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Impress Native Speakers With These Arabic Proverbs

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Proverbs are popular sayings that provide a little dose of wisdom, a truth that is sometimes so obvious that it’s overlooked. 

Can you think of a proverb in your native language that touched you in an important moment of your life?

The Arabic language is so rich and so widely used that it offers countless idiomatic sayings and expressions. If you want to sound like a native speaker, you’d better learn some of these Arabic proverbs yourself! Doing so is a great way to let your language skills shine, and it will help you better understand the culture so you can fit right in!

Egyptian Flag in a Speech Bubble

As they say, “There is no time like the present”! Learn the thirty most used Arabic proverbs now and you’ll be certain to leave a good impression! 

Keep in mind that most of the entries on our list are Egyptian Arabic and Levantine Arabic proverbs. 

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. Bedouins, Belly Dancers, and Dogs: Egyptian Arabic Proverbs
  2. Bald Men, Roosters, and Paradise: Levantine Arabic Proverbs
  3. Bonus: A Modern Standard Arabic Proverb
  4. Conclusion

1. Bedouins, Belly Dancers, and Dogs: Egyptian Arabic Proverbs

There are some truths in life that are best expressed through vivid imagery. Let’s start our list with several unique Egyptian Arabic proverbs about life, friendship, and more. 

القِرد في عين أُمُّه غَزال

el-ʾerd fī ʿen ʾommoh ġazal
Literal translation: The monkey is a gazelle in the eyes of his mother.
English equivalent: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Meaning: This classic proverb means that the perception of beauty is subjective.

A Mother Cradling Her Baby

أَدعي عَلى وَلَدي وأَكرَه مِن يِقول آمين

ʾadʿī ʿalā waladī wʾakrah men yeʾūl ʾāmīn
Literal translation: I curse my own child, but I hate whoever says “amen.”
Meaning: This proverb is about having the right to criticize those closest to you…but then jumping to their defense if someone else criticizes them. We all know the feeling!

آخرِةْ المَعروف الضَرب بِالكُفوف

ʾāḫret el-maʿrūf el-ḍarb belkofūf
Literal translation: The end result of a good deed is a slap with the palms.
English equivalent: No good deed goes unpunished.
Meaning: This is usually said when your kindness backfires on you. For example, when you do a good deed but get nothing in return—or worse, you get a “slap” (hopefully in a metaphorical sense!).

إللي إيدُه في المَيَّة مِش زَيّ إللي إيدُه في النار

ʾellī ʾeīdoh fī el-mayyah meš zayy ʾellī ʾīdoh fī el-nār
Literal translation: The one whose hand is in fire is not like the one whose hand is in water.
English equivalent: Easier said than done.
Meaning: You can’t really compare the actions (or reactions) of those personally involved in a difficult matter (with a hand in the fire!) to those who are not directly affected and just commenting on it (with their hand in water).

لَمّا اِتفَرَّقِت العُقول كُلّ وَاحِد عَجَبُه عَقلُه، ولَمّا اِتفَرَّقِت الأَرزاق ماحَدِّش عَجَبُه رِزقُه

lammā etfarraʾet el-ʿoʾūl koll wāḥed ʿagaboh ʿaʾloh, w lammā etfarraʾet el-ʾarzāʾ māḥaddeš ʿagaboh rezʾoh
Literal translation: When brains were passed out, everyone was pleased with their brain; but when fortunes were given out, no one was satisfied with their fortune.
Meaning: This means that people are often dissatisfied with their lot in life, but they rarely question their way of thinking.

إللي يِتلِسِع مِن الشوربَة يِنفُخ في الزَبادي

ʾellī yetleseʿ men el-šūrbah yenfoḫ fī el-zabādī
Literal translation: Whoever gets burned by soup blows on yogurt.
English equivalent: Once bitten, twice shy.
Meaning: This refers to the fact that an unpleasant experience induces caution.

إمشي في جَنازَة، وَلا تِمشي في جَوَازَة

ʾemšī fī ganāzah, walā temšī fī gawāzah
Literal translation: It’s better to arrange a funeral than a marriage.
Meaning: This saying is used to dissuade people from playing the match-maker. If you arrange a marriage and it doesn’t work out, you’ll get blamed for it. In that context, attending a funeral would be much easier!

الدُنيا زَيّ الغازِيَّة، تِرقُص لِكُلّ وَاحِد شِوَيَّة

el-donyā zayy el-ġāzeyyah, terʾoṣ lekoll wāḥed šewayyah
Literal translation: The world is like a belly-dancer: it dances a little while for everyone.
English equivalent: Every dog has its day.
Meaning: Let’s admit it, the Arabic version is a bit more poetic! The proverb means that everyone is successful at some point in life.

A Belly-Dancer

إللي عَلى راسُه بَطحَة يِحَسِّس عَليها

ʾellī ʿalā rāsoh baṭḥah yeḥasses ʿalīhā
Literal translation: Whoever has a head-wound keeps feeling it.
English equivalent: The tongue ever turns to the aching tooth.
Meaning: As the tongue turns to the aching tooth or a wounded person keeps checking their wound, our thoughts keep returning to those things that worry us most.

نِقول تور يِقولو اِحلِبوه

neʾūl tor yeʾūlū eḥlebūh
Literal translation: I say to him, “It’s a bull,” and he responds “Milk it.”
Meaning: This hilarious saying makes a good point. It refers to a situation where someone goes on and on with the same argument, even though he has already been contradicted repeatedly.

إذا كان حَبيبَك عَسَل ما تِلحَسوش كُلُّه

ʾezā kān ḥabībak ʿasal mā telḥasūš kolloh
Literal translation: Even if a friend is honey, don’t lick them all up.
Meaning: We all know how important friends are in life. But, even if they’re as sweet as honey, we shouldn’t abuse their kindness.

كُلُّه عَند العَرب صابون

kolloh ʿand el-ʿarb ṣābūn
Literal translation: For the Bedouin, it’s all soap.
Meaning: People without taste (poor Bedouins, in this case…) can’t really distinguish if something is of good quality or not.

Bedouins Riding on Camels

إللي ما يِعرَفش، يِقول عَدس

ʾellī mā yeʿrafš, yeʾūl ʿads
Literal translation: He who doesn’t know, says “lentils.”
Meaning: Those who don’t know what really happened will just say anything as an explanation (“lentils” is probably just the first thing that came to mind!).

بَعد ما شاب وَدّوه الكُتّاب

baʿd mā šāb waddūh el-kottāb
Literal translation: After his hair went gray, they took him to school.
English equivalent: You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Meaning: This means that it is often hard to teach older people new ways and habits, and that it might be too late.

صاحِب بالين كَدّاب وصاحِب تَلاتَة مُنافِق

ṣāḥeb bel-īn kaddāb ūṣāḥeb talātah monāfeʾ
Literal translation: ِA person of two minds is a liar, and a person of three minds is a hypocrite.
Meaning: According to this saying, a person who tries to do two things at a time is fooling himself, and a person who tries to do three things at once is even more self-deceived.

2. Bald Men, Roosters, and Paradise: Levantine Arabic Proverbs

In case you were wondering, this creative use of language is quite prominent in Levantine Arabic proverbs, too. Let’s dive in! 

البَحصَة بِتِسنِد خابيَة

el-baḥṣah betesned ḫābyah
Literal translation: A pebble can support a barrel.
Meaning: This proverb expresses that even a little effort can go a long way.

الديك بِيْموت وعينو بِالمَزبَلَة

el-dīk beymūt wʿīnū belmazbalah
Literal translation: The rooster dies with his eye still on the dunghill.
English equivalent: A leopard can’t change its spots.
Meaning: This proverb conveys the idea that no one can change their nature. It’s most often used to describe negative qualities and behaviors.

الحَرَكَة بَرَكَة

el-ḥarakah barakah
Literal translation: Movement is a blessing.
Meaning: If you want to get things done, you need to act!

كُل ديك عَ مَزبَلتُه صَيّاح

kol dīk ʿa mazbaltoh ṣayyāḥ
Literal translation: Every rooster crows on its own dunghill.
Meaning: Roosters again. This time, though, the proverb is about how it’s easy to feel confident on your home turf. Everyone does.

A Rooster

إللي بياكُل العُصيّ مِش مِتل إللي بِيعِدّها

ʾellī byākol el-ʿuṣeī meš metl ʾellī beīʿeddhā
Literal translation: Receiving (blows from) a stick is not the same as counting them.
Meaning: This is similar to the “hand in fire, hand in water” we saw earlier on. Definitely not the same. So do not comment on someone’s actions (or reactions) when you’re not the one going through a hard time.

الدَم ما بِيصير مَي

el-dam mā beyṣīr maī
Literal translation: Blood does not become water.
English equivalent: Blood is thicker than water.
Meaning: This proverb means that family bonds are always stronger than love or friendships.

التِلم الأَعوَج مِن التور الكبير

el-telm el-ʾaʿwag men el-tūr el-kbīr
Literal translation: The crooked furrow is caused by the big bull.
English equivalent: A fish rots from the head down.
Meaning: This one means that leadership is always the root cause of an organization’s failure.

ما تقول فول لَيْصير بِالمَكيُول

mā tʾūl fūl layṣīr belmakyūl
Literal translation: Don’t say “beans” until they are on the measuring scale.
English equivalent: Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.
Meaning: Don’t count on something before you’re certain it’s going to happen.

الإسكافي حافي والحايِك عِريان

el-ʾeskāfī ḥāfī welḥāyek ʿeryān
Literal translation: The shoemaker is barefoot and the weaver is naked.
nglish equivalent: The shoemaker’s children always go barefoot.
Meaning: This saying describes how we tend to neglect the things closest to us, or fail to apply the advice we give others to our own lives.

اِحتَرنا يَا قَرعَة مِن وين بِدنا نبوسِك

eḥtarnā yā ʾarʿah men weīn bednā nbūsek
Literal translation: Oh bald man, we’re confused about where to kiss you.
Meaning: This funny proverb describes someone who’s hard to please. It’s like saying, in English: “There’s no pleasing you.” The strange (and quite humorous) assumption here is that a bald person has more kissable spots on his head to choose from, hence the confusion!

A Bald Man Thinking about Something

ابنَك هُوَّ وِزغير رَبّيه وهُوَّ وِكبير خاوِيه

ebnak howwa wezġīr rabbīh w howwa wekbīr ḫāwīh
Literal translation: Discipline your son when he’s young, and be his friend when he grows up.
Meaning: This is pretty straight-forward, but still good parenting advice!

إللي بِدّو يِلعَب مَع القُط بِدّو يِلقى خَرامِيشُه

ʾellī beddū yelʿab maʿ el-ʾoṭ beddū yelʾā ḫarāmīšoh
Literal translation: Whoever plays with a cat will find his claws.
English equivalent: If you play with fire, you’re going to get burned.
Meaning: As we all know, this is a warning that dangerous or risky actions often lead to injury.

الحَكي مِش مِتل الشوفَة

el-ḥakī meš metl el-šūfah
Literal translation: Speaking is not like seeing.
English equivalent: A picture is worth a thousand words.
Meaning: Like its English counterpart, this saying stresses the fact that complex situations and ideas are sometimes best conveyed through sight rather than words.

الجَنَّة بِدون ناس ما تِنداس

el-gannah bedūn nās mā tendās
Literal translation: A paradise without people is not worth stepping foot in.
Meaning: This proverb reminds us to be kind and understanding toward each other, and that misanthropic conduct may lead to misery! What kind of paradise would it be without anyone to share it with?

Sun Setting Against a Snowy Landscape

3. Bonus: A Modern Standard Arabic Proverb 

There are also proverbs in Modern Standard Arabic, but dialect proverbs are used more often. An example of a Modern Standard Arabic proverb is:

لَوْلا اِختِلاف الأَذواق، لَبارَت السِلَع

lawlā iḫtelāf ul-ʾazwaq, labārat al-selaʿ
iteral translation: Were it not for differences of taste, goods would go unsold.
English equivalent: Variety is the spice of life.
Meaning: Different tastes and perspectives give things more value.

4. Conclusion

“All good things must come to an end…”

But it’s not really the end, is it? There’s so much more to learn about the Arabic language! 

“Practice makes perfect,” so keep practicing your Arabic skills on ArabicPod101.com. Using all the features we offer (audio podcasts, videos with transcriptions, word lists, a dictionary, and more), you’ll pick up this beautiful and interesting language in no time. 

And remember: A pebble can support a barrel, and even a little effort goes a long way. So start practicing

Before you go: Which Arabic proverb was your favorite, and why?

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A Magnificent Chaos: Cairo Travel Guide

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Cairo (القاهرة‎) is the chaotic capital of Egypt, a city that feels like it’s built on contradictions and stuck between timelines.

With a population of 22 million living in its metropolitan area, Cairo is the biggest African city and the sixteenth-largest metropolis.

Buildings in Cairo, Egypt

But the capital of Egypt is not only vast and chaotic. It’s also one of the richest cities in world history, a place where the past intertwines with the present and where many different cultures mix like nowhere else in the world. In this Cairo travel guide, we’ll show you the best way to navigate this beautiful mix! 

In the words of Aldous Huxley: “To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.”

So, ignore everyone’s opinion about the city, and discover it your way! 

In this guide, we’ll give you some tips on the ten best places to visit in Cairo, so that you have the foundation you need to go out there and discover this magnificent (and sometimes infuriating) city for yourself!

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Table of Contents
  1. Tips Before You Go
  2. Must-See Places for a 1-3 Day Trip
  3. Highly Recommended Places for a 4-7 Day Trip (or Longer)
  4. Arabic Survival Phrases for Travelers
  5. Conclusion

Tips Before You Go

A key step in planning a visit to Cairo is to become familiar with the city, know what to expect while there, and prepare accordingly. Here are some useful tips to give you a head start. 

When

The best time to visit Cairo, and Egypt in general, is between October and April. The temperatures are cooler during this period, but still pleasantly warm!

If you want to avoid the crowds, visit at the end of March or in October/November. This is the quietest time of the year, and even the prices are lower.

Remember: The workweek in Cairo is Sunday through Thursday, so Fridays are relatively quiet in the afternoon but very busy in the evening. The Egyptian weekend is Friday and Saturday.

Visa

In order to visit Egypt, you will need a visa. Tourists from most Western countries are able to fill out an application before their trip to receive a visa once they arrive. 

For more info about your visa, check out this website.

Tips

  • Egypt uses the Egyptian pound (LE or EGP) for currency.
  • Egypt is a Muslim country, and the vast majority of restaurants do not serve alcohol. Sometimes, they’ll let you bring your own. Call in advance to find out. 
  •  Consuming or possessing drugs, including marijuana, is illegal in Egypt.

Must-See Places for a 1-3 Day Trip

Chances are, your stay in Cairo will be short. After all, there are so many other places to explore in Egypt! 

To give you a hand putting your itinerary together, we’ve compiled a list of the best places to visit in Cairo for a shorter trip. Backpackers and resort tourists alike will find something here they’ll love! 

Giza Pyramids and Sphinx (مجمع أهرامات الجيزة)

The Sphinx

One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, this is probably the first thing you think about when planning a trip to Egypt. 

These astonishing structures were completed over 4,500 years ago and are testament to the power, organization, and engineering genius of Ancient Egypt. 

The Giza Pyramids, each named after the Pharaoh who ordered its construction, stand on the Giza necropolis together with the famous Sphinx. 

You can easily enjoy spending an entire day here, and it’s worth staying for the evening sound and light show. During the show, you’ll learn about the history of the Sphinx and pyramids while taking in the magnificent view of the monuments lit up with bright lights.

The surrounding desert plateau is home to other pyramids that are also open to the public, like those in the Saqqara necropolis, which are considered to be the oldest pyramids. 

The Egyptian Museum (المتحف المصري)

This is another unmissable stop for your visit to Cairo. Also called the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities, it’s home to the largest collection of Ancient Egyptian artifacts, including the famous Tutankhamun collection with its beautiful gold death mask and sarcophagus, and the royal Mummy room. 

The opening of an even more stunning collection—the Grand Egyptian Museum—is planned for 2021. 

The Citadel

Also known as the Saladin Citadel of Cairo (قلعة صلاح الدين), this is a medieval complex full of architectural wonders that dates back to the twelfth century. Today, it is also an UNESCO World Heritage site. 

If you’re interested in the Islamic past of Cairo, this is the place to visit. Here, you’ll find the stunning Mosque of Muhammad Ali, also known as the Alabaste Mosque. 

Take your time to visit the interior and the terrace, which is one of the best viewpoints over Cairo. 

Another must-see inside the citadel is the Al-Nasir Muhammad Mosque, built in the fourteenth century. This mosque is quite unique, with two ornate minarets and mosaic decorations, which do not appear in any other mosque in Cairo. 

Khan el-Khalili (خان الخليلي‎)

Khan el-Khalili

This bustling market district, or souq, is located in the heart of Old Cairo and won’t be hard to find. 

Its narrow, cobblestone streets and labyrinth-like alleyways create a magical atmosphere in which the past gets intertwined with the present, the old with the new. 

Here, you’ll have the most adventurous shopping experience you’ve ever had (or even imagined!). 

You’ll also find a wide range of restaurants and cafés serving authentic Egyptian food, so choose one and go try new flavors to take a break from the busy streets. Or better yet, ask a trusted local for recommendations.

Highly Recommended Places for a 4-7 Day Trip (or Longer)

Once you start to feel the slightly overwhelming charm of Cairo, you may decide to stay a little longer. Here are our recommendations for where to visit in Cairo when you have a little more time. 

Al-Azhar Park (حديقة الأزهر‎)

This park is literally an urban oasis. Built on what was dust and rubble for over two centuries, it now offers a much-needed 30-hectare expanse of greenery. 

Take a break from the city and explore its gardens, pavilions, and alleys. There’s even a small lake to sit by and relax. The views over the city are fantastic at sunset.

Mosques Next to Citadel

Sultan Hassan Mosque (مسجد ومدرسة السلطان حسن‎) is one of the finest examples of Mamluk architecture in the world. With its abundance of stalactite detailing and intricate arabesque features, it’s Arabic artistry at its best.

Directly opposite the Sultan Hassan Mosque, you’ll find the El-Rifai Mosque (مسجد الرفاعى). It was built in 1912 to house the tomb of Khedive Ismail and constructed to replicate its older neighbor. 

Alexandria (اسكندرية‎)

A Castle in Alexandria, Egypt

This is a wonderful day trip from Cairo, during which you’ll learn more about the history of Egypt and its conquest by Alexander the Great. This is also where the famous Cleopatra lived. 

Alexandria served as the capital of Egypt until Roman conquest, and it’s home to the remains of the world-famous library of Alexandria. You could also visit the new Bibliotheca Alexandrina built in 2002 to commemorate the old one—and while you’re at it, you could visit the nearby Citadel of Qaitbay, a fifteenth-century fortress that has stood the test of time.

The Hanging Church (الكنيسة المعلقة‎)

This is an interesting sight for its cultural significance. Did you know that more than ten percent of Egyptians are actually Christian? 

Egypt has its own church (the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria), of which the hanging church—so called because of its nave suspended over a passage—is probably one of the oldest places of worship. It was built in the late seventh century and is home to over a hundred icons. 

Boat ride down the Nile (النيل)

Downtown Cairo

Gliding on the Nile’s waters is a beautiful way to spend an afternoon in Cairo. If you’re tired of the city and want some rest with splendid views, hop on one of the cruises. 

You can choose between many options, one of which includes riding on a traditional felucca boat. You might even get to see some wildlife (maybe a crocodile!) while on the water. 

Zamalek (Gezira Island)

Gezira (الجزيرة) actually means “island” in Arabic, and it’s the Nile’s main island in central Cairo, home to the district of Zamalek (الزمالك‎).

Zamalek is Cairo’s top dining destination, and it features art boutiques and fancy shops. At the southern tip of Gezira, you’ll also find some art galleries to explore, as well as the Cairo Tower where you can enjoy an amazing view of the Nile River from the top floor. 

Arabic Survival Phrases for Travelers

In the more touristy areas, you’re likely to find locals who speak some English. That said, you’ll have a much better trip and smoother communication if you learn some Arabic

Here, we’ve put together some easy-to-learn words and sentences that will help you make the most of your trip. 

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes while there; locals always appreciate foreigners who make an effort to speak with them in their native language! Here are some helpful Egyptian Arabic phrases:

salāmo ʿalīkom!سَلامُ عَليكُم!Hello!
ʾezzayyak?إزَّيَّك؟How are you? (speaking to a man)
ʾezzayyek?إزَّيِّك؟How are you? (speaking to a woman)
wenta?وإنتَ؟And you? (speaking to a man)
wenty?وإنتِ؟And you? (speaking to a woman)
ʾenta mnīn?إنتَ منين؟Where are you from? (speaking to a man)
ʾente mnīn?إنتِ منين؟Where are you from? (speaking to a woman)
ʾanā men ʾamrīkā.أنا مِن أمريكا.I’m from America.
šokran!شُكراً!Thank you!
šokran gazīlan!شُكراً جَزيلاً!Thank you very much!
ʿafwan!عَفواً!You’re welcome!
momken tesāʿednī?مُمكِن تِساعِدني؟Can you help me? (speaking to a man)
momken tesāʿdīnī?مُمكِن تِساعديني؟Can you help me? (speaking to a woman)
ʾanā tāyeh.أَنا تايِه.I’m lost.
el-ḥammām fīn?الحَمّام فين؟Where is the bathroom?
bekām dah?بِكام دَه؟How much is this?
law samaḥt.لَو سَمَحت.Excuse me.

Conclusion

We’ve now introduced you to the best places to visit around Cairo, no matter how long your trip will be. So, are you ready to go out there and make up your mind about Egypt and its chaotic capital, Cairo? 

Travelingit leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller. (Ibn Battuta)

And I’m sure that after visiting Cairo, you’ll have countless stories to tell—especially if you’re able to communicate with the locals during your stay! 

What are you waiting for? Start learning Arabic now on ArabicPod101.com

Here, with the help of highly qualified teachers, audio podcasts, word lists, and more, you’ll be able to start adding another language to your repertoire. And not just any language, but one that will make your experience in Egypt even more unforgettable. 

Learning a language changes the way you think, it opens your mind, and it’s certainly the best starting point for understanding a country, its culture, and its people.

Start now, and you’ll realize that picking up Arabic is easier than you think!

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Everything You Should Know About English Words in Arabic

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You’re studying English, right? Or was it Arabic?

When you look at certain types of Arabic words, it can be hard to notice the difference. 

The English language has left its permanent mark on Arabic, just as it has on many other languages around the world. In every Arabic-speaking country, people at all levels of society mix English with Arabic from time to time. Even people not fluent in English do some mixing now and then.

How exactly does this mixing work? What’s involved, and what should an Arabic learner look out for? That’s exactly what you’ll find out in our guide to English words in Arabic!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. The Basics of English Words Used in Arabic
  2. Arablish Examples
  3. English Loanwords in Arabic
  4. How to Pronounce Brand Names in Arabic
  5. Arabic Words in English
  6. Outro

The Basics of English Words Used in Arabic

A Bookshelf Holding Many Books

As in many societies the world over, English is considered a prestigious language in Arabic-speaking countries. It outpaces French as the most-learned foreign language by a significant margin, and a foreign traveler to the capital cities anywhere between Morocco and Iraq can expect to get around pretty well using English.

Part of this popularity is because of the perceived economic or cultural benefits that come with speaking English as a second language, though necessity also plays a huge role here.

English speakers are spoiled when it comes to global communication. The English language has always been a primary language of software development, and as such, electronic devices tend to support English first and foremost. Arabic has sadly been left far behind in this area. It took a while for popular operating systems to start supporting Arabic, and even in 2020 there are significantly fewer fonts, programs, and websites with Arabic display options.

Therefore, computer usage in Arabic is intrinsically linked with English. Not just in the typing of Romanized Arabic words using the Latin alphabet, but also in the vocabulary of computers, software, and the internet.

In a similar sense, the language of business is also linked with English. With the rise of globalization and internationalization, many firms based in Arabic-speaking countries are used to using English as a common language when dealing with other companies.

And, following the natural progression of the two points mentioned above, prestige and internet culture have led to “new” and “cool” companies readily adopting marketing and business terms from English wholesale—and expecting to be understood.

Naturally, when a word is adopted into another language, there’s not always a perfect equivalent of the original meaning.

Let’s look at a few examples of English words in Arabic whose meanings have shifted slightly along the journey.

Arablish Examples

Someone about to Click

There are a few domains of language, such as business and technology, where English loanwords have been adopted into Arabic with slightly different meanings. Here are some of the common ones you’ll hear:

1. “Message” / مِسِج 

When you use the word “message” in English, you might mean any number of things: a short note left on someone’s desk, a popup box on a computer program, a voice message on an answering machine, or of course a text message. The Arabic word refers specifically to phones and internet messages. Because the meaning is preserved in these contexts, it would be easy to assume that all the senses of the loanword have been carried over to English, when this is not the case.

2. “Goal” / جول

In a similar way, the word “goal” in English as spoken by Arabs only refers to a sports goal. Since there are other words in the business sphere, like “creative,” that have been totally adopted into modern marketing Arabic, it’s reasonable to assume that a phrase like “meet your quarterly goal” could be used directly in Arabic as well as in English.

How do you learn something like this in depth? Well, you pick it up through immersion. Articles like this are only going to have a couple of examples of these at a time, and the meanings of loanwords change fast in today’s world. There is nothing better than firsthand experience to help you get the hang of how to use something as complex as ‘Arablish.’

English Loanwords in Arabic

A Vlogger Editing Videos for YouTube

Now let’s flip the script a bit. Here are some words that either roughly match the Arabic sound system already, or that have been modified slightly for easier pronunciation.

These pronunciation features allow English words to enter the Arabic language more naturally than if they stood out as “foreign words.” Gulf Arabic speakers, in particular, feel quite at home using the following words.

  • شَيِّك (chayek) – “review” 

Note that this first one does not mean “check a box.” It only means to look something over for mistakes or suggestions.

  • أَكَنسِل (akansal) – “cancel” 

It’s possible to use this word as an equivalent to the English “to close a program.”

  • أَفَرمَت (afarmat) – “format” 
  • أَدَلِّت (adallet) – “delete” 

Next, the words “creative,” “confirm,” and “focus” are frequently used in business Arabic—to such an extent that foreign learners can become frustrated at the lack of pure Arabic they get to hear! Here are two example phrases:

First is an example of how “creative” would be used in Egyptian Arabic.

الديزاينَر الجِديد كِريِيتيف أَوِي.
el-dīzāynar el-gedīd keryeītīv ʾawī.
The new designer is so creative.

Here is an example of what would be said in a small conversation in an office in Gulf Arabic:

رَح نِنشُر التَحديث بَعدما يِشَيِّكو المُدير.
raḥ nenšor el-taḥdīs baʿdmā yešayyeko el-modīr.
We will publish the update after the manager checks it.

How to Pronounce Brand Names in Arabic

A Sketch of the Facebook Logo

In addition to loanwords, branding often undergoes serious translation and localization as well. Localization as a trend—and even as an academic field—has never been more popular than it is today. More and more brands want to connect with the world on the other side of language barriers.

Many brands have been localized into Arabic with expert logo designers creating great-looking Arabic versions of well-loved logos. Naturally, when people read these words aloud, they’re going to pronounce them in Arabic, which may be odd to hear if you’re only used to the originals.

One of the classic examples of this is “Pepsi.” The Arabic language doesn’t have an aspirated P sound like English does, so this is actually pronounced bebsi in Arabic. If you’re speaking fluent Arabic and you pronounce this word with the original English pronunciation in the middle of a sentence, it may be a bit jarring or sound like you’re being overly correct!

Here are some other examples of Arabic pronunciations of foreign brand names:

McDonald’s
ماكدونالدز
makdonaldz

Olympics
الأولِمبياد
al-olimbiyyad

Facebook
فيسبوك
feisbuk

iPhone
آيفون
ʾāyfūn

In the 1980s and 1990s, it was pretty rare in big metropolitan areas to see an Arabic name for a new and “modern” business, but now there’s a trend toward Arabization of business names. Picking a business name in Arabic is a big deal for companies that want to go global but still want to retain something that speaks to their mother tongue. As Arabic popular culture takes greater hold on the world, the Arabic language is becoming more accessible and will hopefully be even trendier in the future.

Arabic Words in English

Complicated Algebra Equations Written in Blue Pen

Loanwords don’t only flow one direction, you know. And Arabic has had a huge start on English in that regard.

Most Arabic loanwords in English are totally integrated into the language, since they were adopted many centuries ago and have undergone the same vowel shifts and usage changes as native English words have.

One such word is “cotton,” originally from the Arabic word qutun, which was brought to England around the time of the Crusades. Later on, during the Middle Ages and Renaissance, the words “algebra” and “algorithm” entered the English language. Their al­- prefix gives them away as Arabic words at first sight. Another example is “elixir,” from the Arabic word al-iksir, which has undergone one of those vowel changes we mentioned.

Words related to Islam and food are among the most common Arabic words used in English today. These include hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), fatwa (religious decree), Fattoush (Levantine salad), and falafel (balls made of chickpeas).

Outro  

When it comes to something as slippery as loanwords, it’s hard to really sit down and study vocabulary.

Sure, you can read articles like this one to get an overview, but it mostly has to come with time. After all, what’s in vogue now may not be nearly as popular in the future.

For that reason, the best way to pick up natural use of English loanwords in Arabic is to have a good understanding of standard Arabic first. Only then should you branch out into consuming more songs, TV, and movies that have more colloquial Arabic in them (complete with loanwords).

And the best way to get this solid knowledge base is to use ArabicPod101, the world-famous podcast-based Arabic course! We’ll lead you step by step from basic to advanced Arabic with vocab lists, flashcards, video lessons, and more, including interesting cultural articles like this one. Sign up now and see just how natural your Arabic can get with ArabicPod101!

Which of these English words in Arabic were you the most surprised to find out about? Are there any we didn’t mention that you think your fellow learners should know about? Let us know in the comments!

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A Basic Introduction to Arab Culture

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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!

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A Mouth-Watering Introduction to Arab Food

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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!

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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.

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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!

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The Top Arabic Quotes to Impress Arabic Speakers

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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.

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  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!

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Study with YouTube: Arabic Channels You’ll Love!

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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.

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  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


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcO6obMmGRo

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!

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Different Arabic Dialects: Which One Should You Learn?

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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!

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Find the Beauty in Grammar Through Arabic Pronouns

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Did anybody ever tell you that grammar is beautiful?

Not the sounds of a language, nor the calligraphy on a page, but the grammar itself?

Then clearly nobody has told you about Arabic grammar.

In this lesson, we’re going to show you the ins and outs of Arabic pronouns—the words for saying “I,” “you,” “this,” “that,” “he,” “she,” and so on.

English only takes it a little bit beyond there. Arabic, by contrast, takes it significantly further. There are subtle distinctions and possibilities in Arabic that go well beyond what English is capable of.

Did you know, for instance, that in Arabic there’s a special pronoun for talking to just two people? It’s called the dual pronoun, and it’s just one of the surprises waiting for you.

The reason we say “beautiful” instead of “scary” is that once you notice how it all comes together, you’ll have no choice but to marvel at its perfection.

Ready? Let’s learn Arabic pronouns, how to use them, and what makes them so unique.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. The Lowdown on Arabic Pronouns
  2. Arabic Subject Pronouns
  3. Arabic Object Pronouns
  4. Arabic Possessive Pronouns
  5. Arabic Prepositional Pronouns
  6. Arabic Demonstrative Pronouns
  7. Pronouns in Arabic Dialects
  8. Conclusion

1. The Lowdown on Arabic Pronouns

Introducing Yourself

As we’ve mentioned, a pronoun in general is a word referring to a specific person, place, thing, or idea after it’s been mentioned. In English, it sounds weird to say “He’s a nice guy” just out of the blue. 

But if you instead say “I have a new math teacher. He’s a nice guy,” then that’s the perfect place for a pronoun.

Arabic makes distinctions with its pronouns that English absolutely does not. Colloquial dialects, like Egyptian Arabic, aren’t quite as complicated, but they still count as more complicated than English.

2. Arabic Subject Pronouns

The subject pronouns are the easiest, by far. Check out this Arabic pronouns chart first:

EnglishArabic Romanization
Iأَناana
you (masculine)أَنتَanta
you (feminine)أَنتِanti
heهُوَhuwa
sheهِيَhiya

Those are called the singular pronouns because they refer to one single person. You can see that Arabic is explicit about whether you’re talking to a man or a woman.

Now have a look at these Arabic pronouns with examples:

Male Physics Teacher
  • أَنا أُستاذ.

 ʾanā ʾustāḏ.

I am a (male) teacher.

  • أَنا أُستاذَة.

ʾanā ʾustāḏah.

 I am a (female) teacher.

  • أَنتِ مُهَندِسَة.

ʾanti muhandisah.

You (feminine) are an engineer.

  • أَنتَ مُهَندِس.

ʾanta muhandis.

 You (masculine) are an engineer.

  • يُمكِنُها تَكَلُّم العَرَبِيَّة و الهِندِيَّة.

yumkinuhā takallum al-ʿarabiyyah wa al-hindiyyah.

She can speak Arabic and Hindi.

  • يُمكِنُهُ تَكَلُّم العَرَبِيَّة و الهِندِيَّة.

yumkinuhu takallum al-ʿarabiyyah wa al-hindiyyah.

He can speak German and English.

Now we move up in number:

EnglishArabic Romanization
you twoأَنتُماantuma
they twoهُماhumaa

Whoa, what’s this?

If you can believe it, an ancestor of English used to have this same grammatical feature—the dual pronoun, specifically marking two of something instead of just singular/plural.

As you can see, though, pronouns in Arabic won’t distinguish male from female in the dual.

  • هُما يَتَكَلَّمان عَن السِيَاسَة.

humā yatakallamān ʿan al-siyasah.

They (two of them) are talking about politics.

  • هُما يُحِبّان الموسيقى و الرَقص.

humā yuḥibbān al-mūsīqā wa al-raqṣ.

They (two of them) like music and dancing.

  • أَنتُما عَلَيْكُما الوُصول إلى العَمَل غَداً مُبَكِّراً.

ʾantumā ʿalaykumā al-wuṣūl ʾilā al-ʿamal ġadan mubakkiran.

You (both of you) should arrive to work early tomorrow.

  • أَنتُما لَم تَعُدا جُزءاً مِن هَذا المَشروع.

ʾantumā lam taʿudā ǧuzʾan min haḏā al-mašrūʿ.

You (both of you) are no longer a part of this project.

Let’s move up one more step to the last set of subject pronouns in Arabic:

EnglishArabicArabic
weنَحنُnaḥnu
you (plural masculine)أنتمantum
you (plural feminine)أنتنantun
they (plural masculine)همhum
they (plural feminine)هنhun

Here, it’s obvious that Arabic wants to be as crystal-clear as possible about the number and gender of the people involved in the conversation. Well, not quite—for talking about mixed groups of men and women, the masculine pronoun is used. You’ll have to guess based on context. That’s what we do in English all the time!

  • نَحنُ في مَركَز التَسَوُّق.

naḥnu fī markaz al-tasawwuq.

 We are in the mall.

  • أَنتُن تَبدُنَّ مُمتازات.

ʾantun tabdunna mumtāzāt.

 You (to several women) look excellent.

  • هُم يَحتاجونَ إلى المَزيد مِن التَمرين.

hum yaḥtāǧūna ʾilā al-mazīd min al-tamrīn.

They (about several men) need to work out more.

  • هُنَّ مُمِلّات.

hunna mumillāt.

 They (to several women) are boring.

In the first paragraph, though, we mentioned beauty. This list of Arabic pronouns might not seem beautiful yet, but watch what happens to pronouns when we start talking about verbs.

3. Arabic Object Pronouns

So this is where you may have heard that Arabic verbs are complicated. When a verb has an object, we include it as a pronoun slapped onto the end of the verb. If you know any Indonesian or Malay, the same thing happens with pronouns in those languages.

Each pronoun takes the form of a different suffix. Sadly, these suffixes barely look connected at all to our full subject pronoun paradigm.

Time for another chart to explain:

EnglishArabic Romanization
me-y
you (masculine)-كَ-k(a)
you (feminine)-كِ-k(i)
him-هُ-h(u)
her-h(a)

So when you say “Ahmed sees him,” you’re really sticking the words together like “Ahmed seesim.” The vowels in the parentheses aren’t pronounced if the suffix is part of a word that happens to be at the end of a sentence, or if the word is pronounced independently without a sentence. 

These vowels are also dropped in most dialects of Arabic, including Egyptian and Levantine. This is the case with all final diacritics in Arabic words, not just pronouns.

Father and Son Looking Up with Binoculars
  • أَحمَد يَراه.

ʾaḥmad yarāh.

Ahmed sees him.

  • الأُستاذُ يُناديك.

al-ʾustāḏu yunādīk.

The teacher is calling you (masculine).

  • أُمّي تَشتاقُ إلَيّ عِندَما أَكون في المَدرَسَة.

ʾummī taštāqu ʾilayy ʿindamā ʾakūn fī al-madrasah.

My mother misses me when I’m at school.

Here’s a chart with the rest of the object construction.

EnglishArabic Romanization
you (dual)-كُما-kumā
them (dual)-هما-humā
us-نا-nā
you (plural masculine)-kum
you (plural feminine)-kunn(a)
them (plural masculine)-هم-hum
them (plural feminine)-هن-hunn(a)

That’s a little better! These Arabic pronoun suffixes, being a little less frequent, are more regular and therefore remind you more of the subject forms.

  • جَمال يَكرَهُنا.

ǧamal yakrahunā.

 Jamal hates us.

  • حَميد يَعرِفُهُم.

ḥamīd yaʿrifuhum.

Hamid knows them (several men).

  • هَل يَجِبُ أَن نَدعوهُم إلى الحَفلَة؟

hal yaǧibu ʾan nadʿūhum ʾilā al-ḥaflah?

Should we invite them (several women) to the party?

Women

The object pronoun suffixes are extremely important. Why’s that? Well, because they get used over and over again!

Take a look.

4. Arabic Possessive Pronouns

Basic Questions

The possessive pronouns in Arabic also take the form of suffixes. Much like how we might say “Malik’s hammer,” adding a suffix to the person who owns it, in Arabic we add the suffix to the thing being owned.

And congratulations, you basically know them all! Here’s the chart:

EnglishArabicRomanization
my-i
your (masculine)-k(a)
your (feminine)-k(i)
his-h(u)
her-ها-hā
your (dual)-كما-kumā
their (dual)-هما-humā
our-نا-nā
your (plural masculine)-كم-kum
your (plural feminine)-كن-kun
their (plural masculine)-هم-hum
their (plural feminine)-هن-hun

The chart above is virtually identical to the Object Pronouns chart. Just pay attention to the suffix for the first person singular, the equivalent of “my.” That was -ni as an object suffix for verbs, but when we slap it on a noun to show possession, it turns into -i.

As for the rest, throw those onto a noun and see what happens!

  • هَذِهِ حَقيبَةُ سَفَري.

haḏihi ḥaqībaẗu safarī.

This is my suitcase.

  • أَيْنَ سَيَّارَتُها؟

ʾayna sayyaāratuhā?

Where is her car?

  • سائِقُهُم مُتَأَخِّر.

sāʾiquhum mutaʾaḫḫir.

Their (plural masculine) driver is late.

Memorized that chart yet? You’ve still got one more chance…

5. Arabic Prepositional Pronouns

Yes, that’s right. In Arabic, a pronoun can attach to a verb, a noun, or a preposition.

And some news you’re probably dying to hear is that the schema for pronouns on prepositions is exactly the same as the chart for possessive pronouns. 

We’re not even going to print it again—we’ll jump straight to some examples.

  • هَل يُمكِنُني المَشي مَعَك؟

hal yumkinunī al-mašī maʿak?

Can I walk with you (singular masculine)?

  • هَذِهِ هَدِيَّة مِن عِندِهُن.

haḏihi hadiyyah min ʿindihun.

This is a present from them (two women).

  • وَجَدتُ رِسالَة مَكتوبَة مِن طَرَفِها.

waǧadtu risal-ah maktūbah min ṭarafihā.

I found a letter written by her.

  • المَطَر كانَ يَسقُطُ عَلَيّ.

al-maṭar kāna yasquṭu ʿalayy.

The rain was falling on me.

Woman in Heavy Rain

Note here that the word for “on,” which is ‘ala, has an irregular form, ‘alay, when it gets combined. So does li-, meaning “to.”

  • تَدَحرَجَت الكُرَة إلَيْها و اِلتَقَطَتها.

tadaḥraǧat al-kurah ʾilayhā wa iltaqaṭathā.

The ball rolled to her and she picked it up.

Arabic, like all languages, has quite a wide array of prepositions.The irregularities are simply due to how often they’re used. That’s actually good news for you, since you’ll get the memories reinforced many times!

6. Arabic Demonstrative Pronouns

Tired of those charts? Don’t worry, just a few more. The demonstrative pronoun is for pointing out specific objects. It corresponds to the English words “this” and “that.” Naturally, the plural is equivalent to “these” and “those.”Arabic nouns have gender, and therefore the demonstrative pronouns do as well. Let’s look at a chart of the demonstrative pronouns in Arabic before diving a little bit deeper into the analysis.

EnglishArabic Romanization
this (masculine)هَذاhaḏā
these (masculine/feminine)هؤلاءhā’ulā’
that (masculine)ذلكḏālik(a)
those (masculine/feminine)أولئك‘ulā’ik(a)
this (feminine)هذهhāḏih(i)
that (feminine)تلكtilka

Your eyes don’t deceive you. The plural form of these demonstrative pronouns is, in fact, identical for both masculine and feminine nouns. Let’s see some examples.

  • اِحضِر ذَلِكَ الكُرسي إلى هُنا.

iḥḍir ḏalika al-kursī ʾilā hunā.

Please bring that chair over here.

  • اِحضِر تِلكَ الكَراسي إلى هُنا.

iḥḍir tilka al-karāsī ʾilā hunā.

Please bring those chairs over here.

  • هَذِهِ الكَعكَة غالِيَة جِدّاً, لَكِن تِلكَ الكَعكَة رَخيصَة.

haḏihi al-kaʿkah ġal-iyah ǧiddan, lakin tilka al-kaʿkah raḫīṣah.

This cake is very expensive, but that cake is cheap.

Slice of Strawberry Cake

We’ve omitted something here. The dual is back—but only for super, super formal Arabic. Most people speaking MSA in real life to you, or to speakers from other regions, won’t use it.

One more complication, though, is that in the dual form, demonstrative pronouns in Arabic decline for case as well. There’s a tiny distinction made between simply saying “those two” (the nominative case) and “to those two / of those two” (the accusative and genitive cases, respectively). 

Does this sound like a very uncommon thing to say? It definitely is—and that’s why it’s only used in the most formal of situations.

7. Pronouns in Arabic Dialects

So as you may know, Modern Standard Arabic is a slightly artificial language. That means it has rules that people try to follow as they speak, instead of natural rules that come from everybody speaking the same way in one area.

Dialects, on the other hand, have those natural rules, and people speak without feeling any pressure to follow rules that were laid down by any language authorities.

How does this relate to pronouns? For you, the learner, it’s good news. You have to remember less!

First, the dual is gone. Colloquial Arabic varieties don’t retain the dual form anymore, instead replacing it with the plural.

Second, the plural forms usually don’t distinguish between masculine and feminine. The masculine plural is sufficient for speaking about men, women, or a group of both men and women.

As a foreign learner, balancing your speech between perfect grammatical correctness and colloquial idiomatic language is an endless task, so you should be aware of these possible changes and adjust your speech to the environment you find yourself in.

8. Conclusion

Improve Listening

Understanding Arabic pronouns is no easy feat, but hopefully these Arabic pronoun rules and examples will shed some light on why Arabic grammar is considered to be beautifully intricate.

Can you appreciate that beauty? Or would you rather pick up the language by example instead of by rule?

At ArabicPod101.com, you can do both. Just from learning by yourself, you can lay a strong foundation of grammar rules and then back it up with the experience of listening to real spoken Arabic by native speakers.

Those are two pieces of the same puzzle—and using both in conjunction is what’s going to get you to the highest possible level in the Arabic language. 

If you found this Arabic pronouns lesson helpful, you may want to read the following articles on ArabicPod101 as well:

Happy Arabic learning! 

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