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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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Overcoming Obstacles in Arabic Grammar

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

They’ve got some compelling points. 

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

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

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

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

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

1. General Rules

A Man on the Porch Using His Cell Phone

Arabic grammar is a different beast from that of English.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Parts of Speech in Arabic

An Alley in Jerusalem

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

These are:

1.       Nouns – اسم (ism)

2.       Verbs – فِعل (fiʿl)

3.       Particles – حَرف (ḥarf)

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

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

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

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

3. Arabic Verbs

Someone Writing with a Blue Pen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. Arabic Nouns

Two Cats Snuggling Each Other on a Blanket

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

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

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

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

5. Simple Sentence Structure in Arabic

Silhouette of a Woman Walking Near The Window at an Airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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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.

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

1. Quotes About Success

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

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

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

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

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


2. Quotes About Life

A Ship in the Aegean Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Quotes About Happiness

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

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

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

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

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


4. Quotes About Patience

A Woman Doing Yoga at Sunset

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

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

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

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

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

5. Quotes About Family

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

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

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

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

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


6. Quotes About Friendship

Two Friends Walking in the Dark

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

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

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

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

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


7. Quotes About Food

Some Beans

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

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

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

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

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

8. Quotes About Health

A Sick Girl Wrapped in a Blanket

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

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

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

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

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

9. Quotes About Language Learning

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

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

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

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


10. Conclusion

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

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

Now, as for the rest of the language…

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

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

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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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Is Arabic Hard to Learn? Yes and No.

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

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

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

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

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

1. Is Arabic Really the Hardest Language?

A Boy Listening to Music After Getting a Good Grade

The United States government seems to think so.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Why Arabic is Hard to Learn

A Kid Stressed Out with His Homework

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

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

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

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

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

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

For instance, look at these simple sentences:

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

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

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

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

3. Why Arabic is Easier Than You Think

A Woman All Finished with Her Homework

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4. What Every New Arabic Learner Should Know

Casablanca in Morocco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5. How to Start Learning Arabic

A Man Listening to Music with Headphones

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

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

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

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

6. What ArabicPod101 Can Do for You

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

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

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

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

7. Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Most Common Mistakes Arabic Speakers Make

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Wouldn’t it be fantastic to speak flawless Arabic?

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

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

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

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

1. Pronunciation

Someone Holding a Microphone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Vocabulary Mistakes

Woman Holding Her Hand to Her Head in Embarrassment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Word Order Mistakes

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

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

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

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

4. Arabic Grammar Mistakes

Someone Writing with a Pen

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

So, for instance, a student might write:

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

When it should actually be:

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

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

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

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

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

5. Uniquely Arabic Mistakes

Arabic Calligraphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. The Biggest Mistake

Man with Tape Over His Mouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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