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How to Write a Strong Business Email in Arabic

Business Email in Arabic

Do you know what the most decisive moment of a day in the office is?

It happens in the blink of an eye, and it could mean the start of a great deal—or a disaster.

It’s the length of time it takes for you to click “Send.”

A scary moment, to be sure. Are you positive there weren’t any mistakes in that last email? Did it go to the right person?

And when you’re doing business in another culture and another language, the pressure gets turned up to eleven.

But at the same time, the rewards could be enormous.

If you’re someone who’s already got a decent grasp of the written Arabic language, then you might be ready for the challenge of writing business emails in Arabic.

What does it take—and what’s in it for you?

In this guide, you’ll find out the answers to these questions, along with a couple of indispensable phrases that can guide you to a stunning Arabic email debut.

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1. Why Write Business Emails in Arabic?

Isn’t English enough?

Yes and no.

It all depends on the culture of your company and what you’d like to get across.

You’ll hear from plenty of people that English is the language of the business world no matter where you are on the globe. And in a country like the UAE, the majority of the population are non-Arabic-speaking expats.

But it’s a fact that people always prefer to use their native language for things they’re closely tied to. Besides, it’s very likely that you’ll end up communicating with expats from Arabic-speaking countries at some point—or, depending on your business role, Arabic speakers from all over the world.

Even if you’re fluent in another language, someone who is able to communicate in your native language is going to automatically get your full attention. You’re going to listen to what they have to say by default.

It’s also important to take a look at what you’re communicating by the mere fact of deciding to write in Arabic. Doing so means that you’re making an unspoken commitment to continue contact in Arabic as long as you need to.

You’re giving power to the other party to cut off or continue contact in that language. On the other hand, if you start switching between languages from one email to the next, they’ll wonder what’s going on behind the scenes, and they might start asking themselves questions about your competence.

Sending internal emails in Arabic might be a great idea if you want to promote multiculturalism and multilingualism in the workplace—two values that go hand-in-hand in the rapidly-diversifying Middle East.

Remember, though, that hierarchy is taken extremely seriously in Arab culture. It’s best to check with a cultural facilitator or local contact who’s familiar with your specific business situation.

Sending emails in Arabic to other business contacts shows that you’re ready to take that plunge into all-Arabic communication, and it also shows that you’re already highly knowledgeable about Arab culture. With just a few hundred words of text, you’ll set yourself apart from all the millions of expats that prefer to live in bubbles of their native language.

So what kind of messages should you send in Arabic?

A thank-you email is a great place to start.

“Thank you” is one of the best phrases to learn in any language. It’s an honest sentiment that can really make someone feel appreciated. What better way to say it than in their own language?

If you have a business meeting with an Arabic speaker, send a follow-up thank-you note in Arabic regardless of whether or not you managed to achieve all of your personal goals. It will be highly appreciated as a token of friendship and a desire to continue business relations. You can find a sample template at the end of this article.

This can also be a great way to initiate contact in Arabic, with the closer cooperation that that implies.

One thing you should avoid is inserting Arabic text seemingly at random into an English
email, or only translating some words and phrases to give it an “international flair.”

Not only does the formatting look like a mess, but the overall effect is jarring. The two writing styles are vastly different, and it will make the recipient wonder what you’re trying to accomplish by not sticking to one language.

Business Writing

2. Prerequisites for Business Writing

First off, you need to be very comfortable with the written language. Reading and writing simple things in Arabic should be something you can do in your sleep.

Remember, the person you’re writing to has likely put an enormous amount of time and effort into learning to communicate in English.

If you write their language poorly, you’ll come off as being clumsy and uneducated. Nobody has time for deciphering broken Arabic in the morning.

That’s why you can’t take the leap of writing business emails in Arabic until you can already write plenty of other things in Arabic, too.

Besides, you’ll need to be able to read the response!

However, that doesn’t mean you should wait until you’re perfect to start writing in Arabic. Perfection is the enemy of progress.

It’s okay if you make a few missteps in grammar or word choice. Locals understand how difficult it is to become literate in Arabic, and they’re certainly not perfect at writing in every other language.

In addition to a correct knowledge of grammar, you’ll need to have a strong knowledge of style.

Business Correspondence Style

3. Business Correspondence Style

This is a place where Arab culture really comes through in the language.

As anyone who’s done business in an Arab country knows, it’s crucial to avoid being overly direct or blunt. Oral negotiations can take a long time, and any discussion over text becomes even more oblique.

You need to write in a style that might remind you of a nineteenth-century novel in English—the more words, the better.

Just to give you an example of the language I’m talking about, here’s an English translation of an email in Arabic that I once came across:

It is out of the immense appreciation and respect that I hold towards you, and my belief in the Egyptian saying that goes “amiable relationships require occasional reproach,” that I am writing to you to express some gentle criticism that I hope you might take to heart magnanimously.

In fact, if you’re addressing someone with a significantly higher status than you, you should show your respect in the very heart of the language. Address them in the plural with the words second person male/female plural. That’s actually how English used to work, by the way—and you can still see elements of it in the “royal we.”

You don’t need to use the plural form of address if you’re specifically talking about that one person. But if they represent a department you’re contacting, it’s a sign of respect that won’t go amiss.

If your email happens to contain any criticism or even suggestions, it is absolutely imperative that you put them forth in a way that minimizes embarrassment to the other party.

Causing someone else to lose face or take offense, even privately and even because of their own mistake, is a recipe for bad business relations in the future.

“Sugar-coating” is the wrong word here, but it’s a similar idea. To better understand this point, don’t think of it as avoiding the topic or as flattery. Remember that it’s a part of the culture and the long literary tradition to speak of things obliquely.

To that end, let’s take a look at the important elements of any business letter in the Arabic language.

Business Letter

4. Important Elements of a Business Letter

  • Address
  • In the Arab world, respect, trust, and hierarchy form the core of social and business relationships.

    When you address someone in a formal business letter or email, you need to include their full name and title. If they’re a doctor, call them Doctor. If they’re a sheikh, call them Sheikh.

    Instead of “Dear…” as a prefix to the recipient’s name, you have to show your respect by using the word الفاضل meaning “virtuous.”

    Virtuous/Respected Dr. Khalid…
    الدكتور الفاضل خالد…

  • Opening
  • You want to start right out of the gate with the standard all-purpose Arabic opening:

    السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته
    This means, “May the peace, mercy, and blessings of God be upon you.”

    Follow this up with the post-opening:

    تحية طيبة وبعد،
    Meaning, “Respectful greetings.”

    These two lines or slight variations of them are obligatory for all formal writing. They should flow off your keyboard without a second thought. Plus, in terms of style, they’re a great warm-up for what’s about to come next.

  • Flowery Language
  • If the address and salutation didn’t tip you off, you’ll notice now that Arabic formal writing uses incredibly vibrant and flowery language.

    It’s difficult to translate in an idiomatic way, just because it’s far closer to the English writing style of more than a hundred years ago.

    Further, if you can put in literary references, do it.

    Anytime you can add more adjectives to show your respect and honor for the recipient, do it.

    Here is an example:

    It is with great deference that I bring to your attention…

    Please accept my most sincere and humble apologies for the inconvenience.

    مع احترام كبير أردت إخباركم أن…

    يرجى قبول اعتذاري المخلص على المضايقة…

    If you need more examples like these, we’ve included more in the next two sections of this article.

  • Closing
  • Closing out the email can be a kind of “cool down” for your literary writing. Use a phrase like this to once more show your respect to the recipient and thank them for their time and attention:

    وتفضلوا بقبول فائق التحية والاحترام
    This means, “Please accept my sincerity of the highest regard.”

    And after you sign off, add one more والسلام عليكم (“Peace be upon you”) at the end of the message.

Write Business Emails

5. Set Phrases You Can Apply

When you write business emails, you usually end up expressing the same kinds of ideas—irrespective of how formal the language might be.

To that end, here are a couple of phrases that you should have down as part of your business Arabic repertoire:

الرجاء الاطّلاع على الوثيقة المرفقة
“Please find the document attached.”

يمكن الاتصال بي عبر هذا الرقم ٢٤ ساعة على مدار اليوم
“I can be reached at this number twenty-four hours a day.”

لا تترد في الاتصال
“Don’t hesitate to call.”

بالاشارة الى الموضوع أعلاه, نود افادتكم / نرجوا ابلاغكم …
“With reference to the above (email) subject, we would like to inform you…”

تفضلوا فائق التقدير و الإحترام
“Yours sincerely and respectfully.”

تمنياتي لكم بالتوفيق الدائم
“Wishes to you of eternal success.”

شكرا مجددا على تعاونكم
“Thank you again for your cooperation.”

When you get a reply or get an Arabic email forwarded to you, take a look at what kind of phrases you can crib for your own purposes.

See how you get addressed by others in Arabic as well, according to the rules of formality. You can then apply this knowledge to other correspondents you get in the future, along with their elements of style. It’s not stealing—it’s learning!

6. Example Letters

How can these phrases above be applied to an actual real-life scenario?

Here’s a brief template for asking to change the time of a previously-scheduled meeting. Take a look at the kind of elevated language used, and pay attention to how much respect is being shown the recipient because of his status.

Respected Dr. Ibrahim,

May the peace, blessings, and mercy of God be upon you.

It is out of the immense friendship and respect that I hold for you that I wish to put forth a small suggestion with regards to the time of our scheduled meeting on Thursday.

Because of the event being held in our office building, I would like to humbly note that our building will be closed at 12:30 PM. If it is convenient for you, we will change the time to 10:00 AM.

Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.

Respectfully yours,

Peace be upon you.

الدكتور الفاضل إبراهيم,

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته.

بكامل التقدير والإحترام الذي أكنه لك أتقدم لك باقتراح بسيط متعلق بتوقيت لقائنا المجدول ليوم الخميس.

نظرا للحدث المنظم في مبنى مكتبنا, أود أن أذكر أن المبنى سيكون مغلقا مع الساعة 12:30 ظهرا. إذا كان الأمر مناسبا لك, أرى أن نغير توقيت لقائنا إلى الساعة العاشرة صباحا.

شكرا على حسن إنتباهكم إلى هذه المسألة,

مع خالص التقدير والإحترام,

السلام عليكم.

Now, here’s a simpler email thanking the recipient for signing a contract. Again, there’s a lot of respectful language being used, but less indirect speech about the actual heart of the matter because nothing needs to be corrected.

The Virtuous Mr. Mohamed Ezzahra,

May the peace, blessings, and mercy of God be upon you.

I would like to express my immense gratitude toward you for your commitment to ongoing cooperation between our two companies. I look forward to meeting you once more on the 25th.

If you need the slightest amount of further information from me, do not hesitate to call my private number at [phone number].

Yours sincerely and respectfully,

Peace be unto you.

حضرة السيد محمد الزهرة،

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته.

أود أن أعبر عن امتناني الكبير لكم لالتزامكم بالتعاون المستمر بين شركتينا, وإنني لحقا أتطلع إلى لقائكم مرة أخرى في اليوم الخامس والعشرين من هذا الشهر.

إذا كنتم بالحاجة إلى أقل قدر ممكن من المعلومات الإضافية ، فلا تترددوا في الاتصال برقم هاتفي الخاص: [رقم الهاتف].

مع خالص الاحترام والاحترام،

السلام عليكم

With enough practice, you’ll soon get in the habit of thinking in this flowery writing style. Translating is awkward and clumsy, and should really be avoided now that you’re at an advanced level.

What’s the best way to bring your Arabic level to even greater heights? Is true literacy in such a challenging language really possible?

Study Arabic

7. Continuing Your Arabic Studies

It’s tough to find motivation to continue learning when you’re already at a high-intermediate or advanced level. Most people who reach that level just sort of coast at that point, never putting in the effort to improve significantly.

But there are millions of people who have learned to read and write Arabic and English with ease. You could be one of them.

If you’ve come this far, why not?

The best way to continue learning is to read everything you come across and always work to make your own writing better.

When it comes to improving your writing, it’s always good to learn from example. How many people have said that imitation is the best form of flattery?

There are a couple of textbooks out there that are specifically designed for English-speakers learning business Arabic. One of the most highly regarded is Raji M. Rammuny’s Business Arabic, which comes in two levels and has an array of sample business correspondence to look at.

If you’re already living in an Arab country or plan on visiting, check out the language-learning section of some bookstores and see if you can find books on business English.

There are likely to be dozens of such guides to business English writing written in Arabic, and these are sure to have samples of Arabic business correspondence that you can learn from too.

Don’t try to run before you can walk when writing in a foreign language, even one that you know well. It’s good to take material from others and use lots of set phrases. That’s what we do in our native language already.

Remember that you’ve spent an enormous amount of time reading English business emails already—and you have much, much more experience with reading English text in general.

You won’t need to spend the same amount of time on your Arabic literacy, but you should be constantly thinking of ways to integrate more Arabic reading practice at all levels into your daily life.

If you pay close attention to what you read, you can pick up an advanced sense for when to use certain phrases and how to integrate them into your business writing.You’ll learn what sounds too brusque and what sounds—if possible—too formal.

It may even be worth it to hire a tutor or take a private course in business writing. The faster you improve, the faster you’ll be able to reap the benefits of being able to reach people on a deeper level all across the Arab world.

Author: Yassir Sahnoun is a HubSpot certified content strategist, copywriter and polyglot who works with language learning companies. He helps companies attract sales using content strategy, copywriting, blogging, email marketing & more.

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