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Tenses in the Arabic Language: All You Need to Know

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What is a verb? 

Along with nouns, verbs are the most important part of any sentence. They are the words we use to describe an action (يُغَنّي [yuġannī] – he sings), a state of being (يوجَد [yūǧad] – he exists), or an occurrence (يُطَوِّر [yuṭawwir] – he develops), and they usually agree with the subject, which is who or what performs the action described. 

Basically, every sentence needs a verb to be complete—and this is why it’s so important to get them right when learning a foreign language! This includes using the right tenses, hence this article on tenses in the Arabic language. 

A Woman in Deep Thought about Something

We’ll admit that Arabic verbs are one of the most challenging aspects of learning this beautiful and complex language, but don’t worry. In this article, we’ll have a look at the main points you need to learn in order to use Arabic verbs with no problems! 

We’ll look at the Arabic root system, which is useful for learning verbs and gaining a better understanding of the language itself. In addition, we’ll show you how to build the different verb forms and tenses using the two verb aspects in Arabic.

Don’t worry if this all sounds too complicated and grammar-heavy (it’s normal to feel that way!). We’ll explain each concept thoroughly in the following paragraphs, simplifying them as much as possible so you can grasp them quickly and put them to good use throughout your Arabic language-learning journey!

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. The Root System
  2. The Root System in Verbs
  3. The Tenses
  4. Arabic Verbs: A Summary

1. The Root System

To understand Arabic verbs, one must first look at the verb root system. Like other Semitic languages, Arabic has a complex and unusual way of building words from a basic root. In fact, most Arabic words are constructed from a three-letter (trilateral) root.

According to this system, a pattern of three letters serves as the foundation for all words in the same semantic field (i.e. related in meaning). 

Let’s take for example ‘k-t-b’ (كتب), which is a trilateral root for words that have to do with “writing“:

  • kitāb كِتَاب – “book”
  • kātib كاتِب – “writer”
  • maktab مَكتَب – “desk” or “office”
  • maktabah مَكتَبة – “library” or “bookshop”

A Tree with Many Roots

2. The Root System in Verbs

When it comes to Arabic verb roots, the most important thing to keep in mind is that each trilateral root can take up to fifteen possible verb forms. However, there are ten forms that are most common and those are what language learners usually focus on. 

One can create different verbs from these forms by adding prefixes, suffixes, and different signs to the root consonants, though all are related to the general meaning of the root. Let’s have a look at the ten different forms of the verb فعل (to do):

  • Form 1: فَعَلَ (faʿala)
    This is the basic and general meaning of the root verb.
  • Form 2: فَعَّلَ (faʿʿala) [with the doubling of the sound of the letter ع]
    The second form makes the verb transitive, with an added meaning that the action is done to someone or something. It’s built by doubling the middle letter of the root.
  • Form 3: فاعَلَ (fāʿala)
    This form also makes the verb transitive, and it also means that the action is done with someone or something else.
  • Form 4: أفْعَلَ (ʾafʿala)
    This is a causative and transitive form (requires an object).
  • Form 5: تَفَعَّلَ (tafaʿala)
    Form five is the reflexive, which means that the subject and the direct object are the same.
  • Form 6: تَفاعَلَ (tafāʿala)
    The sixth form is the reflexive or passive version of form 3.
  • Form 7: اِنْفَعَلَ (infaʿala)
    This is the passive version of form 1.
  • Form 8: اِفْتَعَلَ (iftaʿala)
    This is often a reflexive version of form 1, with different nuances. It’s the equivalent of “make up” in English, as in “make up lies.”
  • Form 9: اِفْعَلَّ (ifʿalaّ) [with the doubling of the sound of the letter ل]
    This verb form is quite rare, but it conveys the meaning of acquiring a color or a physical defect.
  • Form 10: اِسْتَفْعَلَ (istafʿala)
    This verb is generally used to mean “to consider something to be ___”

Keep in mind that the forms introduced here are in the third person past tense. This system, although complex, can be extremely helpful when learning Arabic. Understanding the system well will allow you to correctly guess the meaning of words you don’t know by recognizing their roots and structure! 

Also remember that not all forms are used as frequently, so you can first focus on the ones that are commonly used and then advance to other ones as you go on. 

Another thing: Not all verbs use all of the forms. Certain verbs are used with certain forms much more commonly than others, so it suffices to understand the meaning of the form; the rest will make sense as you study.

3. The Tenses 

Verb tenses are used to express when an action takes place. In Arabic, there are two main tenses: the past tense and the present simple. Then there’s the imperative mood, which is considered to be the third tense in Arabic grammar.

Now, let’s have a closer look at Arabic tenses and how to form them.

A Dream-like Image Featuring a Clock

A- The Present Tense

First we have the present tense. In Arabic, this tense is used to express both habitual and ongoing actions. The only way to emphasize the difference is by using adverbs like:

  • الآن (al-ʾān) – “now”
    [for ongoing actions]
  • كُلَّ يَوم (kulla yawm) – “every day”
    [for habitual actions]

For example:

أَذهَبُ إلى الجامِعَة كُلَّ يَوم.
ʾaḏhabu ʾilā al-ǧāmiʿah kulla yawm.
“I go to the university every day.”

أَتَحَدَّثُ مَع أُمي الآن.
ʾataḥaddaṯu maʿ ʾumī al-ʾān
“I am talking to my mom now.”

Have a look at the table below for an example of conjugation for the verb فَعَلَ (to do). You can form a negative of this tense by adding the prefix لا before mentioning your verb. 


Present tenseNegated present tense
أَنا (ana) – “I”أَفعَل (ʾafʿal)لا أَفعَل (la ʾafʿal)
أَنتَ (anta) – “you” masc.تَفعَل (tafʿal)لا تَفعَل (la tafʿal)
أنتِ (anti) – “you” fem.تَفعَلين (tafʿalīn)لا تَفعَلين (la tafʿalīn)
هُوَ (huwa) – “he”يَفعَل ( yafʿal)لا يَفعَل (la  yafʿal)
هِيَ (hiya) – “she”تَفعَل ( tafʿal)لا تَفعَل (la  tafʿal)
نَحنُ (naḥnu) – “we”نَفعَل (nafʿal)لا نَفعَل (la nafʿal)
أَنتُم (ʾantum) – “you” pl. masc.تَفعَلون (tafʿalūn)لا تَفعَلون (la tafʿalūn)
أَنتُما (ʾantuma) – “you” dual masc.تَفعَلان (tafʿalān)لا تَفعَلان (la tafʿalān)
(ʾantunna) أَنتُنَّ- “you” pl. fem.تَفعَلنَ (tafʿalna)لا تَفعَلنَ (la tafʿalna)
هُم (hum) – “they”يَفعَلون (yafʿalūn)لا يَفعَلون (la yafʿalūn)
هُما (huma) – “them” dual يَفعَلان (yafʿalān)لا يَفعَلان (la yafʿalān)

Adding the prefix سَـ to the beginning of the present tense form changes the verb to the future tense.

People Talking at an Arab Market

B- The Past Tense

The use of the past tense in Arabic is pretty straight-forward: just use it as you would the English simple past! In Arabic, the third person form of the past tense is the standard (or dictionary) form of a verb. This is the form you use to look a verb up in a dictionary.

    ★ ذَهَبنا إلى الإسكَندَرِيَّة في السَنَةِ الماضِيَة
    ḏahabnā ʾilā al-ʾiskandariyyah fī al-sanaẗi al-māḍiyah
    “Last year we went to Alexandria.”

To negate the Arabic past tense, you can use the prefix لم before the present tense verb, with some changes. Have a look at the table below for an example using the same verb, فَعَلَ (to do).

 Past tenseNegated past tense
أَنا (ana) – “I”فَعَلتُ (faʿaltu)لَم أَفعَل (lam ʾafʿal)
أَنتَ (anta) – “you” masc.فَعَلتَ (faʿalta)لَم تَفعَل (lam tafʿal)
أنتِ (anti) – “you” fem.فَعَلت (ifaʿalta)لَم تَفعَلي (lam tafʿalī)
هُوَ (huwa) – “he”فَعَلَ (faʿala)لَم يَفعَل (lam yafʿal)
هِيَ (hiya) – “she”(faʿalat) فَعَلَتلَم تَفعَل (lam tafʿal)
نَحنُ (naḥnu) – “we”فَعَلنا (faʿalna)لَم نَفعَل (lam nafʿal)
أَنتُم (ʾantum) – “you” pl. masc.فَعَلتُما (faʿaltuma)لَم تَفعَلوا (lam tafʿalū)
أَنتُما (ʾantuma) – “you” dual masc.فَعَلتُم (faʿaltum)لَم تَفعَلا (lam tafʿalā)
– (ʾantunna) أَنتُنَّ”you” pl. fem.فَعَلتُنَّ (faʿaltunna)لَم تَفعَلن (lam tafʿaln)
هُم (hum) – “they”فَعَلوا (faʿalu)لَم يَفعَلوا (lam yafʿalū)
هُما (huma) – “them”dualفَعَلا (faʿala)لَم يَفعَلا (lam yafʿalā)

4. Arabic Verbs: A Summary

As you’ve seen, learning how to use verbs and verb tenses in Arabic can be quite tricky, but it’s certainly one of the most important aspects of learning this beautiful and interesting language

We hope that with this short guide to Arabic verb tenses, you were able to gain some insight into how the root system works in Arabic as well as how to form and use the four main verb tenses. 

If you want to learn more about grammar, conjugations, and more while having access to some great Arabic learning material and info, visit ArabicPod101.com. Here you’ll find lessons for learners at all levels, podcasts, grammar material, word lists, dictionaries, and all the right tools you need to learn Arabic—whether you’re a beginner who wants a full course or an advanced learner who just needs to refine your skills

So what are you waiting for? Start learning and practicing Arabic with us every day, and you’ll be able to master the use of Arabic verbs in no time at all! 

Before you go, don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any questions about this, or if something in the article wasn’t clear. We look forward to hearing from you!

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How Long Does it Take to Learn Arabic?

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Everyone agrees: Learning a foreign language is an amazing (if hard) and fulfilling process. By learning to speak, understand others, and think in a language different from our own, not only do we add a new skill to our repertoire, but we can also change the way we see the outside world and our relationship to it.

Now for the question at hand: How long does it take to learn Arabic, and is it worth it?

Well, consider the fact that there are more than ten words for “love” in Arabic—and over 100 words for “camel”! I mean, these facts will certainly have an impact on the way you think about your love life…and about those amazing desert creatures!

A Caravan Traveling by Camel in the Desert

Learners of Arabic would all love to dedicate endless hours to studying the language and all its nuances. But, in our society, time is money and reality can be quite different.

Due to these time constraints, it makes sense to look for the fastest and easiest ways to learn a language so that we can start using it as soon as possible…maybe to find a better job, to travel, or to speak with a loved one.  

We would all like to know exactly what time commitment we’re looking at, so that we can make plans and have expectations… 

The truth is, however, that there’s no one best way to learn Arabic—and above all, there’s no set timetable for it! 

Everyone learns in a different way, and how quickly you can learn depends on a wide range of factors.

An Hourglass against a Dark Background

In this article, we’ll look at some of the factors that will affect your learning and how to learn Arabic efficiently to reach your goals as fast as possible.

Log in to Download Your Free Cheat Sheet - Beginner Vocabulary in Arabic Table of Contents
  1. Experience
  2. Learning Style
  3. Approach
  4. How Long Does it Take to Achieve Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced Level?
  5. How Our Website Can Help

Experience

One of the most important factors that governs how long it takes to learn Arabic (or any language) is your personal experience with languages. 

The Language(s) You Speak

What is your native language? And what other foreign languages do you speak? 

Yes, this will actually make a difference in how fast you learn Arabic. If, for example, you already speak Hebrew or Amharic (which are Semitic languages, like Arabic), you’ll learn much faster than you would as a native English speaker. Also, if you speak French, it will be easier to learn Arabic dialects that borrow heavily from French, such as Moroccan Arabic and Algerian Arabic.

If, however, you’re a native speaker of any Indo-European language, you’re in no luck… Arabic is considered one of the most challenging languages to learn.

Don’t worry, though. This doesn’t mean it’s impossible, just that it’s a good challenge.

So get down to it! 

A Woman Holding Flowers in Front of Her Eyes

Your Previous Language Learning Experience

Another essential aspect to take into consideration is your previous experience in language learning. 

Have you ever studied another language before?

If you already speak a foreign language fluently, or were raised bilingual, it will probably be easier and faster for you to learn Arabic. Several studies have shown that bilinguals are able to learn a third language with more ease because they’re naturally more used to being exposed to a new language. 

Even if you’re not bilingual, having studied and learned another language might help, even if we’re just talking about high school French. Being accustomed to memorizing words and looking at different letters and symbols is a good skill that your language-learning mind will remember.  

So, the skills that you develop in one language will actually help you gain fluency in another, even if the two are completely unrelated!  

Your Previous Grammar Knowledge

One of the first steps you should take is to find out how the language works. This means knowing and understanding its structure and grammar. 

If you already have experience studying syntax and grammar, even if it was only in your native language, it will make it easier and quicker for you to study the grammar and syntax of another language. 

So, it’s always a good idea to gain some grammar foundations if you plan to start learning Arabic (or any other language).

A Woman Studying with Her Laptop and a Book in the Grass

Learning Style

The way you learn and study is another essential factor in determining how long it will take you to become fluent in Arabic. 

Your Methods

If you limit your learning and studying to a classroom setting, even if you attend every day, it will probably take you longer to feel confident using your language skills. 

Try to expose yourself to Arabic outside the classroom and you’ll substantially reduce the time you need to learn it! 

Try reading the news, watching movies and series in Arabic, or listening to Arabic podcasts about topics that interest you. Of course, finding a language-exchange partner to practice your conversation skills with will also be very useful and make you fluent faster! 

Your Time

There’s another aspect we haven’t yet mentioned, but it’s the most important one when determining how long it takes to learn Arabic: the time you spend studying it!

If you want to learn fast, it goes without saying that you’ll need to dedicate as much time as you can to studying.

Daily practice is an ideal setup, and research has proven that learners who can dedicate an hour a day to learning—whether memorizing new words, studying grammar rules, or watching a series on Netflix—learn significantly faster than those who only attend classes.

A Woman Watching a Funny Movie on Netflix

And of course, if it’s an option for you, full immersion is best. If you can travel to an Arabic-speaking country and live there for a short (or long) period of time, that will make a big difference!

Approach

Another key factor that will determine how fast you learn Arabic is your approach. It can really make a huge difference!  

Your Motivation

It’s no secret that staying motivated is essential for learning any new skills, and this is all the more true for foreign languages.

Why do you want to learn Arabic?

Try to have this clear in your mind and, for maximum efficiency, set weekly (or even daily) goals that remind you of it. This will help you stay motivated so that your interest in learning does not fade. 

Your Attitude

Keeping your motivation up will help you feel like you’re learning more easily and quickly, and it will be essential for maintaining a positive attitude during your language learning journey! 

To see learning as a fun and interesting activity that you’re choosing to do, rather than a chore you’re forced to do, is key. 

Remember: Learning a foreign language will open your mind and your horizons, and give you a great set of skills you’ll be able to use in your day-to-day life. 

When you think about it this way, the process will be more enjoyable and much quicker! 

How Long Does it Take to Achieve Beginner/Intermediate/Advanced Level?

So, let’s get to the point. 

Even if it’s hard to say for sure, we’ve tried to make an estimate as to how long it might take you to reach different levels of Arabic (beginner, intermediate, and advanced).

For English speakers, Arabic may be one of the most difficult languages to learn, but that makes it all the more exciting and rewarding!

A Man Studying Late at Night

Beginner

A beginner speaker of a language will be able to introduce themselves, understand simple sentences when spoken slowly and carefully, and ask basic questions (probably making some mistakes along the way). 

If you just want to be able to greet people and order a meal, you can get by with the basic reading and speaking skills you gained achieving this level. 

FSI learning timeline findings estimate that, to achieve the beginner level in Arabic, you’ll need approximately 700 hours of study. This means that if you dedicate about 15-20 hours a week to learning Arabic, you’ll achieve this level in about 8 months.

Intermediate

At the intermediate level, you’ll be able to engage in most everyday conversations (if spoken slowly) and ask questions as needed to make sure you understand. This level will also allow you to read the news and watch videos in Arabic without major problems. If you’re traveling, you’ll be able to have interactions with the locals about familiar subjects, as well as ask for and follow directions.

To reach an intermediate level, it’s estimated you’ll need 1000-1200 hours of study time (including classes, homework, and practice time). 

If you’re serious about learning Arabic fast and are motivated, you can do this in about a year by dedicating at least 20 hours a week to studying.

Advanced

If you want to achieve fluency, this is what you’re aiming for. With advanced language skills, you’ll be able to navigate any kind of situation that may arise in your daily life and have complex conversations with native speakers

You’ll be able to watch films without subtitles and read all kinds of books in Arabic. You’ll basically be fluent (even if there will always be something more to learn about this intricate and beautifully complex language).

It’s estimated that for an English speaker to learn Arabic properly, at least 2200 hours of Arabic classes are required. This means that, if you want to speak Arabic fluently in a year, you’ll need to study it full-time.

If you’re not in a rush, you can learn the language in about two years with around 20 hours a week dedicated to studying and practicing.

That said, all these timeframes are estimates and one’s language learning progress really depends on many different factors.

How Our Website Can Help

What are you waiting for? The best time to start learning a new language is now! 

The sooner you start learning, the faster you’ll start speaking Arabic and achieve your language goals!

On ArabicPod101.com, you’ll find all kinds of language learning content to make your journey smooth and easy to navigate: lessons for all levels, vocabulary lists, a dictionary, blog posts, etc.

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How long it takes to learn Arabic mainly depends on how much time you’re willing to dedicate to it. 

Our Arabic courses and resources are specifically designed to offer you all the right tools to learn the language as quickly and easily as possible, so you can know that you’re spending your precious time well!

Whether you’re a beginner looking for a full-immersion approach or an advanced speaker who just wants to refine your skills, you’ll definitely find what you’re looking for here.

Before you go, let us know in the comments if this article helped you. Do you feel more prepared now to take on the challenge of learning Arabic? We look forward to hearing your thoughts! 

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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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Everything You Should Know About English Words in Arabic

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

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

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

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

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

The Basics of English Words Used in Arabic

A Bookshelf Holding Many Books

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arablish Examples

Someone about to Click

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

1. “Message” / مِسِج 

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

2. “Goal” / جول

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

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

English Loanwords in Arabic

A Vlogger Editing Videos for YouTube

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

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

  • شَيِّك (chayek) – “review” 

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

  • أَكَنسِل (akansal) – “cancel” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Pronounce Brand Names in Arabic

A Sketch of the Facebook Logo

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

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

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

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

McDonald’s
ماكدونالدز
makdonaldz

Olympics
الأولِمبياد
al-olimbiyyad

Facebook
فيسبوك
feisbuk

iPhone
آيفون
ʾāyfūn

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

Arabic Words in English

Complicated Algebra Equations Written in Blue Pen

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

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

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

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

Outro  

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

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

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

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

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

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A Basic Introduction to Arab Culture

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

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

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

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

1. Values and Beliefs

An Arab Man Wearing a Turban

Generally speaking, Arab culture values tradition and strength. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Philosophies and Religions

A Muslim Man Reading the Quran and Praying

In Arab culture, religion is a cornerstone of society.

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

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

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

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

Islam is the official religion in: 

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

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

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

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

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

3. Family

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

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

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

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

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

4. Art

Antique Arabic Ceramic Art

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

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

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

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

5. Food

Dates, Milk, and Other Arab Foods

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. Traditional Holidays

Day of Arafah Pilgrimage

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

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

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

7. Conclusion

Culture and language are always deeply intertwined.

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

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

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

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

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A Mouth-Watering Introduction to Arab Food

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

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

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

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

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

1. What They Eat in Arabic-Speaking Countries

Egyptian Dessert Maamoul

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

A- كُسْكُس‎ (Kuskus) – Couscous 

Algerian national dish. 

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

B- كبسة‎ (Kabsah) – Kabsa 

Saudi national dish. 

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

C- المسكوف (Masgouf) 

Iraqi national dish. 

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

D- كشري‎ (Koshari)

Egyptian national dish. 

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

E- منسف‎ (Mansaf) 

Jordanian national dish. 

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

2. In-Country vs. Overseas

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

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

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

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

3. Unique Food You Can Only Get Abroad

Mahshi Plate

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

A- مطبق‎ (Muttabak)  

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

B- كُنافة‎ (Kanafeh) 

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


C- مَحشي (Mahshi) 

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

4. Food-Related Vocabulary

The Interior of a Nice Restaurant

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

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

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

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

A- Asking About Meat

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

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

In those cases, you should ask the waiter directly:

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

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

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

B- Price and Payment

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

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

C- Complimenting the Food

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

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

5. Bonus: Simple Recipes to Practice at Home

A Plate of Falafel

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

A- How to Make فَلافِل‎ (Falafel)

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

Once you have it ready,

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

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

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

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

B- How to Make فتوش‎ (Fattoush) 

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

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

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

6. Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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Egyptian Mother’s Day: From Deities to Mortals

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

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

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1. What is Mother’s Day?


Two Children Kissing Their Other on the Cheek

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

Mother’s Day in Ancient Egypt

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

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

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


2. Mother’s Day Celebrations in Egypt

Chocolate Squares

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

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

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

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

3. From Idea to Implementation: The Backstory

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

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


4. Essential Mother’s Day Vocabulary

A Single Red Rose

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

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

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

Final Thoughts

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

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

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

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The Top Arabic Quotes to Impress Arabic Speakers

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

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

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

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

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  1. Quotes About Success
  2. Quotes About Life
  3. Quotes About Happiness
  4. Quotes About Patience
  5. Quotes About Family
  6. Quotes About Friendship
  7. Quotes About Food
  8. Quotes About Health
  9. Quotes About Language Learning
  10. Conclusion

1. Quotes About Success

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

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

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

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

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


2. Quotes About Life

A Ship in the Aegean Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Quotes About Happiness

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

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

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

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

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


4. Quotes About Patience

A Woman Doing Yoga at Sunset

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

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

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

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

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

5. Quotes About Family

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

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

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

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

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


6. Quotes About Friendship

Two Friends Walking in the Dark

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

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

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

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

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


7. Quotes About Food

Some Beans

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

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

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

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

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

8. Quotes About Health

A Sick Girl Wrapped in a Blanket

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

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

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

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

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

9. Quotes About Language Learning

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

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

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

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


10. Conclusion

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

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

Now, as for the rest of the language…

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

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

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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!

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  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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