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How to Prepare for any Arabic Test or Exam

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Arabic is a language with a lot of prestige attached to it.

In Western culture, we don’t consume a whole lot of Arabic movies, music, or TV shows, but if someone can speak Arabic as a foreign language, we tend to assume they’re ridiculously smart.

If you don’t know any Arabic, though, it’s pretty easy for anybody with a decent accent to fool you into thinking their Arabic is perfect, even if native speakers would be totally lost trying to follow what they’re saying.

That’s why there are Arabic tests and exams that you can take to show that your Arabic proficiency has been verified by a third party.

Language exams come with certificates. Those certificates can get you a job inside or outside the Arabic-speaking world.

But which exam should you take? Which of them are trusted, and how can you approach each one in the most efficient manner?

Well, that’s why you’re here! Let’s dive together into the world of Arabic language exams, and see which of the Arabic language proficiency tests is right for you!

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  1. The Arabic Tests Begging for Your Attention
  2. The Reading Exam
  3. The Listening Exam
  4. The Writing Exam
  5. The Speaking Exam
  6. Preparation and Test-Taking Strategies
  7. Conclusion

1. The Arabic Tests Begging for Your Attention

People Taking a Written Examination

There is no “single” Arabic exam that’s widely accepted by everyone. Instead, there are three different tests designed for three different purposes and audiences.

The ALPT, or Arabic Language Proficiency Test, is a very official-sounding exam produced by The Arab Academy, a private language school in Cairo. 

You can take this Arabic proficiency test online, but you need to have a registered proctor there with you who makes sure you’re not flipping through a dictionary under the table. Once you get this exam, it’s accepted for government and university purposes in all Arabic-speaking countries, plus several Asian and African countries. 

The CIMA (Certificat International de Maîtrise en Arabe, or International Certificate for Arabic Language Proficiency) is an exam written by the Arab World Institute in Paris. 

It’s brand-new, having just been announced in 2018, and is currently available at schools and exam centers throughout Europe and the Middle East. It comes in “cima+1” and “cima+2” variants, where the first tests from A1-B2 levels and the second tests from B2-C2 levels. 

Finally, last in the alphabet soup of acronyms, we have the DLPT, or the Defense Language Proficiency Test

This is an exam given by the United States military for speakers of many different languages who want to use their languages in military intelligence. For this reason, civilians can’t take it. Most people in the military are enrolled in specific language courses that prepare them for what they’ll be needing Arabic for, and taking the DLPT is just a part of that course. 

However, it is possible to take the DLPT even if you haven’t taken a course from the Defense Language Institute (DLI). As you probably already know, though, Arabic is one of the hardest languages to do this with! 

So those are your choices. No matter which one you take, your study routine should be roughly similar for all of them. Let’s have a brief look at the individual sections on each exam!

2. The Reading Exam

Man Reading a Book Intently

1- ALPT

The reading section for this Arabic language proficiency test is designed to pressure you into thinking quickly. For the C2 exam—the most difficult of all—you’ll have 90 multiple-choice questions, and just 60 minutes to read the texts and answer all the questions. 

The other levels adapt to you as you do better or worse in your responses. You won’t be expected to be intimately familiar with Arab or Muslim culture, as the test is designed to be internationally applicable. 

2- CIMA

The CIMA exam tests you on 35 reading questions and gives you a leisurely 45 minutes. It’s multiple-choice as well, and each question has just three possible answers. It’s designed with a focus on everyday language comprehension, so you’ll get questions about advertisements, flyers, menus, and timetables.

3- DLPT

The DLPT is also a multiple-choice exam, but it’s infamous for being extremely tricky. The test-writers put in a lot of very similar-sounding answers that are very close together in meaning. 

For example, you might read a passage where a father asks his son where he was and if he would be late coming home. 

Then in the answer, you’d have to choose between “The father wanted to know when the son would come home” and “The father wanted to know where the son was.” Both look correct, but the father only asked if the son would be late, not specifically when he’d come home! 

3. The Listening Exam

A Man Listening to Something with Headphones

1- ALPT

Since listening, by nature, takes longer than reading, the ALPT listening section allows 60 minutes to get through 38 questions. 

You’ll be tested on your knowledge of both academic and non-academic language, though it will all be in Modern Standard Arabic. There’s also a separate “Structure” section for the ALPT, where you’ll breeze through questions about syntax and word order for another 60 minutes. 

2- CIMA

On the CIMA exam, you’ll listen to monologues and dialogues about all types of content. They’re pretty creative, so on any given test day, you might hear phone conversations, business presentations, and radio programs. 

It lasts around 35 minutes, and you won’t hear anything repeated. However, you won’t have to deal with heavy regional accents or fast-paced speakers. 

3- DLPT

The listening section of the DLPT is actually a separate test from the writing module. If you’d like, you can take it on another day! It biases heavily toward news and other formal language, so as long as you can understand the news, you’re golden. 

Naturally, in news MSA, everybody speaks very clearly, so you don’t have to worry about regional accents here, either. 

    → Not very confident in your current listening skills? Learn how to improve this crucial aspect of your Arabic language abilities! 

4. The Writing Exam

A Man Typing Something on a Keyboard

1- ALPT

Fortunately, the ALPT is computer-based, so you won’t have to worry about your Arabic penmanship! Compared to the other fast-paced sections of the test, this one’s a breeze. You’ll have one general question to respond to, and one hour to write a response. 

The computer will adapt the question based on your performance in previous sections, so if you were breezing through the reading and listening questions, you may have to write an essay about an abstract and complicated topic such as ethics or technology. 

2- CIMA

If you take the CIMA exam, you’ll have to complete three tasks: briefly describing an image, responding to an informal text or email, and writing a brief paragraph on a question about daily life, such as office space organization or homework.

3- DLPT

Since the DLPT is designed for people employed by the United States military, they don’t expect that test-takers will need to produce Arabic texts. Therefore, there’s no required writing section for the DLPT. 

5. The Speaking Exam

A Man Doing a Skype Interview

1- ALPT

The ALPT speaking exam is done live over a Skype connection with a certified teacher. It takes the form of an interview lasting at least fifteen minutes. 

The interviewer will first get you comfortable and make sure you’re able to hear them clearly. Then, they’ll ask more and more detailed questions about you and what you think about different issues in the world. Since it’s an adaptive test, if they notice that you’re having a lot of trouble, they’ll circle back to easier topics so as not to stress you out. 

2- CIMA

The CIMA speaking portion is quite similar to the IELTS exam for English, though perhaps a little bit more demanding. 

First, you’ll speak with the interviewer about ordinary daily-life things for two minutes, introducing yourself and so on. 

Then you’ll take part in a roleplay, with some time for preparation. Afterwards, without any preparation, the examiner will ask you a more abstract question like “What makes a country pleasant to live in?” and you’ll have to give a three-minute monologue in which you explore and justify your own feelings. 

3- DLPT

The DLPT has no built-in speaking test. Instead, if speaking Arabic is required for your position, you’ll be referred to a telephone-based Oral Proficiency Interview, or OPI.

6. Preparation and Test-Taking Strategies

Language Skills

When it comes to Arabic language proficiency testing, the single biggest factor separating people who do well and those who don’t is probably reading efficiency.

Everybody’s naturally going to learn the Arabic alphabet during their Arabic courses, but some people are always going to be more comfortable with it than others.

Those who can skim through Arabic words with ease are going to be the most confident during the test, but that skill doesn’t come easy. You have to read thousands and thousands of pages of Arabic text, sometimes over and over, before you become as comfortable with the Arabic alphabet as you are with the Latin one.

One great exercise is to try translating a text orally. Just look at an Arabic text and try to come up with a decent translation line-by-line in English. This is an exercise used in formal courses for interpreting. But if you do it as a learner, you’ll quickly see your holes in vocabulary and grammar, more so than if you just tried reading silently and looking for unfamiliar parts. 

7. Conclusion

In addition to reading speed, the best way to get prepared for an Arabic exam is to get really comfortable with a wide vocabulary. This is good for your Arabic in general! The wider your vocabulary in MSA, the easier it will be to learn dialects later on.

And there’s no better way to start improving than right here on ArabicPod101.com

If you spend about a third of your active study time really going through the podcasts and articles one-by-one and making sure you know all the words, you can use the other two-thirds to relax. For example, doing things like listening to and reading all kinds of things on and off the ArabicPod101 website.

Lots of language enthusiasts talk about learning things as fast as humanly possible, but life is a lot more comfortable at a gentle pace. Take it easy with Arabic, and you’re sure to go far.

We hope you feel more confident now in your abilities to ace that Arabic exam. If you have any questions, or anything you would like to share with fellow readers about a previous Arabic test experience, please leave a comment below. We look forward to hearing from you!

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Life Event Messages: Happy Birthday in Arabic & Beyond

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Language is really about making connections.

If you know how to chat with somebody about the weather or the food you’re eating, well, good for you. That might lead to an interesting conversation.

But when you know a little bit more about your target language culture, and you can pull out the right phrase for the right situation (like how to wish a happy birthday in Arabic), you show that you’ve gone beyond just knowing a handful of words.

And when that phrase is about some major life event, something that really has an emotional effect on somebody? That’s when you make a fantastic impression.

So that’s what this article is all about: the absolute essential phrases that you need in Arabic to show somebody that you care, no matter what they’re going through.

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Table of Contents

  1. Birthdays
  2. Holidays
  3. Weddings and Anniversaries
  4. Babies
  5. Graduation and Academic Success
  6. Workplace Success
  7. Bad News in General
  8. Good News in General
  9. Conclusion

1. Birthdays

Happy Birthday

Although birthdays can seem like a big deal at times, there’s actually not a very solid tradition of celebrating birthdays in Arab culture. It’s not necessarily related to religion either—Christian and Muslim holy texts say little about birthdays one way or another.

Some people say that the lack of “birthday culture” is because Arabs tend to be very close to their extended families. In that case, getting a gift and going to parties for your scores of cousins would end up taking a big chunk out of your time and money every year!

That said, many Arabic-speakers do celebrate their birthdays, particularly those living in Western countries. If you’re invited to such a party, you should remember to bring a gift.

But what should you say? Don’t worry: you only really need one phrase of Arabic congratulations:

    عيد ميلاد سعيد
    ʿīdu mīlādin saʿīd
    Happy birthday!

It doesn’t matter whether you’re speaking to a man or a woman when you use this phrase. For something more poetic, try these two:

    كُلُّ عام وَأَنتَ بِخَيْر
    kullu ʿāmin waʾanta biḫayr
    May each year be happy.

    كُلُّ سَنَة وأَنتَ سالِم
    kullu sanah waʾanta salim
    May you be fine every year.

These are two very similar ways to basically say “and many more!”

2. Holidays

Basic Questions

Anyone with a little bit of knowledge about the Middle East and Islam knows that Ramadan is the number-one holiday of the year. Even if you’re not a Muslim, it’s impossible not to notice as stores close early, prayer calls ring through the streets, and businesses do their best to turn it into a shopping holiday. It’s celebrated at a different time each year, lasting one lunar month and leading up to Eid al-Fitr, the day of celebration.

As with every holiday, there are a lot of things you could say. Many people write cards with poetry or other intricate well-wishings. Here, we’ll just give you the one magic Arabic congratulation you need:

    رَمَضان مُبارَك
    ramaḍān mubārak
    Happy Ramadan!

However, there’s a lot more to religion in the Arab world than Islam, and therefore a lot more holidays than Ramadan. Christmas is widely celebrated, even by non-Christians, thanks to its prominence as an international Western holiday. In Egypt, it’s actually celebrated on January 7, as opposed to the December 25 you often see in other parts of the world.

    عيد ميلاد مجيد مبارك!
    ʿiīd miyilād maǧīd mubaārak!
    Merry Christmas!

The last of the major Middle Eastern religions is, of course, Judaism. Although Judaism is often associated with the Hebrew language, there are large communities of Arabic-speaking Jews in many countries as well, especially Morocco. The major holiday in Judaism is Hanukkah, celebrated in November or December each year according to the Jewish calendar.

    عيد هانوكة سعيد
    ʿiīdu hānūkkah saʿīd
    Happy Hanukkah!

3. Weddings and Anniversaries

Marriage Proposal

In Islamic culture, most people think of weddings a little differently than Westerners from a Christian or secular background might. Most wedding wishes in English are simply some variant of “Congratulations!”

But from an Islamic point of view, the wedding is the result of Allah’s guidance through life. And there are a lot of ways to say that. For that reason, these three common phrases all kind of translate to “Congratulations” and also kind of translate to “Praise Allah!”

ما شاء الله!
mā šāʾ allah!
Praise Allah!

سُبحان الله!
subḥān allah!
Thanks to Allah!

الحَمدُ لله!
al-ḥamdu lillah!
Allah is great!

There’s one more quick phrase of congratulations in Arabic that you can use for a wedding that explicitly acknowledges the event:

زَوَاج مُبارَك!
zawaǧ mubārak!
Happy wedding!

Yes, it may sound a little strange in English, but it’s a perfectly common wish in Arabic!

If you’d like to be more poetic, here’s a slightly longer phrase for weddings:

أَلف مَبروك لِلعَروس والعَريس عَلى زَوَاجِهِما السَعيد.
ʾalf mabrūk lilʿarūs ūlʿarīs ʿalā zawaǧihimā al-saʿīd.
Congratulations to the happy bride and groom.

Lastly, we’ve got one last phrase for another love-related event: the anniversary. Although it’s common and expected for people to bring gifts to a wedding, friends and family would only be expected to acknowledge “big” anniversaries like ten years, twenty-five years, and so on. Don’t worry—the couple will tell you, so you don’t have to remember by yourself!

عيدُ ميلادٍ سَعيد!
ʿīdu mīlādin saʿīd!
Happy anniversary!

4. Babies

Talking about Age

First comes love, then comes marriage…then comes a baby in a baby carriage!

In Islam, traditionally there’s no “baby shower” before the birth. Instead, the child is welcomed into the world with a ceremony called ʿaqiqah. This generally happens on the seventh, fourteenth, or twenty-first day after birth. There’s a sacrifice of a sheep or goat, the child’s hair is cut for the first time, and a large feast is prepared afterward.

As the child is already born by the time of this ceremony, the things people say are naturally slightly different depending on whether the couple has a son or a daughter, like so:

تَهانينا بِوِلادَةِ المَوْلود الجَديد!
tahānīnā biwilādaẗi al-mawlūd al-ǧadīd!
Congratulations on the arrival of your new beautiful baby boy/girl!

In this next phrase, you’re specifically addressing the mother. This is often seen in a card addressed to her directly.

لِلأُم الجَديدَة. أَطيَبُ التَمَنِّيات لَكِ ولِابنِك/اِبنَتِك.
lilʾum al-ǧadīdah. ʾaṭyabu al-tamanniīāt laki ūliābnik/ibnatik.
To the new mother: Best wishes for you and your son/daughter.

5. Graduation and Academic Success

Although more and more people are graduating from universities each year around the world, it’s still cause for celebration. Particularly in the Arab world, where economic development has made it possible for significantly more people to attend university now than ever before.

First, here’s a cute phrase you can use for a good friend when they’ve done well on some exam or test.

ما أَذكاك!
mā ʾaḏkāk!
Look at you, clever bunny!

More formally, for instance if you’ve already graduated but someone you know is still in school, you can use this phrase of congratulations in Arabic for graduation:

أَلف مَبروك عَلى النَجاح في الاِمتِحانات.
ʾalf mabrūk ʿalā al-naǧāḥ fī al-imtiḥānāt.
Congratulations on your success with the exams.

With such good exam results, a graduation is probably coming up! You can use this phrase in speech or in a card:

أَلف مَبروك عَلى حُصولِكَ عَلى الشَهادَة الجامِعِيَّة!
ʾalf mabrūk ʿalā ḥuṣūlika ʿalā al-šahādah al-ǧāmiʿiyyah!
Congratulations and happy graduation!

6. Workplace Success

Man Calculating Numbers at Work

A foreigner in the Arab business world is already going to be expected to work hard to not only excel at their job, but also to fit in culturally.

A lot of businesses in the Middle East work at breakneck speed already, and so if you know how to compliment your coworkers correctly, you’ll make great strides in assimilating into the company culture.

حَظّاً سَعيداً في مَنصِبِك الجَديد!
ḥaẓẓan saʿīdan fī manṣibik al-ǧadīd!
Best of luck in your new position!

Outside of moving up in the same company, people you know outside of work are naturally going to go on their own career paths. Here’s a phrase of congratulations in Arabic for success you can say when someone really nails the interview and lands a nice job:

تَهانينا عَلى الوَظيفَة الجَديدَة!
tahānīnā ʿalā al-waẓīfah al-ǧadīdah!
Congratulations on your new job!

Here’s a slightly more formal way to say the same thing, used when you might not know the person well. In that case, you’ll want to add on the actual name of the company at the end.

نَتَمَنّى لَكَ الحَظ الجَيِّد في وَظيفَتِك الجَديدَة عِندَ…
natamannā laka al-ḥaẓ al-ǧayyid fī waẓīfatik al-ǧadīdah ʿinda…
Best of luck at your new job at…

7. Bad News in General

Time for a brief downer section. If someone you know has received bad news, then you can reach out and comfort them with some heartfelt words. Of course, it will come off as a bit superficial or rude if you use stock phrases—try your best to modify these phrases to fit the actual situation.

Particularly when it comes to events related to death, religious people often use passages from holy texts. There are a number of resources online for Quranic quotes about life and death, and if you use them appropriately, the effort will be strongly appreciated in this trying time.

With that said, in this section we’ll stick to simpler Arabic condolences messages instead of direct scripture quotations.

Funerals

When somebody you know has lost someone close to them, a sympathetic card, letter, or even a phone call is the perfect gesture. Use these Arabic condolences to show your kind feelings.

تَقَبَّّلوا مِنّا خالِص التَعازي لِوَفاةِ المَرحوم
taqabbalū minnā ḫaliṣ al-taʿāzī liwafāẗi al-marḥūm
I am very sorry to hear of your loss.

قَلُبنا مَعَكُم ومَع عائِلَتِكُم بِما أَلَمَّ بِكُم مِن مِحنَة في هَذا الوَقت الصَعب.
qalubnā maʿakum ūmaʿ ʿāʾilatikum bimā ʾalamma bikum min miḥnah fī haḏā al-waqt al-ṣaʿb.
Our thoughts are with you and your family during this difficult time.

نُقَدِّم إلَيْكُم أَخلَص عِبارات التَعازي
nuqaddim ʾilaykum ʾaḫlaṣ ʿibārāt al-taʿāzī
Please know that we would like to offer our deepest sympathy.

Poor Health

Little Girl Sick in Bed

Naturally, in Arabic as well as in English, people would much rather send “get-well” messages instead of discussing the particulars of the illness. The standard messages for this situation sound a lot like their English equivalents.

These condolences in Arabic are what you’d normally write on cards to the sick person’s home or hospital bed.

تَمَنِّيَاتي لَك بِالشِفاء العاجِل
tamanniyatī lak bilšifāʾ al-ʿāǧil
Get well soon.

If your coworker is suffering from an illness and you’d like to send a message of support from the whole office, you can phrase it this way:

نَرجو لَك الشِفاء العاجِل. الجَميع هُنا يُفَكِّرُ فيك.
narǧū lak al-šifāʾ al-ʿāǧil. al-ǧamīʿ hunā yufakkiru fīk.
Get well soon. Everyone here is thinking of you.

In a more personal way, you can make a phone call or send a text, and say this phrase:

.أَتَمَنّى لَكَ الشِفاء العاجِل
ʾatamannā laka al-šifāʾ al-ʿāǧil.
I hope you make a speedy recovery.

8. Good News in General

And in order to end on a happy note, let’s look at just a few more phrases you can use for any kind of catch-all good stuff.

First, remember those phrases from the wedding section about praising Allah? Those are excellent for when something good happens, no matter what it is.

To be honest, these may seem super-religious to some people, but they’ve entered the Arabic language as set phrases and are used by everyone. I remember one time it took me a long time to order at a restaurant, and the impatient waiter said al-hamdullilah under his breath once I finally made my choice!

We’ve also seen the word mubarak a couple times. A related word is مبروك (mabruuk), or “blessed”, which comes from the root بَرَكة (barakah), or “blessing.”

So when something’s gone very well for someone, and you want the perfect Arabic phrase for congratulations, you can simply wish them mabruuk! To emphasize it, you can say:

ألف مَبْرُوك
alf mabrūk
A thousand blessings!

And if a thousand blessings aren’t enough to make them happy, nothing will.

Silhouette of Man Against Sunset

9. Conclusion

Although this article may seem comprehensive, the only way to really get a deep understanding of what to say and how to say it for different life events in Arabic is to get more experience.

Watch Arabic movies and read Arabic books—and check out the Arabic material here on ArabicPod101.com. Each episode comes with can’t-miss culture notes, so you’ll never be lost for words again.

Before you go, let us know in the comments what you learned today. Are there any life events or messages that you still want to learn? We look forward to hearing from you!

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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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