How to look like you know what you’re doing when you don’t really speak Arabic

You’ve probably heard that Arabic is one of the most difficult languages for non-native speakers to learn. New students of Arabic hear this from fellow learners with some experience with the language, and once you actually arrive in the Middle East, you will likely hear it regularly from the native speakers you interact with (they might even say it to you in English even if you address them only in Arabic).

While Arabic may terrify some beginners due to its alphabet and seemingly complex grammar structure, it is not an impossible endeavour if you can get past these early challenges and navigate the inevitable plateaus you face when learning any language.

For those just starting their journey into the Arabic language (or planning a trip to the region), Al Miraah brings you this short list of regularly used phrases and the appropriate responses that will allow you pretend that you actually know what you’re doing.

These are daily phrases that will hopefully lead to you receiving the following confidence-boosting (although slightly condescending) compliment from sympathetic native speakers:

.ولله بتحكي عربي أحسن مني
wallahi bitaHki 3arabi aHsan minii: I swear, you speak Arabic better than I do.

So without further ado, please enjoy and use wisely the following:

Situation Phrase Response Literal Meaning
Meeting someone for the first time.  تشرّفنا

فرصة سعيدة
furSa sa3iida

الله يزيدك شرف
Allah yiziidak sharaf

وأنا أسعد
wa ana asa3d

 It’s an honour.
R: God increase your honour.

Happy chance!
R: And I’m happier.

When someone is working.  يعطيك العافية
ya3Tiik il-3aafiyeh
الله يعافيك
Allah yi3aafiik
 God give you wellness.
R: And you.
After someone returns safely from travelling.  الحمد لله عالسلامة
il-hamdillah 3al-salaameh
 الله يسلمك
Allah yisalmak
 Thank God for your safety.
R: May God preserve you.
After someone has a shower/gets their hair cut/shaves.  نعيما
 الله ينعم عليك
Allah yin3am 3alayk
 May you be blessed.
R: God bless you.
 Generic greeting/saying thanks.  حياك الله
Hayaak Allah
الله يحييك
Allah yiHayik
 May God preserve your life.
R: And yours.
 After someone passes away. الله يرحمه\ها
Allah yarhamuh
 May God have mercy on him/her.
R: He/she lives.
 Before eating. صحتين والعافية
SaHtayn wal-3aafiyeh
 علی قلبك
3ala albak (qalbak/galbak)
 Health and wellness.
R: On your heart.
 To say thank you to someone who has given you something (ie. served you food). يسلمو إيديك\كي
yislamu ideek/ki


wa ideek/ki

علی رأسي
3ala raasii

 May your hands be kept safe.
R: And yours.

May you be safe.
R: On my head.

Note: These are all regularly used in the dialect spoken in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem). They are also used widely in other areas of بلاد الشام (bilad ash-shaam, or the Levant), such as Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.


French and Danish Jews after the Paris and Copenhagen attacks

Following the atrocities committed in Paris in early January when 17 people were murdered in cold blood at the office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and Jewish deli Hyper Cacher, people were once again shocked by the attacks in Copenhagen which resulted in the death of one person at a freedom of speech debate, followed by the death of a Jewish man on guard outside the city’s main synagogue. The perpetrators of the Paris and Copenhagen shootings were not linked, though in both instances they had two obvious goals: punishing those who, in their view, had insulted the prophet Muhammad, and targeting Jews. The number of Jewish casualties in both attacks have sparked debates about anti-Semitism which, sadly, appears to be on the rise again across Europe. This debate has been further fuelled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who called for mass immigration to Israel.

“Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country,” he said. “But we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home. We are preparing and calling for the absorption of mass immigration from Europe. I would like to tell all European Jews and all Jews wherever they are: Israel is the home of every Jew”. [1]

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Conflict pushes Syrian-Armenians to their ancestral homeland

In the final few days of July 2012, conflict broke out between rebels and the Syrian regime in the ancient city of Aleppo. Sarkis Rshdouni’s father was driving him to the airport, opting for the longest route in order to avoid the fighting on the main road. But they couldn’t escape it entirely.

“It was my first time seeing a military helicopter firing,” Mr. Rshdouni said of the trip.

The threat of violence was not what compelled the now 26-year-old to leave. Rather, it was Syria’s political leanings after the death of former President Hafez Al-Assad and rise of his now-embattled son, Bashar. According to Mr. Rshdouni, a Syrian-Armenian, the country became more aligned with Turkey, and this affected his community.

Aleppo city centre, June 2012. “The neighbourhood is partly damaged due to the ongoing war,” says Sarkis Rshdouni.

“Syria still hasn’t recognized the Armenian genocide…so why should I live there?” said Mr. Rshdouni, who is studying for a B.A. in history at Yerevan State University and working in the tourism industry.

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Foreigncy: a tool to grow your Arabic vocabulary and improve your reading skills

If you are a student of Arabic you have likely struggled to find quality resources to use outside of a classroom context. There are a myriad of online resources available, but many are either out of date or poorly organised (or grossly unaffordable).

I’ve been playing around with the recently revamped Foreigncy website to keep practicing my Arabic reading and vocabulary acquisition. The site describes itself as “a one-of-a-kind language training system for advanced level students and language professionals,” which “focuses on the practical aspects of language learning that are in demand by employers.”


Using Foreigncy is simple and helps provides users with a base with which to train their reading ability in the target language.

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Picks of the week, 2-8 February

Gideon Levy, The death of the Israeli left, Middle East Eye, 4 February 2015.
David Hearst, Hanan Ashrawi: Oslo Accord left Jerusalemites at mercy of Israel, Middle East Eye, 4 February 2015.
Matthew Barber, After Burning of Muaz al-Kasasbeh, Jordan & al-Azhar’s Gestures of Vengeances Will Not Heal, Syria Comment, 6 February 2015.
Nour Samaha, The Battle for the Qalamoun Mountains, Foreign Policy, 6 February 2015.
Imen Blioua, Ennahda MPs defend party decision to join new government, Tunisialive, 6 February 2015.
Michael Knights, Phillip Smyth and P.J. Dermer, The Fight Against ISIL: Shiite Militias and the Coalition Effort, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 6 February 2015.
Mohamed Eljarh, Libya’s Geneva Talks and the Search for Peace, Atlantic Council, 6 February 2015.
Mike Giglio, Remembering Shawkan, An Egyptian Journalist Left Behind, Buzzfeed News, 6 February 2015.

“Israel has practised the ‘cruellest measures’ against Jerusalemites” (via Middle East Eye)

Did you read an interesting news article, op-ed, analysis or report in the last week that you’d like to share? Provide a link in the comments section below!