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.


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!

Picks of the week, 26 January-1 February

Andeel and Habiba Effat, A quick look back at the revolution’s internet sensations, Mada Masr, 27 January 2015.
Robert Mackey, Egypt Condemns Western Outrage at Fatal Shooting of Protester, The New York Times, 27 January 2015.
Joas Wagemakers, Jihadi-Salafi views of the Islamic State, Monkey Cage, 27 January 2015.
M. Steven Fish, Why is terror Islamist?, Monkey Cage, 27 January 2015.
Jack Khoury, Reuters and Nidal al-Mughrabi, UN suspends Gaza reconstruction due to stalled donor payments, Haaretz, 27 January 2015.
Michael Axworthy, Is it time to make Iran our friend and Saudi Arabia our enemy?, The Guardian, 28 January 2015.
Aaron Y. Zelin, The Islamic State’s model, Monkey Cage, 28 January 2015.
Marwan Muasher, Jordan Caught Between Two Bad Situations, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 28 January 2015.
Mark Valeri, Simmering Unrest and Succession Challenges in Oman, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 28 January 2015.
Mostafa Hashem, A Generational Battle Among Brothers, Sada, 29 January 2015.
Nour Samaha, Hezbollah-Israel: No war for now, Al Jazeera, 29 January 2015.
Ashraf al-Falahi, Islah’s Houthi Gamble, Sada, 30 January 2015.
Adam Goldman and Ellen Nakashima, CIA and Mossad killed senior Hezbollah figure in car bombing, The Washington Post, 30 January 2015.
Khalil al-Anani, The ISIS-ification of Islamist politics, Monkey Cage, 30 January 2015.
John Hutchinson, Meet the flower men of Saudi Arabia, Daily Mail, 30 January 2015.
The great Kuwaiti cat-meat scandal, BBC Magazine Monitor, 31 January 2015.
David D. Kirkpatrick, Sisi Blames Muslim Brotherhood for Bombings in Sinai, The New York Times, 31 January 2015.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi says that Egypt’s fight against terrorism will take years (via The New York Times)

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!

Guest post: Facebook Counts

Jona Fras* holds an MSc in Arab World Studies from the University of Edinburgh, UK, and is currently conducting PhD research on colloquial Arabic and radio in Jordan. His musings on this can be found on his blog ( and occasionally on Twitter (@jonafras).

During the final days of Muhammad al-Wakeel’s stint at Radio Rotana – when his programme was still called بصراحة مع الوكيل, “Honestly with al-Wakeel” – the host dedicated one Thursday session to an on-air interview with Rajae Qawas, a comedian best known for his work on the Arabic entertainment network Kharabeesh. They touched on many topics, including family, fan interactions, Kharabeesh’s online competitors (Saudis, apparently), and the use of Jordanian dialect in comedy. Eventually, the talk turned to Qawas’s imitation act, and Abu Haytham came up with a challenge.

“Could you do an impression of me?”

Qawas rose to it splendidly. Not as much the tone of voice – though he did nail al-Wakeel’s distinctive cadence, with rises at the end of phrases followed by over-extended pauses – as the way in which the star host tends to conduct his on-air interactions: reading out listeners’ names, responding to their greetings posted on social media, and re-phrasing and appropriating the problems from their call-ins to fit into his own personal performance arc.

And, to top it all off, a reference to al-Wakeel’s personal “Page” on Facebook.

صار عندنا على صفحتنا اكثر من مليون و نصّ (..) مشاهد و

we now have on our page more than a million and a half (..) viewers and…

(The (..) stands for a longer pause. Source: bi-SiraaHa ma3 al-wakiil recording, Radio Rotana, 10 April 2014)

A clever choice – especially given that, for the past few days, al-Wakeel had worked in his number of Facebook followers into just about every third sentence he spoke on air. “We’ve reached a million and a half followers on our Facebook page.” “A million and a half friends.” “More than a million and a half.” And so on, and so on.

A star, indeed, to be liked by so many.

Continue reading

Picks of the week, 19-25 January

Bethan Staton, The deep roots of the Palestine-Israel conflict, Al Jazeera, 21 January 2015.
Julian Pecquet, Congress torn between Europe, Israel on Iran, Al-Monitor, 22 January 2015.
Madawi al-Rasheed, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia obituary, The Guardian, 22 January 2015.
Karl Sharro, The Confused Person’s Guide to Understanding Yemen, Karl reMarks, 23 January 2015.
Egypt Cancels January 25 Revolution Celebrations, Egyptian Streets, 23 January 2015.
Hussein Ibish, How King Abdullah Set Stage for Saudi Reforms — and Opening to Israel, The Jewish Daily Forward, 23 January 2015.
Yassine Majdi, Le Maroc, un acteur important de la luttle contre le terrorisme?, TelQuel, 23 January 2015.
Robin Wright, Postscript: King Abdullah, 1924-2015, The New Yorker, 23 January 2015.
Lina Khatib, The Regional Impact of Saudi Succession, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 23 January 2015.
Ian Cobain, Revealed: how Blair colluded with Gaddafi regime in secret, The Guardian, 23 January 2015.
Nicky Woolf, American Sniper: anti-Muslim threats skyrocket in wake of film’s release, The Guardian, 24 January 2015.
Merrit Kennedy, Libyan Extremist Group Says Leader Has Been Killed, Associated Press, 24 January 2015.
Uri Misgav, Israel’s centrist parties should unite to defeat Netanyahu in the election, Haaretz, 25 January 2015.
H.A. Hellyer, Power, the January 25 revolutionaries, and responsibility, Mada Masr, 24 January 2015.

Mourners gather around the grave of Saudi King Abdullah following his burial in Riyadh
Mourners gather around the grave of Saudi King Abdullah following his burial in Riyadh (via The Telegraph)

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!