كُسْكُس‎ (Kuskus) – Couscous 

Algerian national dish. 

You’ve probably had couscous before, even if you had no idea what it was made of or where it came from. That’s because this grain dish of tiny wheat balls is also used in French cooking and is a staple in some American supermarkets. The name itself comes from the Berber languages, spoken in different areas of North Africa.

B- كبسة‎ (Kabsah) – Kabsa 

Saudi national dish. 

The word كبس‎ (kabasa) means “to press” or “to squeeze,” referring to the way rice, meat, vegetables, and spices are all pressed into one pot. It’s sometimes served with tomato sauce.

C- المسكوف (Masgouf) 

Iraqi national dish. 

The Tigris and Euphrates are massive rivers flowing through Iraq into the Persian Gulf, and they’re also home to huge numbers of carp. To prepare masgouf, one splits open a carp, seasons it with various spices and olive oil, and then slow-cooks it in a special grill for several hours.

D- كشري‎ (Koshari)

Egyptian national dish. 

Kushari is hardly an ancient Egyptian recipe. Rather, it has its roots in the beginning of Egypt’s economic boom of the 1800s when people were coming to the country from all over the world. It’s a street food with rice, pasta, and lentils mixed together, and served with spicy tomato sauce and vinegar.

E- منسف‎ (Mansaf) 

Jordanian national dish. 

This one may be what you think of when you imagine “Arab cuisine.” It’s a large platter of stewed lamb and rice topped with fermented goat’s milk. Traditionally, it’s eaten standing up with the right hand only, though you can also eat it with spoons and plates.

2. In-Country vs. Overseas

Upclose

It’s not just words that can be lost in translation. Recipes that get exported around the world definitely undergo some changes on the journey, whether to suit local palates or just because different ingredients are available in different places.

Take the popular Middle Eastern food حُمُّص‎ (hummus), for example. In the United States, you can find it in the grocery store next to salsas and guacamoles as a refrigerated dip for appetizers. In the Middle East, though, it’s usually prepared fresh and eaten the same day.

Also, you can forget about finding carrot hummus, cauliflower hummus, or sweet potato hummus in ordinary restaurants in the Middle East. The word itself means “chickpeas,” and that’s exactly what you’re going to get.

Next, most people are used to seeing white rice on the menu in Middle Eastern restaurants abroad. That’s definitely a staple, but other grains made from wheat are also quite popular. برغل‎ (Bulgur) and semolina are two more grains that commonly show up in traditional Arab cuisine, as well as فريكة‎ (freekeh), a cereal made from green wheat.

3. Unique Food You Can Only Get Abroad

Mahshi Plate

Some foods can only be found in one country, yet they’re so popular that language learners should know about them. After all, wouldn’t it be great to use your Arabic language skills to order something you couldn’t get back home? Here are a few popular examples of authentic Arab cuisine:

A- مطبق‎ (Muttabak)  

This is a type of omelette pancake with green onion, minced meat, and occasionally other sweet or savory ingredients. The word itself means “folded,” and this type of street food can even be found in Southeast Asian Muslim countries like Malaysia and Indonesia.

B- كُنافة‎ (Kanafeh) 

The kanafeh is a small cake made of super-fine pastry dough soaked in sweet syrup, deep-fried, and served with cheese and nuts. Pistachios are the most common topping. Since these can take a little while to make properly, there are also easier variants which are rolled instead of layered.


C- مَحشي (Mahshi) 

This is a type of stuffed squash served as a main course or as finger food in Egypt and the Levant. It’s similar to dolmas, but the typical “wrapping” is zucchini or eggplant instead of vine leaves.

4. Food-Related Vocabulary

The Interior of a Nice Restaurant

Now it’s time to stop eating and start learning with these restaurant words and phrases in Arabic.

You should be aware (if you aren’t already) that walking into an ordinary restaurant in Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, or any other Arabic-speaking country is going to be a different linguistic environment than what you’re learning in your textbooks. It’s going to be a bit weird if you order in MSA instead of the local dialect.

That said, even if your Modern Standard Arabic is far from beautifully correct, people will greatly appreciate your efforts to connect with the local culture. For that reason, these phrases will be given in MSA.

We’ll cover three different and very useful types of things you might want to say during the course of your restaurant visit.

A- Asking About Meat

Arab cultures overall have nothing against vegetarianism. Although some specific festivals are associated with meat—and although lamb, beef, and poultry are staples of plenty of dishes—there are vegetarian options at any restaurant.

However, when you get the menu, you’ll almost certainly be overwhelmed by Arabic names for dishes you may not recognize, perhaps accompanied by clumsy machine translations.

In those cases, you should ask the waiter directly:

هَل هُناكَ لَحمٌ في هَذا الصَحن؟
hal hunāka laḥmun fī haḏā al-ṣaḥn?
“Does this dish have meat in it?”

It’s possible that the person you speak to might not grasp what you’re saying through the language or culture barrier (after all, if you’re in a smaller place, you might be one of only a few vegetarians that passes through). Try explaining in a different way:

َأنا لا آكُلُ اللَحم.
aʾnā lā ʾākulu al-laḥm.
“I don’t eat meat.”

B- Price and Payment

Once you’ve had your fill, you’ll want to know the damage to your wallet. In many places, such as Lebanon, restaurant culture is more about service than it is in the U.S., and you won’t be given the bill unless you ask for it. (Otherwise, the wait staff would feel as though they’re pressuring you to leave.)

الحِساب، مِن فَضلِك.
al-ḥisāb, min faḍlik.
“The bill, please.”

C- Complimenting the Food

It may come across as oddly charming to some people if they’re not used to it, but a genuine compliment about the food goes over well anywhere.

طَعمُهُ رائِع!
ṭaʿmuhu rāʾiʿ!
“This tastes amazing!”

5. Bonus: Simple Recipes to Practice at Home

A Plate of Falafel

Ready to get cooking? Here are two very easy Arab cuisine recipes you can make at home! 

A- How to Make فَلافِل‎ (Falafel)

Falafel is a dish with roots in Egypt and popularity all over the world. It’s both delicious and easy to make! There are two types of falafel: chickpea falafel which is mostly eaten in the Levant, and fava bean falafel which is eaten in Egypt. Here, we’ll introduce the Levantine Falafel.

Once you have it ready,

1. First, soak dried chickpeas in a bowl of water for an evening or a day in advance.

2. Then combine the chickpeas with parsley, cilantro, mint, onions, and garlic, and add some spices such as salt, pepper, cumin, and cardamom.

3. Throw those in a food processor for a little while. Then refrigerate that for fifteen minutes or so, form them into balls, and fry in hot oil.

They’re best to eat right away, served hot and with additional salt or dipping sauce to taste.

B- How to Make فتوش‎ (Fattoush) 

1. Brush pita bread with olive oil and sprinkle on salt. Break into pieces and bake into croutons.

2. Combine fresh greens (such as purslane or romaine), mint leaves, sumac, tomato, cucumber, and croutons.

The typical signature Fattoush is served with a lemon dressing, though if you don’t have it on hand, try a mint dressing instead. The sumac adds a bit of lemon zest anyway!

6. Conclusion

As we mentioned, there’s really so much to cover when it comes to Middle Eastern cuisine that you could spend a lifetime studying only the food.

Fortunately, any aficionado of the topic already knows a lot of Arabic words just from the food names, like hummus or couscous.

These and other words will pop up often when you use ArabicPod101 to learn and retain your Arabic vocabulary.

In order to keep you motivated during the long journey of learning Arabic, why not check out some interesting cooking channels or food vloggers who use Arabic to share their love of food? You’ll get inspired to create new meals and learn Arabic at the same time—a delicious win-win scenario!

Which Arabic food are you most looking forward to trying, and why? Let us know in the comments!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Let's Cook in Arabic

Overcoming Obstacles in Arabic Grammar

Thumbnail

Some people say that you can study a language and never learn the grammar.

They’ve got some compelling points. 

But the thing is, after enough time, your brain really will pick up a lot of the patterns of a language and you’ll be able to use it correctly and automatically.

The key concept here is “enough time,” though. As it happens, most people don’t have three years from the beginning of their studies to when they want to use it.

This is especially true of Arabic, whose grammar is different from that of English in several key ways. Why wait for your brain to trial-and-error its way into Arabic grammar when you can just learn the main differences yourself?

That’s why, in this article, we’re going to tell you just what to look for. Keep in mind that this isn’t a complete Arabic grammar guide—you’ll need to follow the links for that. Instead, it’s a kind of waypoint map for what you need to be conscious of as you slowly study and assimilate Arabic grammar into your head.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. General Rules
  2. Parts of Speech in Arabic
  3. Arabic Verbs
  4. Arabic Nouns
  5. Simple Sentence Structure in Arabic
  6. Conclusion

1. General Rules

A Man on the Porch Using His Cell Phone

Arabic grammar is a different beast from that of English.

A lot of things are what you might call “opposite.” Not necessarily harder or easier than what you’re used to with English, but instead just starkly different.

Take word order, for example. In Classical Arabic, the verb comes first in the sentence, like this:

  • تَحَدَّثتُ مَع زَوْجَتي عَبرَ الهاتِف.
    taḥaddaṯtu maʿ zawǧatī ʿabra al-hātif.
    “I spoke to my wife on the phone.”

Sometimes, the verb never comes at all—a topic/subject and a predicate is all that you need. These are known as “nominal sentences” in Arabic because they’re structured around nouns instead of verbs.

  • رامي مُهَندِس.
    rāmī muhandis.
    “Rami is an engineer.”

Also, Arabic has more pronouns than English does. Unlike European languages such as Spanish or German, Arabic doesn’t have a “polite” pronoun, but it does have a dual form. This means that we have a separate word for “you” and “they” when you’re talking about exactly two people.

  • أَنتُما هادِئان.
    ʾantumā hādiʾān.
    “You (two) are calm.”
  • أَنتُم هادِئون.
    ʾantum hādiʾūn.
    “You (three or more) are calm.”

In Arabic grammar, pronouns also do interesting things for indicating possession, which we’ll get into a bit later.

Finally, a core concept in Arabic is the idea of word roots, where a set of two to four (usually three) consonants determine the semantic root of an idea. We then add vowels and additional consonants around that root to turn it into different words.

An illustration is worth a thousand words here. The root s-l-m means “whole,” “safe,” or “complete,” and from it has sprung a whole host of words over the centuries. These include: islam, muslim, salaam, taslim, and more.

As you learn more Arabic vocabulary, you’ll be able to use these roots as anchors for your memory.

2. Parts of Speech in Arabic

An Alley in Jerusalem

In traditional Arabic grammar study, there are three parts of speech. Sound like a small number? Arabic actually has the same parts of speech as other languages throughout the world, but they’ve been classified into just three categories according to the Quranic rules of Arabic grammar.

These are:

1.       Nouns – اسم (ism)

2.       Verbs – فِعل (fiʿl)

3.       Particles – حَرف (ḥarf)

Nouns account for a lot of the vocabulary in Arabic grammar, covering what we know in English as nouns, pronouns, adjectives, and adverbs.

Verbs, of course, are the same type of words that you’re used to in other languages. In Arabic, verbs have additional “powers” that deserve their own section (or really, their own article).

Similar to English or German, Arabic verbs can be either “strong” or “weak” (though some people prefer to describe them as “whole” or “broken”) based on their patterns of sound change.

In English, we don’t really have ‘particles,’ though they do exist in many languages of Asia. The concept of a particle in Arabic refers to prepositions, prefixes, conjunctions, and articles.

3. Arabic Verbs

Someone Writing with a Blue Pen

When you’re putting your ideas together in Arabic, you’re going to need some verbs to do so. Although it’s actually possible to make sentences in Arabic without using any verbs, learning and mastering the verb system is an integral part of learning any Arabic beyond simply pointing and grunting.

One interesting thing to note right off the bat is that, in Arabic grammar, verbs are gendered. This is a trait shared by other Semitic languages such as Hebrew. It means that as you speak, you have to take care to use the proper conjugations for men or women depending on your own gender and the gender of your subject.

Another feature that English speakers will find new and interesting is the concept of the dual. This one’s easy to pick up, though. In Classical and Modern Standard Arabic, the dual is a conjugation of a verb designed specifically for two people or two things. So, for one person or thing you use singular; for two, you use dual; and for three or more you use plural.

The tenses are simpler than those in English by far, though they can cause a bit of confusion at times. Arabic doesn’t have a perfect tense corresponding to the English “had done,” so you might get stuck sometimes in longer sentences when you’re looking for just the right way to express a thought you have in English.

In fact, there are only three tenses: the past, present, and future.

However, there are a number of moods, such as the subjunctive, the indicative, and even the jussive—a sort of polite way to give commands in the third person.

  • لِيفعَله
    li-yaf‘al-hu
    “Let him do it.”

Conjugating verbs in Arabic can be different from what you’re used to with European languages. In languages like Spanish, Italian, and French, verbs conjugate with a series of regular changes to the ending or the root.

In Arabic, you have to also look at the beginning of the word.

For instance, “I write” is aktubu while “he writes” is yaktubu. But saying “they (men) write,” you modify the beginning and ending: yaktubuuna.

This just takes a bit more processing power to deal with at speed when you’re reading Arabic text or listening to the spoken language. It all comes with time.

4. Arabic Nouns

Two Cats Snuggling Each Other on a Blanket

In Arabic grammar, nouns have gender, number, and case, similar to languages like German, Latin, or Russian. The good news is, Arabic only has three cases: nominative, accusative, and genitive.

The genitive case in Arabic is used after prepositions and also to show possession and disambiguation. Genitive sentences in Arabic are quite a bit more common than they are in European languages, interestingly enough.

  • قِطَّةُ الْبِنْتِ في الحَديقَةِ.
    qiṭṭaẗu l-binti fī al-ḥadīqati.
    “The girl’s cat is in the garden.”
  • رَنَّ جَرَسُ البابِ.
    ranna ǧarasu al-bābi.
    “The doorbell rang.”

It’s important to note that the cases in Arabic become greatly simplified when you start learning colloquial varieties such as Egyptian Arabic or Saudi Arabic. Simplified to the point that case endings get totally dropped!

5. Simple Sentence Structure in Arabic

Silhouette of a Woman Walking Near The Window at an Airport

Now that we’ve gotten a closer look at the most important details about Arabic nouns and verbs, it’s time to start learning how to put them together.

Working with simple sentences is a great way for beginners in any language to familiarize themselves with the Arabic grammar basics in this regard. It shows you, in context, how words fit together to turn into ideas. The sentence is a complete encapsulation of a thought. Once you understand how they work, you can start making your own.

In fact, learning Arabic with sentences is kind of like a puzzle game. Look at these three phrases carefully.

  • أَيْنَ أَنت؟
    ʾayna ʾant?
    “Where are you?”
  • مِن أَيْنَ أَنت؟
    min ʾayna ʾant?
    “Where are you from?”
  • أَيْنَ المَطار؟
    ʾayna al-maṭār?
    “Where is the airport?”

Just by looking at the first one, you probably wouldn’t know what أين means. However, by carefully examining the other sentences along with their translations, you can start to learn, by process of elimination, the words for “where,” “from,” “you,” and “airport.” 

When you’re dealing with a language like Arabic, which has a lot of differences from English, starting with simple sentences as anchors is a great way to get a good grasp of how your mind needs to function in order to understand the new language. For example, you can see that “where are you” is formed in the same way in Arabic and English, but “where are you from” takes a bit of a turn as “from” goes to the front of the sentence in Arabic.

6. Conclusion

The key study strategy to take home from this is that no matter how convoluted Arabic grammar might seem now, it can be broken down into manageable parts.

This is especially true with Modern Standard Arabic, which is where most of the “really hard stuff” comes from anyway. You can definitely take the slower road of input first, output second there. After all, who would require a first- or second-year student to produce flawless original text in MSA anyway?

By carefully dissecting the sentences and then understanding them as complete expressions of meaning, you’ll assimilate the grammar and syntax of Arabic in a thoughtful, methodical way. Balance grammar study like this with solid examples to memorize, and you’ll be up and running in no time.

Which aspects of Arabic grammar were new to you today, and which ones seem the most difficult so far? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic

Egyptian Mother’s Day: From Deities to Mortals

Considering the fact that Mother’s Day likely arose from deity worship in Ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, it should come as no surprise that we have one day a year where we pamper our mothers. 

In this article, you’ll learn about Mother’s Day in Egypt and how this tradition got its start in modern-day Arab countries. Let’s get started.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic

1. What is Mother’s Day?


Two Children Kissing Their Other on the Cheek

Odds are, you’re already familiar with the concept of عيد الأم (ʿiyd al-ʾum), or Mother’s Day—this holiday is widespread, celebrated in numerous countries around the world. While exact traditions and connotations may vary from one culture to another, one thing remains constant: Mother’s Day is a time to honor and show appreciation for one’s mother. But do you know the origins of this holiday?

Mother’s Day in Ancient Egypt

Deity worship played a major role in Ancient Egypt, with royalty and common folk alike worshipping a plethora of gods and goddesses. Many of the goddesses were viewed as Egyptian symbols for motherhood, femininity, sexuality, life, and even death—for this reason, women who wanted children would often pray to their goddess (or goddesses) of choice for their blessing and the general population would present offerings at their temples on a regular basis. Two of the most popular goddesses throughout Ancient Egypt were Isis and Hathor, both of whom had festivals held in their honor. Many believe these festivals to have been the precursor of Mother’s Day celebrations.

The worship of these goddesses died down over time, and people began to transfer their adoration and respect toward their own mothers. However, the idea of an official Mother’s Day in Egypt did not grow popular until 1943, when an Egyptian journalist named Mustafa Amin brought it up in his book Smiling America. The idea was largely rejected until 1956, when Mother’s Day was officially made a holiday. Keep reading to learn what prompted this change!

Today, Mother’s Day in the Arab world takes place on March 21 to correspond with the first day of spring. 


2. Mother’s Day Celebrations in Egypt

Chocolate Squares

In Egypt, Mother’s Day is celebrated much like it is in the rest of the world. Younger children often present their mothers with a gift of some sort, either handmade or bought from a store. Common Mother’s Day gifts in Egypt include flowers, cards, and شوكولاتة (šūkūlātah), or “chocolate.” Grown children are encouraged to go and visit their mother on this day, sometimes with gifts and other times just to catch up. 

It’s not uncommon for schools to hold a special إحتفال (ʾiḥtifal), or “celebration,” to honor mothers. During these events, the children perform songs dedicated to the topic of mothers.

But the celebration doesn’t end with one’s own أم (ʾum), or “mother”! It’s common for children to give cards or other gifts to their female teachers or other prominent female figures in their lives. In addition, some people choose to brighten the day for those women who either don’t have children or whose children have neglected them. They do this by visiting their homes and giving gifts, just like they would for their own mother. 

Because of the focus on gift-giving, the streets of Egypt—and, in fact, those of most Middle Eastern countries—are filled with flower boutiques, confectionery shops, and other places where you can go to purchase nice gifts for your mother. 

3. From Idea to Implementation: The Backstory

As mentioned, Egyptian Mother’s Day was first introduced by the journalist Mustafa Amin but was largely rejected for over a decade. Do you know what prompted people to begin taking it seriously? 

Not too long after the publishing of his book Smiling America, Mustafa Amin heard a real-life story of a إبن (ʾibn), or “son,” who left his devoted mother all alone and rarely visited after getting married. The mother’s heart was completely broken because she had given everything for him. Saddened by the story, Amin worked even harder to popularize his idea of Mother’s Day. Because he was so driven, he was able to change people’s minds and the holiday was implemented in 1956.


4. Essential Mother’s Day Vocabulary

A Single Red Rose

Whether you’re trying to impress an Arabic-speaking mother-in-law or just want to add some new words to your arsonal, here’s some Arabic Mother’s Day vocabulary you should memorize!

  • عشاء (ʿašāʾ) – “dinner” [noun, masculine]
  • الأحد (al-ʾaḥad) – “Sunday” [noun, masculine]
  • ابنه (ibnah) – “daughter” [noun, feminine]
  • إبن (ʾibn) – “son” [noun, masculine]
  • وردة (warda) – “rose” [noun, feminine]
  • شوكولاتة (šūkūlātah) – “chocolate” [noun, feminine]
  • يحب (yuḥib) – “love” [verb, masculine]
  • أم (ʾum) – “mother” [noun, feminine]
  • هدية (hedeyyah) – “present” [noun, feminine]
  • عيد الأم (ʿiyd al-ʾum) – “Mother’s Day” [noun, masculine]
  • يحتفل (yaḥtafil) – “celebrate” [verb]
  • حب (ḥub) – “love” [noun, masculine]
  • فطور في السرير (fuṭūr fī al-sarīr) – “breakfast in bed” [phrase, masculine]
  • كارت عيد الأم (kārt ʿīd al-ʾum) – “Mother’s Day greeting card” [noun, masculine]
  • إحتفال (ʾiḥtifal) – “celebration” [noun, masculine]

To hear and practice the pronunciation of each word, please visit our Mother’s Day vocabulary list

Final Thoughts

We hope you enjoyed learning about Arab Mother’s Day traditions and the history behind this worldwide-famous holiday. How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? 

If you would like to continue delving into Arab culture and holidays, we recommend the following pages on ArabicPod101.com:

Whether you have an Arabic-speaking mother-in-law you need to impress or you just enjoy learning about languages and cultures, know that ArabicPod101.com can help you reach your goals. On our website, you’ll find tons of fun and useful lessons, vocabulary lists, and blog posts just like this one. Create your free lifetime account today and start learning Arabic like never before!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic

The Top Arabic Quotes to Impress Arabic Speakers

Thumbnail

Arabic is a language of learning and a language of the learned. 

For centuries, Modern Standard Arabic has been used by the greatest thinkers of the Middle East and North Africa to write novels, essays, plays, and speeches of the highest quality. 

When you have a language with such a powerful literary history as Arabic at your fingertips, you want your own Arabic to measure up. But it can be a little difficult if you’re only starting out. In fact, it can be difficult even if you’ve been working on Arabic for a while!

Arabic quotes and sayings can be a great way to remedy this, providing you with cultural insight and more opportunities for growth. The ones we’ve compiled here are ideal for more formal situations, where you need to borrow someone else’s words to spice up your own. Many of them come from famous people, some are translations of well-known foreign quotes, and others are as old as the language itself.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. Quotes About Success
  2. Quotes About Life
  3. Quotes About Happiness
  4. Quotes About Patience
  5. Quotes About Family
  6. Quotes About Friendship
  7. Quotes About Food
  8. Quotes About Health
  9. Quotes About Language Learning
  10. Conclusion

1. Quotes About Success

We’ll start our list with a couple of quotes in Arabic about being successful. These actually speak for themselves without using much flowery language. 

الأَفعالُ أَبلَغُ مِن الأَقوَال.
al-ʾafʿalu ʾablaġu min al-ʾaqwal.
“Promises should be backed by actions.”

This is a classic quote of leadership, and it’s well-known all across the Arab world. In more colloquial English, this would be the equivalent of: “Actions speak louder than words.”

إنَّ مَفاتيحَ الأمورِ العَزائِم.
ʾinna mafātīḥa al-ʾumūri al-ʿazāʾim.
“The key to all things is determination.”

In this quote, the word mafātīḥ literally means “keys.” As you can see, the metaphor holds up in both English and Arabic. Another useful word is ʾumūr, meaning “matters” and coming from the root ‘-m-r (having to do with commanding or instructing).


2. Quotes About Life

A Ship in the Aegean Sea

The following Arabic quotes about life shed light on important truths concerning the world we live in. 

الإسكافي حافي و الحايِك عِريَان.
al-ʾiskāfī ḥāfī wa al-ḥāyik ʿiryan.
“The shoemaker is barefoot and the weaver is naked.”

This quote exists in many languages, even though the English version “the shoemaker’s children go barefoot” isn’t used very often. It’s used to describe a situation where someone doesn’t pay attention to the things nearest them. It’s understandable, though—who wants to work all day at a workbench and then come home to make shoes again in their free time? 

عُصفورٌ في اليَد خَيرٌ مِن عَشَرَة عَلى الشَجَرَة.
ʿuṣfūrun fī al-yad ḫaīrun min ʿašarah ʿalā al-šaǧarah.
“A bird in your hand is better than ten on the tree.”

This quote is pretty similar to its English equivalent: “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush.” The minor difference is in the number of birds.

تَجري الرِياحُ بِما لا تَشتَهي السُفُن.
taǧrī al-riīāḥu bimā lā taštahī al-sufun.
“Winds blow counter to what ships want.”

The word rih (“wind”) is an ancient Semitic word with cognates in both Hebrew and Aramaic. Appropriately, this quote is attributed to Al-Mutanabbi (المتنبي), an enormously famous and successful tenth-century poet who lived in what is now Iraq. The quote basically means that you can’t always get what you want.

3. Quotes About Happiness

Feeling down? Read through these two Arabic quotes about joy and happiness. 

وَمَن يَتَهَيَّب صُعودَ الجِبال يَعِش أَبَدَ الدَهرِ بَيْنَ الحُفَرِ.
waman yatahayyab ṣuʿūda al-ǧibal- yaʿiš ʾabada al-dahri bayna al-ḥufari.
“He who is scared of climbing mountains lives among hills forever.”

This quote means that if you never challenge yourself, you never expand your own horizons. By never leaving your hills, you never get to discover the beauty of the mountains.

اِتَّقِ شَرَّ الحَليمِ إذا غَضِب.
ittaqi šarra al-ḥalīmi ʾiḏā ġaḍib.
“Beware the level-headed (calm/patient) person if they get angry.”

This quote is useful advice, but if you say it when you get angry, you’ll come off as pretty threatening—it’s better to just turn the other cheek.


4. Quotes About Patience

A Woman Doing Yoga at Sunset

Here are a couple of Arabic quotes on patience that shed light on the benefits of waiting with a calm attitude. 

إن غَداً لِناظِرِهِ قَريب.
ʾinna ġadan lināẓirihi qarīb.
“Tomorrow is nearby if one has patience.”

The word “patience” doesn’t actually appear in this quote; instead, it means something like “tomorrow is in sight.” Use this quote at the end of a long day when you’re nearly finished with what you have to do.

اِصبِر تَنُل.
iṣbir tanul.
“Be patient (and you’ll reach your goal).”

On the surface, these two words are just “have patience.” However, this is actually a well-known set phrase of a quote that can be found on tons of Arabic Instagram, Pinterest, and other social media posts. 

5. Quotes About Family

Family is extremely important in Arab culture, and the relationship between parents and children is often much more conservative than what’s expected in the West. Check out these Arabic quotes about family to gain some cultural perspective on the topic!

ابنك هو وزغير ربّيه وهو وكبير خاويه
Ibnak hwa zghir rabih, whwa kbir khaawih.
“Discipline your son when he’s young, and be his friend when he grows up.”

This quote reflects the perspective of many parents. You should guide and correct your child, but when they become an adult, you can treat them as equals.

طب الجرة ع تمّها بتطلع البنت لإمّها
Tob aljara eala tamha, btitlaea lbint la’imha.
“Turn over the jar, and the daughter comes out like her mother.”

In English, we tend to say “like father, like son,” but this quote from Egypt gets the same meaning across when used for women. 


6. Quotes About Friendship

Two Friends Walking in the Dark

Friends are one of life’s greatest joys and necessities. Read these Arabic quotes about friendship to see how friends are perceived in Arab culture.

إذا كان حبيبك عسل ما تلحسوش كله
Idha kan habibak easal matlahsush kolo.
“Even if friends are honey, don’t lick them all up.”

This is a nice twist on classic sentiments about how friends are valuable/golden/etc. Even if that’s the case, don’t take advantage of your friends—if you do, you’ll have no “honey” left!

المشي مع صديق في الظلام أفضل من المشي وحيداً في الضوء. 
Almashyo maea sadiqi fi dhalam afdali min almashyi wahidan fi daw’.
“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”

This poetic quote shows us that friends are valuable in dangerous or worrisome situations. In addition, even during happy times, it’s always better to have a friend by your side than to be alone.


7. Quotes About Food

Some Beans

Who doesn’t love to sit down and enjoy some good food now and then? Here are a couple of unique Arabic quotes that touch on the topic of food.

أَقلِل طَعامَك تَجِد مَنامَك.
ʾaqlil ṭaʿāmak taǧid manāmak.
“Eat less food and you’ll get more sleep.”

You might be a little surprised to see this quote, as stereotypes would certainly dictate that you eat as much delicious Arab food as possible. However, everyone knows it’s rough to sleep on a full stomach: life needs balance.

ما تقول فول لَيْصير بِالمَكيُول.
mā tqūl fūl layṣīr bilmakyūl.
“Don’t say ‘beans’ until they are on the measuring scale.”

In this vegetarian alternative to “don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched,” you’re once again at a marketplace. Imagine somebody asks “What are you buying?” Even if you fully intend to buy fawal (“beans”), you don’t actually have any beans until they’re being measured out to you. 

8. Quotes About Health

A Sick Girl Wrapped in a Blanket

One should always prioritize their health, as good health is mandatory in completing other important goals. 

الصِحَّة تاجٌ عَلى رُؤوس الأَصِحّاء لا يَراهُ إلّا المَرضى.
al-ṣiḥḥah tāǧun ʿalā ruʾūs al-ʾaṣiḥḥāʾ lā yarāhu ʾillā al-marḍā.
“Good health is a crown worn by the healthy that only the ill can see.”

We normally think about being healthy as the default state, but from the perspective of a sick person, health is as far away as being a king seems to a poor person.

اِللي عَلى راسُه بَطحَة يِحَسِّس عَليها.
illī ʿalā rāsuh baṭḥah yiḥassis ʿalīhā.
“Whoever has a head-wound keeps feeling it.”

Hopefully you haven’t got any head-wounds to verify whether this quote is true or not! This somewhat gruesome quote is attributed to Egyptian Arabic, so you may not run into it in other countries. Imagine that you’ve got a bunch of soldiers lined up and you want to test who is the toughest. Well, if one of them has a wound, they’ll probably keep inadvertently cradling it. For this reason, the quote means: “A guilty person always gives themself away.”

9. Quotes About Language Learning

To close, here are three quotes about language learning. Successfully learning a language is a serious challenge that can teach you about life, so you’ll find that these are also pretty inspiring quotes in general.

لُغَةٌ جَديدَة هِيَ حَياةٌ جَديدَة. 
luġaẗun ǧadīdah hiya ḥaīāẗun ǧadīdah.
“A new language is a new life.”

الرَجُل اَلَّذي يَعرِف لُغَتَيْن يُساوِي رَجُلَين. 
al-raǧul allaḏī yaʿrif luġatayn yusāwi raǧulaīn.
“A man that knows two languages is as good as two men.”

مَعرِفَةُ اللُغات مَدخَل إلى الحِكمَة. 
maʿrifaẗu al-luġāt madḫal ʾilā al-ḥikmah.
“Knowledge of languages is the doorway to wisdom.”


10. Conclusion

You can’t really grasp the entirety of Arabic literary culture through just a handful of quotes—but you can get a nice glance of the surface. 

In choosing to learn Arabic, you’ve decided to go beyond what a lot of people are willing to do, and the reward for that is pretty hefty.

Now, as for the rest of the language…

Several of these quotes come directly from ArabicPod101 lessons, and that’s not all the site has to offer. With articles, videos, and the famous podcast, you’ll be well-equipped to build the foundations you need to master the Arabic language. 

Which Arabic quote was your favorite, and why? Let us (and your fellow Arabic-learners) know in the comments!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic

Study with YouTube: Arabic Channels You’ll Love!

Thumbnail

Have you been binging on YouTube lately? Hopefully not in English!

To supplement your normal Arabic lessons, YouTube videos in your target language can be of immense help.  YouTube is a fantastic tool for language learning, more so than most people give it credit for. 

And when you’re studying a world language like Arabic, you’ll practically be spoiled for choice when it comes to deciding what to watch. There’s seriously something out there for everybody! 

Interested in gaming? Arabic gamers. Food? You betcha. Documentaries? Right there with you. 

And even if you’re just beginning to get comfortable with Arabic, there are still fantastic free resources on Arabic YouTube channels to guide you along the way—including one that you’ll find very familiar, indeed.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. The Best Arabic YouTube Channels for Learners at Any Level
  2. Conclusion

1. The Best Arabic YouTube Channels for Learners at Any Level

1. Learn Arabic with Movies and Drama


Category: Educational
Level: Intermediate
Dialect: Various

The Arabic language doesn’t have a ton of cultural capital in the Western world, and that’s a crying shame. When you learn Arabic, you open your ears and eyes to some amazing film and edge-of-your-seat television—as well as a truly magnificent collection of soap operas.

This channel has not only pronunciation videos to help you understand the subtleties of Arabic words, but also a short series where the creator explains certain lines from real TV dramas. He breaks them apart and helps you understand real Arabic as used in media, giving you a huge boost in your listening comprehension.

2. Ahlan Simsim


Category: Kids’ TV
Level: Beginner-Intermediate
Dialect: MSA, Gulf Arabic

Ahlan Simsim was one of the first regional varieties of the world-famous American show Sesame Street, originally broadcast in the 1970s. It got canceled after a while, but in the 2010s it was brought back with a wonderful variety of clips on YouTube.

The first time you watch an episode, you might think that it’s too advanced for you – after all, they speak only in Arabic the whole time, and there are no subtitles. 

But the repetitive nature of kids’ programming, some excellently catchy songs, and a production style built on decades of educational TV say otherwise. 

After just a couple of episodes, you’ll be picking up new words and phrases—plus, if you’re familiar with the original Sesame Street, you’ll get to see the way things are localized into other cultures.

3. Saudi Gamer


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m4gQso6JLYw

Category: Gaming
Level: Advanced
Dialect: Gulf

Watch your favorite games being played with commentary and reactions in Gulf Arabic! Sadly, this video series was discontinued about a year ago, but Saudi Gamer was one of the most popular Arabic-speaking YouTubers in his day, and he uploaded videos from every kind of genre—particularly action and VR.

One considerate thing he does is translate English text when necessary for his audience to understand. Obviously, not every game has an Arabic translation, so you can use these translated words as anchors when he loses you with his rapid-fire speaking style. This is definitely for advanced learners!

4. Lift & Cheat


Category: Food
Level: Intermediate-Advanced
Dialect: Gulf

From the title, you might think that this is a combination fitness and food channel. Nope—these days at least, it’s all about the food. 

From street food tours in Europe to the most expensive steak in the country, these two hosts have wonderful energy between them and clearly have a great time eating lots and lots of excellent food. 

They speak Gulf Arabic in their videos, but they subtitle all the popular ones in English so that you can follow along even as you get used to the Gulf Arabic dialect. 

The craft and passion on display in this Arabic food YouTube channel truly sets these apart from the rest, and you may want to start learning Gulf Arabic after watching it!

5. Marwa Yehia

Category: Beauty
Level: Intermediate-Advanced

If there’s one type of video you can find in any language on the planet, it’s a makeup tutorial. Arabic is no exception. Out of hundreds of candidates, we’ve chosen Marwa Yehia for a couple of reasons.

First, she speaks Egyptian Arabic relatively slowly and clearly without the crazy editing that some people prefer. 

Second, she has a huge following and a large network that shows her tutorials are easy to follow and work well for a lot of people! 

Finally, most of her videos have professionally done English subtitles so you can check your comprehension. ouTubers focused on just one subject like this tend to be a little easier to understand because their content all stays within one area of vocabulary. Once you get used to the nuances of one person’s accent, you can more easily transfer that knowledge to other people’s voices.

6. Learn with Safaa


Category: Education
Level: Beginner
Dialect: MSA

Since Arabic sentence structure is so different from that of English, it’s a wonder more people don’t teach like Safaa does. 

In her YouTube Arabic language lessons, Arabic sentences are color-coded so that you can see exactly how the words line up with the English translations. She’s also included all the vowel marks in the Arabic so you can learn to recognize those too, as they appear in your textbooks.

Her videos move at a very gentle pace, but this is valuable with a language like Arabic with such different pronunciation compared to European languages. It’s good to balance some super-slow and super-clear pronunciation videos with more natural speech.

7. Michael George


Category: Educational
Level: Beginner-Intermediate
Dialect: MSA and Egyptian

It’s like he says on his cover photo: Arabic is not hard anymore! Michael George has recorded several dozen individual phrases and sentences, but that’s not what his channel is best known for.

He’s done a short YouTube Arabic series where he records a Modern Standard Arabic short story or joke, and then he painstakingly goes through each sentence and each word. 

This is an extremely valuable resource for people just getting their heads around Arabic syntax, as seeing the function of every word will make you fully understand how the sentence and the story flow.

By the way, if you’re interested in Egyptian Arabic, he’s also got a number of videos explaining particulars of that language.

8. DW Documentary


Category: Documentary
Level: Advanced
Dialect: MSA

Deutsche Welle is a public German television station that does excellent reporting on European and international news and history. They have a number of multilingual channels, including this one with broadcasters speaking beautiful MSA. They also upload very frequently!

When interviewees speak English, German, or another language other than Arabic, it’s dubbed over in MSA. 

This has its pros and cons compared to having subtitles. On the one hand, it can be a little jarring to hear the original language in the background, but on the other, you can stay immersed in an MSA world more consistently.

9. Ananas


Category: News
Level: Intermediate
Dialect: MSA

One theme we’ve come back to again and again so far is the importance of subtitles in your learning. This is particularly important when you have to get used to an entirely new alphabet, because you’ll have to train your brain to associate a new set of symbols with a new set of sounds and meanings.

Fortunately, Ananas is here to help, as they’ve got a great set of songs and news broadcasts in Arabic with Arabic subtitles, including some with the vowels marked! Quite considerately, they’ve included news broadcasts about things happening all over the globe, not just in Arabic-speaking countries. After all, there are Arabic learners in every country! 

10. ArabicPod101


Category: Educational
Level: All levels
Dialect: MSA , Egyptian Arabic, Moroccan Arabic

Yes, that’s right, ArabicPod101 is on here too, and for good reason! On YouTube, ArabicPod101 publishes loads of excellent material breaking down grammar and helping you correctly pronounce Arabic words.

Perhaps even more exciting, though, are the listening comprehension videos. These are super-helpful for slowly developing your comprehension and your vocabulary, since each conversation is repeated twice, again with the benefit of subtitles in English and Arabic! 

Seriously, you don’t want to pass these up. 

2. Conclusion

The best way to learn Arabic through YouTube is to not try too hard. When you step outside of a curated space like a course, you’re opening yourself up to potential inaccuracies in your content or learning from people who don’t really know how to teach.

That said, the big advantage of working with natural Arabic content is that you’ll rapidly develop your listening skills, and over time you’ll pick up a lot of the nuances of natural Arabic speech.

The best middle ground, then, is a combination of these free resources and ArabicPod101. Our podcast lessons guide you through the hardest parts of Arabic grammar and vocabulary, helping you along the way with features like flashcards to help you train your brain.

As you learn new words through our podcast lessons, you should also be regularly watching things in Arabic and looking for your new phrases. Seeing what you learned appear “in the wild” is a great way to make sure the memories stick.

Then before you know it, you’ll be following along with an Arabic video and not even needing to look up a single word. That’s when you know your Arabic has reached great heights. 

Which one of these Arabic YouTube channels interests you the most? Do you know of any good ones we missed? Let us, and your fellow learners, know in the comments!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic

Different Arabic Dialects: Which One Should You Learn?

Thumbnail

Before too long in your Arabic studies, people are going to ask you a simple question:

Which dialect are you going for?

Well, it sounds simple. But there’s a lot under the surface. For example, how many different Arabic dialects are there? Where are they spoken, and where are they understood? Who teaches what dialects?

These questions don’t have easy answers. Learning more about this topic, though, will help you see a broader picture of Arab culture and history in general—and we’ll tell you up front that no matter which dialect you choose, you will be richer for it. Start with a bonus, and download the Must-Know Beginner Vocabulary PDF for FREE!(Logged-In Member Only)

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. An Overview of the Arabic Language, Part 1: Legal Recognition
  2. Dialects and Their Status
  3. Modern Standard Arabic
  4. Maghrebi (Moroccan) Arabic
  5. Egyptian Arabic
  6. Gulf Arabic
  7. Levantine Arabic
  8. How Much Do Native Speakers Understand?
  9. Which One is Best to Learn?
  10. Conclusion

1. An Overview of the Arabic Language, Part 1: Legal Recognition

Woman Thinking About Something

Makes sense to start here, right? If a country adopts a language for its official use, it’s a good bet that it will be easy to learn about it.

Arabic is the only official language in fifteen different countries, including Egypt, Jordan, Libya, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. It’s co-official in ten more, including Iraq, Tanzania, Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, and Somalia.

Arabic is also recognized as a minority language in Cyprus, Iran, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Turkey; it’s given special status in several other countries, including Israel, Pakistan, and the Philippines.

Naturally, some of these places have more Arabic speakers than others—very few Filipinos or Turks end up fluent in Arabic. They all, however, contribute to the enormous tapestry of diverse Arabic dialects that exist throughout the world.

2. Dialects and Their Status

To put it briefly, Arabic speakers from different countries will often have a hard time understanding each other. The Arabic language dialects of different regions have diverged quite a lot.

However, the written Arabic language has remained mostly unchanged since its beginnings, in fact getting slightly simpler over time. In effect, there’s a huge difference between formal Arabic writing and casual Arabic speech, so much so that they can be called two separate languages.

The vast majority of written Arabic that you’ll encounter is going to be in Modern Standard Arabic, also called MSA. Only small bodies of literature, poetry, and songs are written in dialects.

The “big question” for Arabic learners is this: Dialect or MSA? Before we give you an answer, let’s take a closer look at the differences between Modern Standard Arabic vs. dialects.

3. Modern Standard Arabic

Quran

The Arabic MSA dialect is a slightly simplified version of the Classical Arabic used to write the Quran. 

If you learn it exactly as prescribed by the strictest Arabic teachers, you’ll deal with a pretty staggering (for an English-speaker) number of consonants, case endings, grammatical agreements, and verb forms that don’t exist in the spoken languages anymore. 

That’s right—it’s objectively much more complicated grammatically than all of the dialects.

MSA is very often described as “rigid.” That’s because, without any governing language body, native speakers of dialects are rarely taught that anything is right or wrong in their dialects, while in school, they’re constantly told by their teachers that they’re making mistakes. 

Of course, the dialects have many rules, but the point is that they’re not as formalized as the rules of MSA.

Coming from no Arabic background, it may actually be slightly easier for you to learn MSA because you won’t have a perfectly formed dialect in your head leading you astray as you read and write.

4. Maghrebi (Moroccan) Arabic

Starting from the western part of the Arabic-speaking regions, we have Maghrebi Arabic, spoken in Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. 

Many people consider this dialect to be the most divergent one by far, enough to make it very hard to understand for native speakers. Many speakers of other Arabic dialects even have a first reaction of “Is this really Arabic?”

In fact, this form of Arabic has many complex variations and accents within this region, so that one’s word choice might give away their origin even if they’re from the same larger geographic area. The most prestigious dialect in this region is the Moroccan Arabic dialect, and you can find resources for learning it online pretty easily.

What exactly makes it so hard? A lot of unstressed vowels simply get deleted, for one. This leads to consonant clusters that don’t show up in other dialects of Arabic. So for instance, the word for “sky” in MSA is samaa’, while in Maghrebi Arabic it’s sma.

Another reason is that there are a lot of French-derived loanwords in Maghrebi Arabic. The word for “cheese” is jobn in MSA, but formaj here (from the French fromage).

Anecdotally, some people from the Maghreb tend to be better at speaking MSA than, say, Egyptians. This is because they have to put in more effort to speak it than people who speak a widely understood colloquial dialect!

Most foreigners learning a Maghrebi dialect are doing so for travel, and so they’re probably interested in Morocco, as that’s the most touristic country in the region. 

But even inside this dialect group, you’ll still find diversity. The word for “same,” ironically enough, is bhalbhal in Morocco but kifkif in Algeria!

5. Egyptian Arabic

Camel with Calf

Next we’ve got Egyptian Arabic. This one you’ve almost definitely heard of, since it’s by far the biggest cultural presence of any colloquial dialect.

That’s because Egypt is famous within the Arab world for its movies and TV. Seriously—that’s all it takes for your dialect to become famous.

Because of all the star power, it’s widely understood in the Arab world, and many people from other countries are able to make some changes to their speech to approximate the Arabic dialects in Egypt.

Perhaps the most obvious of these changes is the pronunciation of the letter ج, which is a “j” (as in “judge”) sound in most dialects, but a “g” (as in “gum”) in Egypt.

Egyptian Arabic is related to the Arabic Sudanese dialect, which doesn’t have the same prestige but still has more than thirty-million speakers. Sudanese Arabic keeps the original pronunciation of ج, and so some people say that it’s a little bit “clearer” for foreign learners.

6. Gulf Arabic

Dubai

If you just look at the Arabian Gulf, you’ll see that it’s dominated by Saudi Arabia. But that doesn’t mean it’s dominated by just one dialect. Instead, there are multiple dialects of Gulf Arabic, too, divided roughly into north, south, east, west, and central dialects.

In general, the Arabic Gulf dialect isn’t as “prestigious” compared to the others. If you travel outside of the Gulf and speak it, you may end up sounding provincial. Even inside the geographic region, you’re likely to meet different dialect-speakers instead of people aiming for the dialect of the capital.

Some of the biggest differences are that the vowel combinations ow and ay are simply o and e respectively, and that ك makes a “ch” sound instead of a “k” sound.

We’ll include the Arabic Iraqi dialect here too, just because there are, unfortunately, relatively few resources available for learning about it. Broadly speaking, it’s a bit similar to Gulf Arabic, with a couple of small sound changes. 

It’s pretty hard for an Egyptian- or Maghrebi-speaker to understand at first though, because it has a different cadence to it.

Iraqi Arabic has English loanwords in unexpected places, such as tire and brake which remain virtually unchanged from their English equivalents.

7. Levantine Arabic

“The Levant” is a region in the Eastern Mediterranean that roughly includes Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, and Cyprus. 

You might think that the name comes from “Lebanon,” but in fact, it comes from the same Latin root as “levitate,” referring to the sun rising in the sky. There’s also a large number of speakers from Lebanon, so it’s easy to get confused!

The Arabic Levantine dialect is probably one of the most-learned these days after Egyptian Arabic, because of the instability in that area forcing millions of refugees to travel to other countries. For example, most Arabic teachers in Europe are likely to be from that region.

If you’ve heard of “Syrian Arabic,” then you’ve heard of Levantine Arabic. This “prestige dialect” is sometimes taken to be that of Damascus, Syria’s capital.

Levantine Arabic, as one would expect from its location, has many loanwords from Turkish, Aramaic, and Hebrew. بوظة  (boza), for instance, is a Turkish loan meaning “ice cream,” and شيروتيم (shirutim) means “toilets.” 

As part of that area was under French control for some years following the First World War, some words from French have made it in as well, such as بلكون (balcon) for “balcony.”

Many people say that the sound system is softer and the grammatical system is easier than those in MSA. 

The dual grammatical form, and some special tricks with the verbs in different positions, simply don’t exist in Levantine Arabic, letting legions of students sigh in relief. However, that means that native speakers have to work that much harder to learn those features of MSA!

8. How Much Do Native Speakers Understand?

This is a really interesting question that has a ton of different answers depending on who you’re talking to.

Some people maintain that these are totally separate languages, and others maintain that you can pick any of them up with enough exposure. Who’s right?

It all depends on your experience growing up. If you were the type of Arabic-speaker to have great MSA classes, friends from different regions, and an interest in TV shows from all over, it’s going to be far, far easier for you to understand new dialects than if none of those things were true.

There are plenty of people, in contrast, who grew up mostly listening to their own dialects, and perhaps a few others. To them, far-removed dialects sound like total gibberish!

Lastly, people who speak any language make an effort to standardize their speech or play to the listener’s strengths when speaking to somebody new. There’s always a time in introductory conversations when somebody tests the waters a little by referencing something or using a more “in-group” word.

In educated settings, people will use more MSA and less regional vocabulary, even if nobody’s actually speaking “pure” MSA. If nobody present is that good at MSA, they may try to adapt to whichever person’s dialect is more prestigious—thus, an Iraqi person speaking to an Egyptian person might make an effort to use some typical Egyptian phrasings instead of Sudanese phrasings.

9. Which One is Best to Learn?

Okay, so what’s the best Arabic dialect to learn? You can read a dozen different articles on this topic and get a dozen different answers.

Our stance here is that you should go with Modern Standard Arabic as your foundation, and then expand to other dialects as you see fit. This is for a few reasons.

1. You’ll get respect from native speakers.

Remember, Arabic-speakers think of MSA as hard. A foreigner who can speak it correctly and fluently is a foreigner who has put an enormous amount of work into learning their language and culture. That foreigner immediately wins charisma points.

2. Dialects will be much easier.

As you inevitably expand into dialects to actually hang out with native Arabic-speakers, it will be easy to use your foundation in MSA to learn new vocabulary and fit it into a more simplified grammar structure. Going from a dialect to MSA, though, you’ll have to put in a lot more work and remember a whole lot more seemingly arbitrary rules. Get those rules fixed in your mind at first, for sure.

3. You can read and be understood wherever you go.

Woman Holding Map and Looking Ahead

There’s a lot of text in the world, and little is written in dialects. You’ll be able to read the MSA in newspapers, magazines, and online from Morocco to Iraq. 

Plus, most people you speak to will be able to understand you. If they can’t speak MSA back to you, they might be able to communicate some other way or find someone who can—and that’s a whole lot different from speaking only English and trying to accomplish the same thing.

From our point of view, the only reason you might want to focus only on a dialect first is if you have an immediate social need, such as communicating with new neighbors or a partner’s family. If you’ve got time to wait, go for MSA. However, starting with a dialect works for some people who prefer to have a good time watching and listening to media, while also training their ears to understand a new language.

10. Conclusion

So what do you think? Will you head for the eastern shores of the Mediterranean and learn Levantine Arabic, enjoy the glamour of Egyptian Arabic, dive into literature with MSA, or something else entirely?

Right now, ArabicPod101 focuses on Egyptian Arabic and MSA, and we’ve got a huge library of lessons and course material, including some lessons for beginner Moroccan Arabic. Even if you do end up going for a smaller local dialect, the articles here on etiquette and culture may still be of some use to you.

The important thing is to keep your curiosity strong and never stop learning. That’s how you become a master of all things Arabic!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic

Is Arabic Hard to Learn? Yes and No.

Thumbnail

“You’re learning Arabic? Wow, I could never do that!”

You’ve probably heard that sentiment, or something like it, dozens of times. Or perhaps you’ve become intimidated hearing it said to other people. 

For English-speakers, Arabic has a reputation for being an incredibly tough language to learn. Nobody offers Arabic classes in middle school, and nobody talks about picking up Arabic from watching cartoons.

But does Arabic deserve such a reputation? Is Arabic hard to learn? Could it be that there’s more to a language than its perceived difficulty? Let’s find out!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Learning Arabic Table of Contents
  1. Is Arabic Really the Hardest Language?
  2. Why Arabic is Hard to Learn
  3. Why Arabic is Easier Than You Think
  4. What Every New Arabic Learner Should Know
  5. How to Start Learning Arabic
  6. What ArabicPod101 Can Do for You
  7. Conclusion

1. Is Arabic Really the Hardest Language?

A Boy Listening to Music After Getting a Good Grade

The United States government seems to think so.

The Department of State in the U.S. has spent decades teaching languages to people who want to go abroad and serve in the military or as part of the diplomatic corps. According to them, it takes the average motivated learner about eighty-eight weeks of full-time study to become proficient in Modern Standard Arabic.

That’s on the same level as Mandarin, Japanese, and Korean—languages which are also famous for not being a walk in the park.

And when you consider that you might not be quite as motivated as a future diplomat, nor have the resources available to you to study full-time, you might start to get a little worried about your chances.

There’s one more thing that should give you pause. Think about how many Arabic language classes there are available to you, compared to language classes for other, “easier” languages. If Arabic were easier, wouldn’t more people be studying it?

But wait—if Arabic is so hard, how come it’s one of the most-spoken languages on the planet? How come you can go to a mosque in practically any city in the world and find people who can comfortably explain what Classical Arabic scripture means?

As it turns out, the Arabic language is hard in some areas, but it has some easy parts too, which balance out the load. 

2. Why Arabic is Hard to Learn

A Kid Stressed Out with His Homework

First, though, some details on why Arabic has its reputation.

The first impression that most people have is that Arabic sounds hard. For people used to the consonant-vowel rhythm of Spanish or Japanese, the numerous consonant clusters and rare sounds in Arabic can cause learning difficulty.

Arabic has some “pharyngeal” consonants that are literally made by constricting the throat. Now, it’s important to note that there’s nothing inherently difficult about sounds made from the throat—little children who grow up speaking Arabic do it all the time.

But you probably aren’t used to it if you grew up with a European or East Asian linguistic background (though Danish does actually have some pharyngeal sounds). That means it takes some serious conditioning to make these sounds in isolation, and even more to speak fluently with these sounds in the middle of words.

Another thing that makes the Arabic language hard to learn is the case system.

Cases are word endings that give additional information about which words in the sentence are the subjects, objects, and direct objects. This information is invisible in English, but it’s clear in languages with cases.

For instance, look at these simple sentences:

“The house is hot.”
البَيْتُ جَميل.
al-baytu ǧamīl.

“I entered the house now.”
دَخَلتُ البَيتَ الآن.
daḫaltu al-bayta al-ʾān.

As you can see, the word البيت (al-bayt), meaning “house,” changes in the second sentence because it’s the direct object, as opposed to the first sentence where it was the subject. Modern Standard Arabic-learners have to remember these changes for every noun and adjective—and for both genders!

If all of this has been putting you off, don’t run away just yet. It’s not all bad news when it comes to learning Arabic! 

3. Why Arabic is Easier Than You Think

A Woman All Finished with Her Homework

Fortunately, there are definitely some parts of Arabic that are easier to learn than others.

Chief among these is probably the loanwords. In today’s Arabic-speaking world, there’s nobody going around saying that you absolutely must use pure Arabic vocabulary dating back centuries. Take a look at any of the Arabic vocabulary lists floating around, and you’ll see plenty of loanwords, like al-intarnet for “Internet.”

There are also dozens upon dozens of Arabic words that you already know, thanks to language transfer happening in the opposite direction.

Words like سبانخ (sabanekh), or “spinach,” and مطرح (matrah), or “mattress,” have changed over the centuries, but they’re just a few examples of the rich vocabulary brought to Europe from the Middle East.

Another pretty cool thing about learning Arabic is the triliteral root system. Most everybody who’s thought about learning Arabic has heard of how words tend to be formed with three (sometimes up to four or five) consonants, which then stay consistent as vowels and consonants are added in-between the root letters to make other words.

It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you fully understand the system, you’ll see that there’s actually a lot of value in it.

Take a word like ‘-l-m, which has to do with “knowing.” You could learn the words ‘alima (“to know”) and ‘allama (“to teach”) as separate words, but that might be pretty confusing.

However, the consonant being doubled is actually a pattern (called the second form), and it refers to causation and verb transitivity. Teaching is “causing to know,” and that pattern will hold true for tons of other Arabic verbs! 

4. What Every New Arabic Learner Should Know

Casablanca in Morocco

The big question for most Arabic learners is “MSA or dialect?”

That’s because there are many, many articles out there with strong opinions on one side of the debate or the other.

People just learning Arabic should be aware of the fact that Modern Standard Arabic isn’t used day-to-day in Arabic-speaking countries. It’s considered the formal language appropriate for writing and news broadcasts, not for chatting with others.

On the other hand, it’s tough to find good, comprehensive resources for the dialects of Arabic that are actually spoken everywhere in the Middle East and North Africa.

For that reason, ArabicPod101 focuses on both Modern Standard Arabic and spoken dialects of Arabic. This allows you to have a strong base, but also be able to communicate with locals in a natural spoken dialect.

MSA is much more difficult than any dialect, by the way. A lot of grammatical features (such as the cases) have been simplified considerably in actual spoken dialects.

You won’t need to actually speak or write MSA unless you find yourself taking a job in Arabic media, or if you really want to make an impression of formality.

So don’t worry about learning how to produce the complexities of MSA that you see. You’ve just got to be able to understand them. 

5. How to Start Learning Arabic

A Man Listening to Music with Headphones

Given the difficult sounds that exist in the Arabic language, you should definitely focus on pronunciation first.

If you can’t correctly hear and produce each sound, then you’ll go through your whole Arabic career with two big problems—you’ll have a heavy accent and you’ll have a really hard time telling similar words apart.

Next, use a good course like ArabicPod101 to guide you through the process of slowly building up your vocabulary and learning to understand the nuances of grammar.

At the same time, make sure to listen to a lot of Arabic through kids’ shows and news broadcasts. It’s totally fine if you don’t understand everything at first, because you’ll notice yourself starting to understand more and more over time. 

6. What ArabicPod101 Can Do for You

ArabicPod101 has a huge library of content in excellent MSA. A typical lesson breaks down a conversational topic and introduces a new grammar point as well as a little bit of new vocabulary.

In the supplemental materials, you’ll see related vocabulary with a romanization and a recording of a native speaker pronouncing the word. Once you’ve created an account, you can add these to your flashcards and review them at any time.

This way, when you come across a troublesome word in your daily Arabic study, you can look it up on ArabicPod101 and see if there’s an article or podcast episode about it for you to review.

By the way, there’s a great resource you can take advantage of right now: the ArabicPod101 YouTube channel! Of particular value are the listening comprehension videos, where you can follow along with English, Arabic, and romanized subtitles. 

7. Conclusion

In the end, you’ll find that thinking of Arabic as easy or hard has to do with perspective.

Languages aren’t really learned. They’re acquired.

Sure, a language like Modern Standard Arabic, with its relatively artificial grammar, does have some elements that need to be “learned,” but you can also just lay back and let the language come to you.

Languages are only “easy” or “hard” when you put a time limit on yourself to try learning them. If you want to be speaking Arabic fluently within six months, you’ll find it much harder than if you just enjoy your progress and keep your expectations managed.

And if you have the help of a great learning aid like ArabicPod101, you’ll be well-equipped to make that a fun-filled journey. 

What things in Arabic do you struggle with the most? Which parts are easier for you? Let us, and your fellow Arabic-learners, know in the comments!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Learning Arabic

The Most Common Mistakes Arabic Speakers Make

Thumbnail

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to speak flawless Arabic?

It’s a language that flummoxes students around the world daily. Even in Arabic-speaking countries, people are divided on what’s really “correct” and “proper” Arabic.

The truth is, you really don’t have to speak Arabic by the book in order to show your respect for the cultures and languages of Arab people. A little really does go a long way!

In this article, you’ll see some of the most common mistakes Arabic speakers make when learning the language, as well as the best ways to overcome them.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. Pronunciation
  2. Vocabulary Mistakes
  3. Word Order Mistakes
  4. Arabic Grammar Mistakes
  5. Uniquely Arabic Mistakes
  6. The Biggest Mistake
  7. Conclusion

1. Pronunciation

Someone Holding a Microphone

Arabic pronunciation involves trying to get your tongue and mouth to do a lot of things they probably aren’t used to. For that reason, a lot of learners end up imperfectly tackling Arabic pronunciation.

One of the classic giveaways of a heavy foreign accent in Arabic is the vowels.

Modern Standard Arabic has just three vowels: /i/ as in “see,” /u/ as in “you,” and /a/ as in “father.” 

You’ll also need to pay attention to long and short vowels. In English, “long” and “short” mean an actual change in the vowel sound, but in MSA, it’s literally a vowel that’s held longer or shorter like a musical note. This is a matter of rhythm in the word and in the sentence, so be sure to listen to a lot of Arabic content to get comfortable with the intonation.

Vowels are probably the biggest giveaway, but ask any learner what the hard sounds are in Arabic, and they’ll answer “consonants.” Arabic has whole groups of consonants that are totally absent in most European and Asian languages, meaning that no matter how many other languages you speak, Arabic is probably going to challenge you with its sounds.

The hardest one for most speakers is ع, written as “3” in a lot of unofficial transcription systems because of the Arabic letter’s similarity to the digit. Most sounds in most languages are made with the tongue maneuvering around and tapping the roof of the mouth or otherwise shaping the airflow.

The  ع, by contrast, is made by bringing the back of the tongue as far back as possible. In all honesty, it’ll be uncomfortable when you first start doing it, but the more reading and speaking aloud you do, the more natural it will feel.

2. Vocabulary Mistakes

Woman Holding Her Hand to Her Head in Embarrassment

Every language has confusing pairs of words that make learners hem and haw over the right one to use, and this is the type of mistake Arabic-learners need to be cautious of.

In Arabic, these word pairs unfortunately pop up quite frequently. This is especially true if you’re just learning from the written word instead of from audio. You know, the whole vowel-marking thing? Here’s a couple of examples:

الكِليَة  (al-kilyah) “kidney”
الكُلِّيَّة  (al-kulliyyah)“college”

السُكَّر  (al-sukkar) – “diabetes,” “surgot”
السُكر  (al-sukr) – “drunken stupor”

تَوَابِل  (tawabil) – “spice”
تَبَوُّل  (tabawwul) – “urination”

Although the triliteral root system does let you easily learn related words, when unrelated words come up that happen to share the same consonants, they really mess with your memory!

The solution here is to listen to tons of Arabic audio. A word like al-koliya is going to come up a lot earlier than al-kilya in your learning, especially if you follow podcasts like ArabicPod101. 

If you can connect the written word in your reading exercises to the spoken word from your listening, you’ll avoid confusing them because of a lack of vowel diacritics. Thankfully, almost all of our content on ArabicPod101.com has a vowelled version in case you’re unsure of how a word is pronounced.

Other typical vocabulary mistakes stem from the fact that Arabic makes distinctions that other languages might not. Take the simple conjugation for “and” for example.

وَ (wa) is the word for “and” when it connects two clauses or verbs:

أبي مُدَرِّسٌ و أمّي رَبَّةُ بَيْت.
ʾabī mudarrisun wa ʾummī rabbatu bait.
“My father is a teacher and my mother is a stay-at-home mom.”

تُمَّ (ṯumma) can also be translated as “and,” but it connects two actions in a sequence!

أَكَلتٌ ثُمَّ شَرِبتُ.
ʾakaltun ṯumma šaribtu.
“She ate first and then she drank.”

You can think of translating fa as “and then…” Before you get more advanced in Arabic, it’s totally normal to be translating things in your head. As long as you can think in an Arabic sentence structure, you can compose your sentences in English first.

3. Word Order Mistakes

Another type of mistake in Arabic to watch out for is using incorrect word order. For some people, adjusting to a different word order is a cinch; for others, a different word order ties their brain in knots from the get-go.

Prescriptively speaking, the verb always comes first in an Arabic sentence. However, as you watch more and more videos and TV programs in MSA, you’ll see that they occasionally switch the word order around to add emphasis to a certain part of the sentence.

يَذهَبُ اِبراهيم إلى السوق.
yaḏhabu ʾIbrāhīmu ʾila s-sūq.
“Ibrahim goes to the market.”

Note how the verb ذَهَبَ (ḏahaba), meaning “to go,” is conjugated and placed at the beginning of the sentence. In some European languages, placing the verb before the subject is a marker of a question. Not so in Arabic! 

4. Arabic Grammar Mistakes

Someone Writing with a Pen

The most common mistake that even advanced students make in Arabic is failing to correctly make the verb, adjective, and noun agree in a sentence.

So, for instance, a student might write:

مِحوَرُ الشِعر هِيَ الروح. X
miḥwaru al-šiʿr hiya al-rūḥ. X
“The focus of poetry is the soul.” X

When it should actually be:

مِحوَرُ الشِعر هُوَ الروح.
miḥwaru al-šiʿr huwa al-rūḥ.
“The focus of poetry is the soul.”

Modern Standard Arabic has a lot of rules that don’t show up in any of the colloquial dialects that are spoken day-to-day. For that reason, tons of people in Arabic-speaking countries tend to be more comfortable writing in English or French than MSA! A lot of native speakers, for instance, might make mistakes with the dual:

لَدَيَّ أُختان.
ladayya ʾuḫtān.
“I have two sisters.”

لَدَيَّ ثَلاثُ أَخَوَات.
ladayya ṯalāṯu ʾaḫawat.
“I have three sisters.”

Lots of learners end up just using the plural form for two things without thinking. After all, the dual as a grammatical feature is relatively rare in the world’s languages. 

5. Uniquely Arabic Mistakes

Arabic Calligraphy

Up until this point, we’ve been discussing things that might apply to every language in the world. Plenty of languages have hard grammar and pronunciation, after all!

But there are a couple of mistakes that pretty much only Arabic-learners tend to make.

Like the plural forms of words—in Arabic, you kind of just have to memorize them. There are so many exceptions!

Also, numbers tend to trip a lot of people up. The number system in Arabic is beautifully complex (if you’re into that sort of thing), but so complicated that most native speakers tend to ignore its intricacies.

And with colloquial varieties of Arabic spoken in dozens of countries, you’ll often find yourself misunderstood if you use a word from one dialect with speakers of another. You could spend a lifetime learning all the little subtleties of the lexicon, like how دولاب (dulab) means “closet” in Egypt but means “wheel” in most other dialects.

Some people might suggest that you try to “speak Egyptian,” as many people understand Egyptian slang words, but the best way to avoid confusion is to use terms that are as close to MSA as possible if you don’t know the local term.

6. The Biggest Mistake

Man with Tape Over His Mouth

The biggest mistake is perfectionism. As they say, perfect is the enemy of good enough.

Tons of Arabic students end up letting their hard-earned knowledge slip away for fear of offending others.

Suppose you even end up taking the plunge and staying in an Arabic-speaking country for awhile with the goal of pushing yourself into speaking. If you’re anxious about speaking incorrectly, you’re probably going to end up just using English with the internationally minded local community in coffee shops and hip restaurants.

But that isn’t going to improve your Arabic—it’s going to actively harm it.

The more you actually put yourself out there and speak Arabic with others, the more you’ll learn. Sure, you’ll make mistakes from time to time, but everybody does. 

In fact, since most people tend to not be that comfortable with spoken MSA, the fact that you can speak it correctly—even some of the time—is going to be quite impressive! 

7. Conclusion

One of the best ways to avoid being embarrassed about making mistakes is to use your free time to get as prepared as possible.

Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be a hard slog. Just reading about and seeing the examples in this article is a big step on that path to high-quality Arabic.

And when you have a great all-in-one resource at your fingertips, like ArabicPod101, with audio lessons, vocabulary lists, and flashcards, you’ll be able to target your studying.

Try it out now and see for yourself how good your Arabic can become!

Before you go, we would love to hear from you in the comments. What Arabic mistakes do you struggle with the most?

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic

Arabic Questions and Answers to Start a Great Conversation

Thumbnail

You can learn quite a bit of a language through questions.

Whether you’re traveling or hanging out in your hometown, any conversation you have with a native speaker in Arabic is going to involve a little bit of Q-and-A.

In fact, this is especially true for Arabic, since it’s a language not as commonly learned by foreigners. People are going to be rather curious about you as, in all likelihood, you’re going to be the first Arabic-speaking foreigner they’ve ever met.

Check out these common Arabic questions and answers, so that you have a leg up when the conversation starts!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. What’s your name?
  2. Where are you from?
  3. Do you speak Arabic?
  4. How long have you been studying Arabic?
  5. Have you been to ___?
  6. Can you speak our dialect?
  7. Do you like the food?
  8. What are you doing?
  9. How is your family?
  10. How much is it?
  11. Conclusion

1. What’s your name?

First Encounter

If you make a friend in Arabic, you’ll definitely need to be able to ask for their name!

Talking to a man:

ما اسمُكَ؟
masmuka?
“What’s your name?”

Talking to a woman:

ما اسمُكِ؟
masmuki?
“What’s your name?”

To answer, simply say ʾismī followed by your name. You’ve successfully introduced yourself in Arabic!

2. Where are you from?

Talking to a man:

 من أين أنت؟
min ayna anta?
“Where are you from?”

Talking to a woman:

من أين أنت؟
min ayna anti?
“Where are you from?”

This may be one of your first introductions to the complexities of grammatical gender in Arabic. Fortunately, this is a pretty easy one to deal with!

Literally, you’re saying “From where you?” The last word, “you,” changes its vowel from ‘anta to ‘anti depending on whether you’re speaking to a man or woman. 

And although we end the question with “you” in Arabic, we end the answer with the location:

أنا من نيويورك.
ana min New York.
“I’m from New York.”

3. Do you speak Arabic?

Talking to a man:

 هَل تَتَحَدَّث اللُغة العَرَبِيَّة؟
hal tataḥaddaṯ al-luġah al-ʿarabiyyah?
“Do you speak Arabic?”

This question has an interesting grammatical similarity to the English version: that little word hal. It functions as a dummy particle for questions, just like “You speak Arabic,” turns into “Do you speak Arabic?” with the addition of “do.”

Now, the important thing is that you make an effort. You can do a lot better than saying “No, sorry,” in English and walking away!

عَفوَاً، أَنا أَتَكَلَّمُ فَقَط القَليل.
ʿafwan, ʾanā ʾatakallamu faqaṭ al-qalīl.
“Sorry, I only speak a little.”

That should just about cover it if someone happens to come up and ask you this question (it’s rare, but possible!). You should take a glance at this page of the names for languages in Arabic and imagine yourself asking others!

Introducing Yourself

4. How long have you been studying Arabic?

How’s your accent? The better it is, the better you get to feel when you answer this question about your study habits.

Talking to a man:

كَم مَضى لَكَ في دِراسَةِ العَرَبِيَّة؟
kam maḍā laka fī dirāsaẗi al-ʿarabiyyah?
“How long have you been studying Arabic?”

Talking to a woman:

كَم مَضى لَكِ في دِراسَةِ العَرَبِيَّة؟
kam maḍā laki fī dirāsaẗi al-ʿarabiyyah?
“How long have you been studying Arabic?”

Broken down a little more, the structure of this question is “How much time has passed to you in studying Arabic?”

That “to you/me” structure is crucial, since it will also play an important role in the answer.

مَضى لي شَهر.
maḍā lī šahr.
“For one month.”

The answer is pretty much the same structure: “To me one month has passed.”

5. Have you been to ___?

Glasses Lying on Top of a Map of Europe

Everybody’s got something in the country they want to show you. Definitely get ready for Arabic questions like this as you travel around!

Talking to a man:

هَل ذَهَبتَ إلى ___مِن قَبل ؟
hal ḏahabta ʾilā ___ min qabl ?
“Have you been to ___ before?”

Talking to a woman:

 هَل ذَهَبتِ إلى ___مِن قَبل؟
hal ḏahabti ʾilā ___ min qabl?
“Have you been to ___ before?”

Pay attention to the word order here. We start with that question tag hal, then immediately we have the verb “you went.” In English, that conjugation has two words, and we split them around the pronoun. In Arabic, the verb contains the pronoun, so it gets accomplished in just one word!

لا، لَم يَسبِق لي أَن ذَهَبتُ إلى ___ مِن قَبل.
lā, lam yasbiq lī ʾan ḏahabtu ʾilā ___ min qabl.
“No, I haven’t been to ___ before.”

Add whatever location is necessary here. Truth be told, you could simply say la, meaning “no,” but it’s more polite to use the full sentence.

6. Can you speak our dialect?

Many foreigners in Arabic classes study Modern Standard Arabic, but the vast majority of people you meet and speak Arabic with are going to strongly prefer speaking in their regional dialect.

Earlier, we discussed the Arabic phrase for “Do you speak Arabic?” but now we’ll learn it in Egyptian and Moroccan Arabic (Darija), two very different yet commonly learned Arabic variants.

Talking to a man:

بِتِتكَلِّم عامِّيَّة؟
bititkallim ʿāmmiyyah?
“Do you speak Egyptian Arabic?”

Talking to a woman:

بِتِتكَلِّمي عامِّيَّة؟
bititkallimi ʿāmmiyyah?
“Do you speak Egyptian Arabic?”

 واش كتعرف دارجة؟
waš ktʿref dāriǧah?
“Do you speak Darija?”

As you can see, the dialects naturally have their own words for a “colloquial variety” that isn’t fusha (MSA).  And even from these examples, you can see that the question is quite different in all three—major respect for taking more on!

7. Do you like the food?

Egyptian Maamoul fFood

Talking to a man:

هَل أَعجَبَكَ الطَعام؟
hal ʾaʿǧabaka al-ṭaʿām?
“Do you like the food?”

Back to MSA again. People are always going to want to know how you feel about food in Arab countries, especially because it tends to be so different from place to place.

Again, we’re dealing with that grammatical particle hal for asking a yes-no question.

What if you don’t actually like the food that much? As unlikely as that situation is, you should probably have a pleasant and polite reply handy, just in case.

كُلُّ شَيْءٍ لَذيذ!
kullu šayʾin laḏīḏ!
“It’s all delicious!”

أنا لست متعودا مع الطعام 
Ana lasto motaeawidan maea taeam baead.
“I’m not really used to the food yet.”

8. What are you doing?

If you’re young-looking, people are probably going to assume that you’re a student of some sort, even more so in a city with a big and well-known university.

Talking to a man:

هَل أَنتَ طالِب؟
hal ʾanta ṭalib?
“Are you a student?”

Talking to a woman:

هَل أَنتِ طالِبَة؟
hal ʾanti ṭalibah?
“Are you a student?”

Note how easy questions and answers in Arabic like these are. You just have to remember the feminine and masculine forms of the pronoun and noun, but there’s no verb to worry about!

Here’s an example of a question that might require a verb, though: 

Talking to a man:

ماذا تَعمَل؟
māḏā taʿmal?
“What do you do for a living?”

Talking to a woman:

ماذا تَعمَلين؟
māḏā taʿmalīn?
“What do you do for a living?”

However, the grammar in the answer is just as simple as in the first question. Just throw the words into the sentence!

أنا مُصَوِّر.
ʾanā muṣawwir.
“I am a photographer.”

9. How is your family?

In most Arab countries, asking about another person’s family is considered a polite small talk question. Here’s how you do it!

كَيْفَ حالُ عائِلَتِك؟
kayfa ḥalu ʿāʾilatik?
“How is your family?”

Now, what if you happen to know that the person isn’t married, or is married with no children? Trick question. You still ask the same thing. It’s actually not polite to ask about somebody’s spouse unless you know them personally.

No matter what you ask, the response is very likely going to be something like this:

كُلُّ شَيْءٍ بِخَيْر، الحَمدُ لله.
kullu šayʾin biḫayr, al-ḥamdu lillah.
“All well, praise God.”

It’s common knowledge among Arabic speakers that the phrase ٱلْحَمْدُ لِلَّٰهِ‎ (al-ḥamdu lillah), or “thanks be to God,” and other religious phrases are used more commonly in Arabic than in English, by both Muslims and Christians, and even when speaking to people who aren’t religious.

10. How much is it?

Someone Getting Money from Their Wallet

Wrapping up, we have an extremely useful question for everything from shopping to dining out.

بِكَم هَذا؟
bikam haḏā?
“How much is it?”

Asking for the price in Arabic is dead easy. All you have to do is put the question word “how much,” which is bikam, before the pronoun “it,” and you’re already finished!

بِجُنَيْهَيْن.
biǧunayhayn.
“It’s two pounds.”

Egypt calls their currency pounds as the United Kingdom does. The interesting grammar point here is that we’re not actually saying the sentence “It costs two pounds.” Instead, the literal translation is “with two pounds,” and all that gets expressed in a single Arabic word.

11. Conclusion

If you happen to find someone willing to help you practice Arabic (and thanks to the kindness of Arab people, you will, whether or not you offer to help them with English), you can use these simple Arabic questions and answers as a great jumping-off point for fluency practice.

Record answers that start from just the bare minimum that’s required to not be rude, then try expanding. Start with answers that restate the question, such as the examples in this article, and then move on to answers that hold a dash of your own creativity.

And if you want to get a headstart without a speaking partner, sign on to ArabicPod101.com right now and take a look at our lessons about questions!

Before you go, why not start practicing right away in the comments section? Try answering one or more of these questions in Arabic. We look forward to hearing from you!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic