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.


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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The Etymology of the Islamic State

Prior to adopting the name “Islamic State”, the terrorist organisation referred to by American President Barack Obama as ISIL and French President François Hollande as Daesh went through many different iterations, each with its own name.

Islamic State flag in Mosul
A motorist drives beneath a flag of the Islamic State at the entrance of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul (via Associated Press)

Aaron Zelin, founder of the fantastic website, outlined the group’s development since its establishment in Iraq in early-1999. The group that has come to be known as the Islamic State was founded as Jamaat al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (جماعة التوحيد والجهاد)– Organisation of Monotheism and Jihad — by the Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The group did not gain notoriety until in 2004, following the American invasion of Iraq, it adopted the name Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad fi Bilad al-Rafidayn (تنظيم قاعدة الجهاد في بلاد الرافدين) — Al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers (Mesopotamia), better known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). For a brief period in 2006, prior to Zarqawi’s death, the group was organised into Majlis Shura al-Mujahedin (مجلس شورى المجاهدين) — the Mujahedin Shura Council. Following Zarqawi’s death in a US targeted strike in June 2006, the group was rebranded in October 2006 as dawlat al-iraq al-islamiyya (دولة العراق الإسلامية) — the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI).

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