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.