Wednesday

Syrian Dialect from the TV show بقعة ضو (Spotlight)

Warning! This is a LONG post. I'm going to try to give you an idea of how I learn new Arabic words. These words and phrases are all from a single episode of a comedy show called بقعة ضو (Spotlight). I'm not going to play the whole episode, I'm just going to show clips to give you enough context to understand what's going on. As far as I'm concerned, this is the best way to learn (next to watching the whole episode of course). I think the hardest part for most people who haven't had exposure to Syrian dialect (or any dialect) will be actually hearing the words they're saying. I know that was (and sometimes still is) a major problem for me. To get over that it just takes a LOT of listening to a lot of different things. Even if you don't know what it all means you'll eventually be able to hear the words that are being said and at that point you can do a Google search since you'll know how to spell the word. Even if there isn't a site that says "the definition of this word is X", and sites like that are rare for the dialects, you will have a lot of uses of the word from the sites Google returns and you'll be able to figure out the meaning, in most cases, from all the new context you have. You should be able to tell that context is my favorite word. Let's dive in!First, I need to give you the plot of the show so it's not all just random clips. This woman (Reem) accidentally leaves her phone in the taxi she took to work. She calls her cellphone from work and the taxi driver (Abu Janti) picks it up. She asks him to come by her work and return the phone to her but he keeps picking up passengers and dropping them off instead. He eventually has people calling her cellphone about work matters and he takes care of the issues. He goes and picks up her French passport that was ready, he pays her phone bill, etc. At the end of the show he returns the phone and she offers him a job working for her since he did such a good job for her. He turns down the job though because he loves being a taxi driver.

That's enough for these clips to make some sense and really make the vocab stick in your head.

1. اي رد على الموبيل والله صرعنا. ولا عجبتك رنته؟ (Ay rid 'ala almoobile wallah sara'na. wala 'ajibtak rintu?) - Hey, answer the cellphone. It's driving me crazy. Or do you like its ring?

In this clip, Abu Janti (the driver) thinks that the cellphone belongs to this new passenger. However it belongs to Reem who he just dropped off at work. He says والله صرعنا which is like "by God it's driving us crazy." You can refer to just yourself as "us" in Arabic sometimes. Also, الصرع in MSA means "epilepsy", so you can remember this phrase as "you're giving me epilepsy."

The phone rings for a while before I started the clip so Abu Janti adds literally "or do you like its ring?". I would translate that to "or do you just like the sound of its ring?" to make it clearer. ولا is a common way to say "or" in many dialects. Egyptian included. It doesn't mean "and no".

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2. الو؟ (aloo?) - Hello?
الو! لك مين انت؟ (aloo! lek meen intay) - Hello! Hey, who is this?
انا ابو جانتي ملك اللانسر. (ana abu janti melik alansar) - I'm Abu Janti, king of the Lancer.
لك هادا موبيلي إللي معك. (lek hada moobayli illi ma'ak) - Hey, that's my phone that's with you.
ايه عرفت عرفت. حاكيني بعد 5 دقايق. انا ماني فاضي. (ay 'arifit 'arifit. haakini ba'd khams d'aaya ana maani faadi) - Yeah, I know, I know. Talk to me in 5 minutes. I'm not free (now).
يِ! يِ! يخرب بيته! هادا شوفير تاكسي سكر بوشي (yi! yi! yikrib baytoo! hada shofer taksi sakkar ibwishi) - Yi! Yi! Destroy his house! That taxi driver hung up in my face!

Now for an explanation of some things that might not be clear. لك is basically like "hey". It can be perceived as rude. A Lancer is the model of car that Abu Janti drives. That's why he calls himself "king of the Lancer". You'll notice she says هادا instead of هذا . They change ذ to د sometimes in lots of dialects.

Also, he says انا ماني فاضي. The word ماني might be new to you, but it means the same thing as مش and مو. He could have said انا مو فاضي and it would mean the same thing. "I'm not free (to talk).

The word "yi" is an expression of surprise or astonishment. It's said mostly by women. يخرب بيته literally means "destroy his house", but it's not a terribly mean phrase and not to be taken literally. It's used when someone upsets you.

The word سكّر means to close. The full expression would be سكر الخط بوشي . "He closed the line in my face", literally, but we would translate it to "He hung up in my face". وش is how they say the MSA word وجه which means "face".

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3. يِ! نسيت أساله مين دقإلي (yi! nasayt asalu meen da' illi) - Yi! I forgot to ask him who called me!
رجعي دقيله. لك ليكون غزوان دقإلك اذا بيرد و بيطلعله صوت شاب بيطبل الدنيا (rja'i di' illu. lik laykoon ghazwan da' illik izi byitla'lu soot shab byitbal addini) - Call him back! Hey, it could be Ghazwan who called you. If he answers and he gets a guy's voice he's going to be very angry.

The prominent word in this clip is دق. It means "to beat" (as in a heart beat), "to knock" as in knock on the door, but in the context of phones it means "to call". ليكون here means "it might have been" or "maybe it was".

Ghazwan is the name of Reem's fiance. Before this clip Abu Janti said that someone called Reem's phone but Reem forgot to ask who called. Reem's friend says that she should call Abu Janti back because if Ghazwan calls again and gets Abu Janti he's going to get the wrong idea.

يطلع has many different meanings. Here and a lot of the time it means "turns out to be" or "happens to be". A new phrase I learned here is يطبل الدنيا (they pronounce دنيا as dini instead of dunya). يطبل الدنيا means the same thing as كسر الدنيا (literally "to break the world"), but in actual use it means "to get really angry".


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4. دخيل عينك. دخيل عينك ابو جانتي دير بالك عليه. هادا الباسبور مو اي كلام يعني. (dakheel 'aynak. dakheel 'aynak abu janti deer baalak 'aleyh. hada albasboor moo ay kalaam ya'ni) - I beg you. I beg you, Abu Janti, look after it. That is a passport, not just any old thing.
ولا تهكلي هم. حطيته بالتابلو مع اوراق السيارة (wala tihkali hem. hatteytu biltablu m'a oora' assayaara) - Don't worry. I put it in the glove compartment with the car's papers.

دخيل عينك means "I beg you". It's like please, but stronger. دير بالك means "to look out for". بال is "mind" and دير means "to wrap around". A new phrase for me is when she says that this passport is not اي كلام "any talk". From context you can tell the meaning is "not just any old thing", that it's very important.

Abu Janti responds and tells her to لا تهكلي هم . This means "don't worry". هم is a worry. There are other variations on this phrase as well. I had never heard this one specifically. I had heard however, لا تاكل هم and لا تعتل هم which mean the same thing. Respectively they literally mean "don't eat a worry" and "don't carry a worry". Those are probably mostly Lebanese though.

حطيت means "I put". And yet another new word for me that you can get from context is تابلو. It means glove compartment. Put تابلو السيارة into Google and look at the images it gives you. I tried تابلو and التابلو and it didn't give me what I wanted. That's how I make sure of a lot of words. Doing Google images searches.

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5. ابو جانتي. من شان الله. الله يرضى عليك. الله يخليلك ولادك. من شان الله تاع محتاج الموبيل ضروري ضروري من شان الله (abu janti. min shan allah. allah yerda 'aleyk. allah ykhalleelak oolaadak. min shan allah taa' mahtaaj almoobile daroori daroori min shan allah) - Abu Janti. For God's sake. May God satisfy you. May God keep your children for you. For God's sake come. I need the cellphone. It's imperative. For God's sake.

Reem is really getting annoyed and she starts to beg Abu Janti to bring the phone. The things she says are very typical of what is said when someone is pleading with someone else to do something.

تاع is the Syrian way of saying تعال, "come".

محتاج means "I need".

And something that is ضروري is something necessary or something that must be done.

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6. لك مع مين عم تحكي لك مع مين؟ (lek ma' meen 'am tahki lek ma' meen?) - Who are you talking to, Abu Janti? Who are you talking to?
لك الله يخليلك جانتي ان شاء الله لك بس قلي رح تجلطني يا اخي. شي بدقإلك بلاقيه مشغول شي بدقإلك ما بترد علي شو القصة؟ (lek allah ykhleelak janti in sha allah lek bes illi. rah tijlitni ya akhi. shi bda' illak blaa'eeh mashghool. shi bda' illak ma bitrud 'alayy. shu al'issa?) - May God keep Janti, inshallah, but tell me, you're going to give me a stroke, brother. Sometimes I call you and I find it busy. Sometimes I call you and you don't answer me. What's the story?

I really wish I could talk as fast as she talks at the end of the clip... even in English. The لك is just used for emphasis here and I wouldn't translate it as "hey". You could maybe translate it as "look here" but I like just leaving it out.

Janti is Abu Janti's son obviously, but coming from a western background that might not register to us right away. I know I had that problem. The word رح indicates future tense and تجلطني is a cool word. جلطة دماغية is a stroke so رح تجلطني means "you're going to give me a stroke) :D.

The word بلاقي means "I find". بلاقيه is "I find it". When she says شي you can take it to mean "sometimes" here. شو القصة is like "what's going on". I know I had a hard time recognizing it when I first started with Levantine dialect because they drop the ق so it's "shu al issa". I knew the word قصة but because they didn't say it like I had learned it in MSA class I didn't recognize it as a word I knew.

You'll find that, if you've studied MSA, a lot of words that you hear and think you don't know you actually do know, they're just said in a weird way to your ears so you don't recognize them. This problem is solved with lots of exposure to the dialects.

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7. انا اذا ما كل يوم اطلعت ورا دركسيون اللانسر و حطيت الشريط إلي على ذوقي و فتلت الشام كلياتها حارة حارة و شارع شارع ما بيهنالي عيش (ana iza ma kil youm atla't wara direkesion al lancer wa hateyt ashareet illi 'ala zoo'ee wa fatelt ashaam kilayaata haara haara wa shaar'a shaar'a ma byihnaali 'aeesh) - If I didn't get behind the steering wheel of the Lancer every day and put on a tape I'm in the mood for and weave around the entirety of Damascus neighborhood by neighborhood and street by street, I couldn't live happily.

This clip is right after Reem offers Abu Janti a job for his good work that day. He turns it down even though the pay she is offering is more. دركسيون is the French word for steering wheel. ذوق is "taste", but in English you wouldn't say "I put on the tape that's on my taste", so "the tape I'm in the mood for" is a better translation.

فتل is not a word I'm familiar with, but you can get it from context that it means to go around Damascus. I looked it up in the Hans Wehr dictionary and it said to twist or weave around. الشام is Damascus by the way. They also say دمشق . I translated كلياتها as "the entirety of it", but more simply it just means "all". Just like the word كل .

Now I'm not 100% sure of the last phrase. ما بيهنالي عيش isn't something that I've heard before. But I get the idea. I'm pretty sure it's, "I wouldn't be able to live" or "I couldn't live happily". Something like that. If anyone wants to chime in (if anyone stuck with the lesson this far :P) and shed some light on that phrase I would be thankful.

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Thursday

China limits use of English in written material

I know this is nothing to do with Arabic, but it's very interesting. This article from Taipei Times announces that China has made it so that English words and abbreviations are no longer allowed to be used in newspapers, websites, and books. They are claiming that allowing English to be used is contaminating the purity of their language. I'm kind of torn on this issue. When I first read the article I though, "How dare they ban English!", like it was an attack on my country or something, but I can see where they're coming from. I'm sure a lot of countries around the world, not just China, feel like they're being culturally attacked by English.A lot of countries don't care and even embrace English as a road to prosperity, but it seems China's leaders don't want their country to lose its identity. I'm not sure how I feel on this. After all, shouldn't China's people be able to choose for themselves what they read? I know I wouldn't be for it if the US suddenly banned foreign language use in print, so I guess it's hypocritical of me to say it's ok for it to be done in China. What do you think about this subject?

Lebanese Arabic - enter فات

This is an essential word in Levantine dialect. The word فات (fat) means "he entered" and the present tense is يفوت (yfut). The word فات is also used in MSA, but it has a different meaning. It means "to pass away". The examples below will help clear up the way the word is used. There's another phrase I hear a lot that I didn't mention in the video. On TV when the channel wants you to tune in to a future program they'll say لا يفوِّتك (la yfawwitak) which means "don't miss it" or literally, "don't let it pass you by". You will hear this word used all the time.
To enter:
1. الي حابب يضحك يفوت (illi haabib yidhak yfut) - Whoever likes to laugh, enter. (talking about an internet forum topic)
2. لما كسرت الباب فات علينا البرد (limma kasart al bab fat 'alayna al bard) - When you broke down the door, the cold entered (on us).

To pass by:
3. فات الاوان (fat al awaan) - the time has passed
4. الي فات مات (illi fat mat) - let bygones be bygones (literally, "what's passed is dead")

Saturday

Ya Reit يا ريت - if only

This phrase looks strange because it contains يا which is usually put in front of someone's name when talking to them. This يا however is just part of the phrase. يا ريت has several different translations. It all just depends on the context. It can mean "if only", "hopefully", "I wish", and other meanings that have to do with wishful thinking. In MSA it is pronounced and written as يا ليت (ya leit) and means the same things.

Example Sentences:

1. يا ريت تعجبكن الصور (ya rayt t'ajibkun assuwar) - Hopefully you guys like the pictures
2. يا ريت كنا نضل صغار (ya rayt kinna ndall izghaar)- If only we had stayed young

Video Games in Arabic

Most of the stuff I post is usually related to Levantine dialect or MSA, but last night I was looking for a podcast to listen to in some Arabic dialect while I went to sleep. I don't like listening to things in MSA. I know comparing MSA to Latin is cliche, but that's how I feel. I want something that has emotion, slang, etc. Something that people use in their every day lives. So eventually I found this podcast on video games called Saudi Gamer. I haven't had much exposure to Saudi dialect and I'm not into Islam so that kind of limits the reasons I'd have to learn it, but knowing that there's this subculture of video games encourages me. After all, if you're going to learn a language there needs to be something that interests you about the culture of the people who speak that language in order to keep you motivated. When I was first learning MSA I gravitated toward the science news in order to keep me interested. There's a show called Al-Jazeera puts on called عن كثب that I watched a lot. If you're interested in Islam then Arabic is a lot easier for you to learn, but if you're interests, like mine, include technology, science, futurism, then you're hard pressed to find resources that will keep your attention.I say all that to say that this Saudi Gamer podcast is a good resource for people like me who have trouble finding interesting topics to learn the Arabic language from. It's basically like having IGN or GiantBomb (both English video game websites) in Arabic. They review new games, talk about new platforms, etc, but it's all in Saudi Arabian dialect, something I never thought I'd see. There are 90 podcasts that are on average between 1 hour and 2 hours long and they are always adding new ones. I gather that this podcast is very popular because to my knowledge there's nothing else that covers this topic in the Arab world and they've done over 100 hours of the show so there has to be a decent fan base.

As someone with little exposure to Gulf dialects I don't understand everything that's said, but it's only a matter of time. 90 episodes is a lot of listening material to bridge the gap between the Levantine dialect that I know and the way Saudis speak.

Sunday

Jordanian YouTube Comedy Channel بث بياخة

I haven't found a lot of resources online that are specifically Jordanian dialect, but the YouTube channel bathbayakha (بث بياخة) is. The name means something like "silly broadcast". It's a comedy channel run by a small team of Jordanian guys that do short skits. They have 5 up right now, but they continue to make more. I wouldn't be surprised if they are YouTube partners once they have a few more videos up because the quality of the videos is really good and they're pretty funny too. I really like the one they just put up called بتخونيني (you betray me) where a guy raps about his girlfriend cheating on him with other men when she's really just doing platonic things like buying stuff at the grocery store. And then at the end of the song it's his friend that she's really cheating with.There's another video that's in Bedouin dialect making fun of Bedouin TV shows, one about a fight over who's going to pay the bill at the restaurant, and a guide on how to avoid speeding tickets in Jordan. Jordanian is close to other Levantine dialects so it won't be like trying to understand Moroccan or anything.

I hope the Arab world continues to make YouTube channels. You obviously see tons in English, but YouTube channels in Arabic are few. If anyone knows of anymore please post them in the comments.

Saturday

Niyalak نيالك - Good for You

The word نيالك (niyalak) is used in Lebanese and Syrian (as well as other dialects I'm sure) to mean "good for you", "oh how lucky you are", "good job", and other things along that line. The example sentences will make its use clear. نياله (niyalu) is "good for him", نيالها (niyala) is "good for her", نيالنا (niyalna) is "good for us", you get the idea.1. نياله اذا نجح بالامتحان - Good for him if he passed the test.
2. انا عربي يا نيالي - I'm Arab. Good for me.

'Quick' in Syrian Dialect

Lots of times in Arabic dialects the MSA word will be used as well as another word to mean the same thing. This is the case for the word قوام (qawaam). It is used to mean "quickly", but the MSA word بسرعة (bisur'a) is also used. This word is used in Lebanese, Syrian, Egyptian and I'm sure some surrounding countries as well. I know very little about Palestinian and Jordanian because most of the language I hear is from TV shows and only a few TV shows come out of those countries. An example of the usage of this word can be found below the video.

1. حضريلي كاسة شاي قوام (haddireelee kaasat shaay 'awam) - Fix me a cup of tea, quickly.

If you used بسرعة instead of قوام it would mean the same thing. If you know MSA but aren't so great at dialect you can always use the MSA word and 99% of the time it will work fine. Remember, Arabic speakers watch the news and understand it so if you throw in a news word you're going to get your point across. Some people will tell you this isn't true and I've had people tell me that as well. They say that you can't speak MSA in an Arabic speaking country and be understood, but in my experience the reason these people weren't understood is because their pronunciation was very bad. If all you know is MSA and you speak it in an Arabic country people will find it funny since it's rarely spoken by regular people in everyday situations, but you will be understood just fine.

Friday

What's the right way to say Qatar?

Qatar is a word you will hear pronounced all kinds of different ways. It's been in the news a lot lately since it was announced December 2nd that it will host the 2022 Soccer World Cup. There's really no way to say it correctly with an accent other than the Arabic one since it has 3 letters that aren't in English, but you can get close.

Wednesday

TV Review: Syrian Series Abu Janti

The Syrian TV show Abu Janti (المسلسل السوري ابو جانتي) is one of the best Arabic shows I've seen. It's a comedy show mainly, but it's got drama too. The show centers around the life of a taxi driver named Abu Janti, his mother and sister, and his friends. A lot of the show is shot from inside his taxi as he picks up odd characters around Damascus. For me, his interaction with them is the best part of the show. I also love that since Abu Janti is driving around Damascus you really get to see the city, its streets, buildings, and people. The show isn't restricted to the inside of building and you get to see a place that you've never been.

One thing that's invaluable about this show from the standpoint of someone trying to master the Arabic language is that the language spoken in the show is really authentic. It's much more like how real people talk than dubbed soap operas. If you can understand everything in this show then you have done it. You can say that you are a master of at least the Syrian Arabic dialect. I'll admit that I don't understand everything that's said, but that tells me that I'm watching the right show. In dubbed soap operas the language is much simpler and a lot less slang and colorful language is used. They're good for starting out because everything is very clear, but even if you can understand every word in them there is a lot that they won't expose you to.
On the topic of not understanding everything, often the most difficult to understand people are the ones who are not very educated. In this show there is a friend of Abu Janti named Abu Layla (ابو ليلة) who represents that type of person. The actor wears fake teeth on top that jut out and make it hard to understand him. He also doesn't move his lips much when he talks. He's supposed to be a village idiot character, but there are so many characters like that in this show which is what makes it so fun to watch. Abu Layla has a pretty wife somehow and it's hard to believe that a marriage between 2 people who are so different would happen in real life. Abu Layla isn't satisfied with his wife though because she bosses him around all the time. I guess that's why he's always hitting on every pretty girl that walks infront of his button shop. Most of the time you see him he's forcing his one employee, Waleed (وليد), to transcribe the songs he thinks up to woo women.

The two characters that I don't really enjoy are Sa'eed (سعيد) and Su'aad (سعاد). Sa'eed is approximately 35 to 40 years old and he spends all his time trying to become a good enough soccer goalie to actually be allowed to play in a game. His girlfriend Su'aad is played by an actress who has been in a lot of popular Syrian shows including Dunya (دنيا) and Bab al Hara (باب الحارة), but I really just find the two of them annoying. Su'aad's personality is very abrasive and I never really cared about Sa'eed's plight. The rest of the characters are much more interesting. Abu Janti's sister Awatif (عواطف) is really cute and naive and wears her emotions on her sleeve. The love story between her and Abu Layla's employee Waleed is fun to watch unfold. Then there's Imad (عماد) who works as a painter and lies to a girl who he sees from the balcony that he owns the place he's painting. He strings a bunch of lies over many episodes to make himself seem like he's rich and important so that she likes him.

I would recommend this series to anyone wants to watch something in Arabic but finds most shows boring. The show isn't overly conservative which allows it to present more interesting scenarios than some other shows. The Arabic in the show will be extremely hard to understand at first, but give it time. You're learning even when you don't think you are. You can watch the show at panet.co.il.

Tuesday

How to say something in Arabic شي

Many times when someone finds out that you know a language other than English they'll ask you to say something in that language. Some people I know will do just that and say whatever "something" is in their language. It's a simple answer and avoids you having to think of a random sentence to say. And if you ask them, "What do you want me to say?" then they'll usually think of the most convoluted complex jargon for you to translate. When you can't translate it they'll say, "I thought you said you knew language x?" So instead of having to deal with all that, just say today's word of the day, "something", or in Arabic, شي.

Examples for context:

1. مشينا شي 20 متر (mshayna shi 'ashreen mitr) - We walked about 20 meters.
2. ما بدي شي منك (ma beddi shi minnak) - I don't want anything from you.

Monday

Arabic Word of the Day - low واطي

The word واطي is used to mean low literally and figuratively. You can call someone low (i.e. lowdown good for nothing snake in the grass) just like you would in English, or you can use it to mean something like "lower your voice". In MSA منخفض is used to mean low. واطي is specific to Levantine dialect and isn't used at all in MSA.

1. هو واحد واطي (huwwi waahid waati) - He is a lowdown good for nothing double crossing snake in the grass.
2. وطّي صوتك (watti sootak) - Lower your voice.

I also have a question for anyone who can answer it. There's a Jordanian song sung by احمد الدرايسة (Ahmad-Al-Draysseh) that says حيطنا مش واطي واحنا اردنية. Does anyone know what حيط is?

Sunday

Word with a lot of meanings - طلع

In this video I try to give a few examples of the many ways the word طلع is used. For someone first starting to learn Levantine dialect it seems like this word can just be thrown anywhere and mean anything, but with enough exposure you start to learn situations where it is used. A lot of the time it just means 'go', but there are many other uses.
1. إطلع من وشي/راسي (itla' min wishi/raasi) - Get out of my face.
2. إطلع السيارة (itla' assayyaara) - Get in the car.
3. طلّع فيي (talla' fiyyi) - Look at me.
4. بنهاية المحكمة هي طلعت بريئة (binihaayat almahkama hiyi tala'it baree'a) - At the end of the trial she turned out innocent.

Saturday

Trouble Arabs have when learning English

The comment that ragtag3333/Linguist made on The Hardest Part About Arabic post got me thinking about some of the difficulties that Arabic speakers have with English. Now I've never had to learn English and am not a native speaker of Arabic so I haven't had to go through what people find difficult in English. I do remember having trouble with knowing when to put 'b' or 'd' in a word when writing it. Something about the mirror image of the letters confused me as a kid. I would write something like 'sudway' instead of 'subway', but I think that's a problem most kids have. Spelling is definitely a big problem for learners of English as well as native English speakers. The fact the bomb, tomb, comb all end in 'omb' but don't rhyme is just one example of many that attests to how convoluted English spelling is.

A specific problem to native Arabic speakers that I've written about before is differentiating between 'p' and 'b'. Since Arabic has no 'p' sound Arab speakers will often say 'p' as 'b' like banda bear or bolice.
The difference between 'f' and 'v' also comes up because, again, there is no 'v' in Arabic. So you will hear many Arabs say 'fery' instead of 'very'. This isn't as widespread at the 'p' vs. 'b' thing though.

The fact that English has many vowel sounds while Arabic only has a few is another problem. The words 'pit', 'pet', 'put', 'pot', and 'pat' might be the hardest in the entire language for Arabic speakers to pronounce and recognize. Words that are only differentiated by their vowel sound are tough. I know a guy who couldn't hear the difference between 'bomb', 'pump', and 'bump'. The 'o' and 'u' sound were hard for him as well as the 'p' and 'b'. The difference between 'six' (6) and 'sex' also causes problems. The 'e' sound in 'sex' just isn't found in Arabic. Many will say 'sixy' instead of 'sexy'.

These mistakes don't cause too much difficulty in being understood though. As long as the word that is said incorrectly is in a sentence to give it context it's fine. However if someone just asks you what X means and they're saying it wrong (like asking what pit means when they actually are trying to ask what pet means), then you can run into problems.

What are some more difficulties people and especially Arabic speakers face in learning English?

How do you say Al Qaeda القاعدة ?

When the terrorist group "Al Qaeda" first became a household name no one knew how to pronounce its name. The same kind of thing happened with Osama and Usama. The second pronunciation is closer, but for some reason the first one stuck. Today on the news you'll hear mostly "al kayda". The news anchors will change the ق to a 'k' and the ع to a 'y'. This isn't really a problem though. In fact I actually view it as somewhat pretentious when someone switches to a foreign accent just to say one word, like when people say Pari instead of Paris when they are speaking English. So I don't hold it against people who pronounce this the American way, I just figured I'd make a video to show the correct way to say it because it is a confusing word when you read it in English.

Arabic Dialects - must لازم

The word لازم (lazim) is another essential Arabic dialect word. It means "must" or "has to". It's used in many (if not all) dialects, not just Levantine, and understood by everyone. It's also a very simple word to use since you don't have to worry about conjugating it. You just conjugate the verb that comes after it.

1. لازم تروح ع الجامعة (lazim trooh 'aljami'a) = you have to go to the university
2. لازم تفكّر في الموضوع قبل ما تاخذ قرار (lazim itfakkir filmowdoo' abl ma takhuth araar) = you have to think about the issue before you make a decision
3. بكرا هو لازم يشتغل (bukra huwi lazim yashtagil) = tomorrow he has to work

Levantine Arabic - to happen صار

The word صار is one of the most important words to understand in Levantine Arabic because it is used all the time. It's used in all the Levant countries, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Palestine, but least used in Jordan. The word is used to mean "to happen" and also has to do with time in some sentences. The example sentences should clear up the word for you. You will also hear the form of this word صاير (saayir) for example in the sentence شو صاير which means the same thing as شو عم بيصير. It's present tense.

Example sentences:
1. شو عم بيصير = What's going on?
2. رح كون جمبك شو ما صار = I will be by your side no matter what happens.
3. قدي صارلك بلبنان؟ = How long have you been in Lebanon?
4. صارلك شهرين غايب عني = You've been away from me for 2 months.

Wednesday

Syrian Dialect - at all بنوب

This post/video is the beginning of a new thing that I'm starting, the Arabic Word of the Day. They aren't going to be every day, but when I do post them there will be a video and sample sentences that focus on 1 word or phrase. It might be in MSA or in a dialect. The Arabic word today is بنوب and it is specific to Syria. You may see it spelled "bnoob" or "bnobe" online. It means "at all". This isn't used in all Levantine dialects although it is widely understood due to Syrian TV shows. I was thinking about it after I finished the video and the word نهائياً can be used in place of بنوب in pretty much every case and it is used in Jordan and Lebanon and other places.



The sample sentences in the video are:
  1. ما بحب هالكلام منك بنوب (ma baheb halkalaam minak ibnoob) - I don't like that talk from you at all.
  2. هلق مو وقتها بنوب (hala' moo wa'ta bnoob) - Now is not the time for that at all.

Saturday

Cursing in Arabic

This post is about all the bad words that you're unlikely to learn in a language class. You have to do the research on your own or have some Arab friends who will teach you. As far as I'm concerned words like this should be taught. You don't have to use them, but it's good to know them so that you at least have an idea of what people are saying either to you or just around you. This is a touchy subject when talking about the Arabic language specifically. I've noticed that many Arabs want everyone to think that Arabic is a modest and pure language. By many it is viewed as the language of God after all. So a lot of people take offense when words like this are taught. It's not like in English where no one really cares if swearing is taught to foreigners. I don't think Americans view it as blemishing our reputation if people know that there is profanity in English, but lots of Arabs take it personally. The truth is that every language on Earth has profanity. So, view this post as a purely academic endeavor.

First are some phrases you can say when someone wrongs you. For example, you're carrying something and someone bumps into you causing you to drop and break it. You can say these in response. They aren't considered vulgar and are very mild but still said when angry:

  • يقطع عمرك (yaqta' 'omrak) - May God kill you. (يقطع means "cut", and عمرك is "your life")
  • يخرب بيتك (yikhrib beytak) - May God destroy your house. (God is implied in this and the previous phrase)
  • الله لا يعطيك العافية (allah la ia'teek al'aafia) - May God not give you health. (I was in a restaurant in Amman and one waiter said this to another when his friend spilled a drink. He was joking, but it can be said in anger too. This is also said commonly without the negation. الله يعطيك العافية - God give you health.
  • العمى (al'ama) - Literally 'blindness'. It's used like 'damn'.
Next are the vulgar words that shouldn't be said around anyone:
  • كس (kis) - vagina
  • شرموطة (sharmoota) - whore (plural is شراميط shraameet)
  • زب (zib) - dick/cock (plural is زباب zbab)
  • بز (biz) - tit (pural is بزاز bzaz)
  • طيز (teez) - ass
  • عير ('ayr) - dick/cock (There's a funny video of a news anchor mistakenly saying صباح العير instead of صباح الخير , basically 'dick morning' instead of 'good morning'. Just type in صباح العير in You Tube.)
  • خرى (khara) - shit
How these are used in phrases:
  • كس اختك (kis ikhtak) - you're sister's vagina (like English 'fuck')
  • يا ابن الشرموطة (ya ibn asharmoota) - you son of a whore
  • مص زبي (mus zibbi) - suck my dick
  • الحس طيزي (ilhas teezi) - lick my ass
  • عيري فيك ('ayri feek) - my dick is in you
  • كل خرى (kul khara) - eat shit
This list doesn't not include all Arabic curse words. There are a lot more. This is just intended to give exposure to what's out there. There are some Disney videos here that are dubbed over with cursing that are actually pretty funny. If anyone can tell me what dialect that is I would be grateful. It sounds like a mix between Levantine and Gulf dialect because they use بدي for "I want" but the accent sounds like Gulf and they say ك as 'ch'.

Friday

Lebanese/Syrian Phrases

The shows I was watching when I came across these phrases are: Dunia (دنيا) and Bab al-Hara (باب الحارة). Both of those are Syrian and there is one phrase that is only used in Lebanon in the video. I don't remember what I was watching when I caught that one.


  • انت عم بتصف معها (Enta 'am bitsaf ma'a) - You're taking her side.
  • لساتك عم تتوحمي؟ (Lissaatik 'am tatwahhami?) - Are you still having cravings?
  • انا بحبها لندا (Ana bahiba lanada) - I love Nada. (Only used in Lebanon)
  • سلملي عليه (Sellimli 'alih) - Say hi to him for me.
  • لا تفهمني غلط (La tafhamni ghalat) - Don't get me wrong.
  • مقطوع من شجرة (Maqtoo' min shajara) - Cut from a tree (someone with no family).
  • خيرها بغيرها (khayra bighayra) - Maybe some other time.

Please let me know if there's any way I can improve on these videos. Am I choosing phrases that you don't care about? Am I saying them too fast? I worry that someone beginning in Arabic might need more explanation. Am I explaining enough? Thanks much for watching and I hope you're learning something. :)

Saturday

Lebanese You Tube series: Shankaboot

If you're interested in learning authentic Lebanese Arabic, the type that is spoken by everyday people in Beirut then check out the You Tube series Shankaboot. It's a low budget show that is really high quality. It looks even better than a lot of the shows I've seen on Arabic TV. The story is interesting and the Arabic in it is great. The show has English subtitles that you can select as well. The series stars a delivery boy, Suleiman Shankaboot, in Beirut who gets involved with the mafia. It's not a conservative show which makes it more interesting. It has everything that you would find on American TV. The show also shoots in Bekaa البقاع for a few episodes so you get to hear what some of the rural Lebanese dialect sounds like.

The language is much different from the kind of thing you'll see on Lebanese talk shows and shows dubbed in Lebanese. Even though those shows are in Lebanese dialect the language contains less slang and is more proper. The thing I'm most interested in right now is Arabic slang and sayings. I've learned how educated upper class people talk, but I'm not as good as I'd like to be with slang. It's harder to find resources for that kind of thing because people have an aversion to teaching a way of speaking that they feel is wrong. It's just like how most Americans view Ebonics. It is viewed as bastardized form of English and no one teaches it. I've met a lot of foreigners who try to understand African Americans when they speak to them on the street but can't. That's how I feel when it comes to Arabic spoken in everyday life. I've learned a lot of everyday Arabic in the past year or so, but I still understand the news better than I do 2 friends just talking and joking with each other. I'm trying to change that.

And, if you can find it, another good show for learning authentic spoken Arabic is called Dunia دنيا. It's a comedic Syrian drama about a girl who comes from the country side to work as a maid and earn a living in Damascus and her dialect reflects that. She speaks with an accent that I hadn't heard before and it took a while to get used to. I still don't understand everything that it said in the show, but that means that it's something I can learn from. I stopped watching dubbed shows because I noticed that I can understand the vast majority of everything that's said. Dubbed shows have a more simplified and less "slangy" form of the language. Anyway, I found Dunia and a lot of good shows on arabseries.org, but they only accept new registrations from time to time. I would keep checking if you're interested because that site has tons of shows. I paid $20 a while ago for unlimited downloads.

Sunday

Ma'qoul Mesh Ma'qoul Lyrics and Translation

If you like current Arabic pop music you should subscribe to the following YouTube channels: MelodyTvgroup, MelodyMusicGroup, and MelodyMusicRecords. That is how I found this song "Ma'qoul Mesh Ma'qoul" by the Lebanese singer Dominique Hourani دومينيك حوراني. I like songs like this that have have a debka feel to them. I've translated the song in a way that would sound like how someone speaking English would say the phrases. For example, I didn't translate مش معقول to mean "illogical", "irrational", or "unreasonable" even though those are all meanings of the word as those don't really fit. When translating something into English I think it's best to take into account how an English speaker would say something. The meaning is more important than adhering to the dictionary translation. Some people don't like this method. They feel that every word has a 1 to 1 exact translation into English. For example, it's better in most cases to translate ان شاء الله as "hopefully" and not "if God wills it". The literal translation is "if God wills it", but in almost every case it's used to just mean "hopefully". Literal translations like that also make Arabs seem a lot more radical to western audiences. Most people aren't thinking about God when they say "inshalla", and the same thing for the phrase بالله as it's used to respond when someone tells you something incredible. Literally it means "by God??", but when it's said the person means "really??". Anyway, that's a bit of a tangent. Enjoy the song! :D


معقول مش معقول (ma'ool mish ma'ool) - Really? No way!
معقول مش معقول (ma'ool mish ma'ool) - Really? No way!
معقول مش معقول شو جنيت (ma'ool mish ma'ool shoo janeyt) - Really? No way! Have you gone crazy?
معقول يعني تكون غيري حبيت (ma'ool ya'ni tkoon gheyri habeyt) - Is it true that you love someone other than me?

لا ما بصدق لا هالعملة بتعملها (la ma basaddi' la hal'amli bta'mila) - No, I don't believe this thing that you've done.
و ان كنك عاملها ما ترجع عالبيت (wa in kinak 'aamilha ma trj'a 'albeyt) - And if you've done it, don't come back home.

مش من واحد من مية (mish min wahid min miyi) - Not 1, but 100
سمّعوني هالخبرية (samm'aooni halkhabariyi) - have told me this news
و ان شاء الله تكون مزبوطة (wa in shalla tkoon mazboota) - And I hope it's true
يا معتر يا ريت, يا ريت, يا ريت (ya m'attar ya reyt, ya reyt, ya reyt) - you stupid. I hope, I hope, I hope.

لخلي الدنيا كلها تسمع صريخك و الله (lakhali aldinyi killa tasm'a sareekhak wallah) - Let the whole world hear you yell.
عم بحلفلك بالله يا ريت يا ريت يا ريت ('am bahliflak bi allah ya reyt, ya reyt, ya reyt) - I swear to God. I hope, I hope, I hope.

(chorus)

عن شغلة تخليت كرامة رقة احساسك ('an shaghli tkhalleyt kramat ri'at ahsaasak) - You've forgotten about something, your senses of honor and kindness.
بتقعّدني بالبيت بتفلت انت عراسك (bit'a'adni bilbeyt btiflit enta 'araasak) - You make me sit at home and go you lose your mind.
عراسك عراسك لا و الله ('araasak 'araasak la wallah) - your mind, your mind, no oh God.

(chorus)

عن قصد مش عن قصد ما بيفيد ('an 'asd mish 'an 'asd ma beefeed) - Whether you meant it or not doesn't matter.
ما تقلي غلطة و ما كانت بالايد (ma t'ili ghalta wa ma kaanit bileed) - Don't tell me it was a mistake and not your fault.

(chorus)

Saturday

Lebanese Phrases from Fares Karam Songs

These phrases all come from songs by Fares Karam. As far as I'm concerned doing things like this is the best way to learn a language, i.e. using authentic material like songs and videos. In the video I sing the phrases the way Fares Karam sings them and also say them word by word so you can tell where one word ends and the next word begins. That was one of my big problems when trying to learn Levantine dialect. Everything would just run together since things aren't said as separated as they are in MSA. Let me know if things like this are helpful and what you'd like more of.



بقعد من دون شمس و ماي, بس ما بقعد بلاكي (ba'ud min doon shams oo mai, bes ma ba'ud balaaki) - I can go without sun and water, but I can't go without you.

ضيق لبسك ما عندك أوسع منه (dayyi' libsik ma 'andik aws'a minu) - Your clothes are tight, don't you have any looser ones?

نام بغني بوعا بغني ضيعتيلي عقلي مني وخليتيني دوب (nam baghanni boo'a baghanni day'atili 'a'li mini oo kheleytini doob) - I sing in my sleep, I sing when I'm awake, you made me lose my mind and made me melt.

اللي بتقصر تنورة تلحقها عيون الشباب (Illi bit'assir tanoora tilha'ha 'ayoon ashabab) - The one who shortens her skirt, the eyes of the boys follow her.

وين بتكوني انا بكون و حبك بدي (wayn bitkooni ana bkoon oo hobik bedi) - Where you are, I am and I want your love.

شفتها بشارع الحمرا بإيدها في قلم حمرا عم بتشيله من الجزدان (shifta bshaari' al hamra bi eeda fi 'alam hamra 'am bitsheelu min al jizdaan) - I saw her on "Red" street with a lipstick in her hand taking it out of the purse.

Tuesday

France 24 Arabic Commercial Campaign

On YouTube I subscribe to the French news channel France 24 and today I noticed some videos titled so and so "apprend l'arabe". I don't know much French, but I understand enough to know that that means so and so "learns Arabic". To promote their Arabic news channel they have these faked videos of famous people trying to speak Arabic. There's Bill Gates, Barack Obama, Hu Jintao, and the Queen of England learning things like numbers and how to say hello. They're all really funny, but my favorite part is how they have Bill Gates say "4". I'm sure this is how my Arabic sounded 3 years ago. :D

Bill Gates:

video

Barack Obama:

video

Queen of England

video

Hu Jintao

video

Saturday

Syrian Arabic from Bab Al-Hara

I've been watching a lot of the Syrian show Bab Al-Hara باب الحارة lately and I really like the way they talk. They usually draw out the last syllable of a phrase. They'll say the whole sentence really fast and then on the last syllable they slow down. In Jordan I spoke in this accent to a taxi driver he replied to me in the same fashion and then called me عقيد (colonel) which is what one of the characters in the show is called. He then told me that he had named one of his sons عقيد because he liked the name so much. It's a really popular show in the Arab world and just finished its 5th season during Ramadan. Here are some phrases that I took from episodes of the show. They are pronounced in the Syrian accent that they use which is a little bit different than the modern day Syrian accent, but I like it better :P.



  • رح تأكل اصابيعك وراها (rah takul asaabee'ak waraaha) - You'll eat your fingers along with it.
This phrase is said about really delicious food. It's so good that you'll eat your fingers too in order to make sure you get all of the taste. Literally it's "you'll eat your fingers behind it."
  • إصطفل (istafil) - Do what you want
Say that you're arguing with someone who's about to do something stupid. You say this when you're fed up and just don't care anymore about what the person does.
  • ما عم بيجيني نوم (ma 'am beejeenee nawm) - I can't sleep
Literally "sleep is not coming to me".
  • مكتوب (maktoob) - a letter
In MSA رسالة is letter, but it's more often called a مكتوب (literally "a written") in Syrian.
  • علمي علمك ('ilmi 'ilmak) - I know what you know.
Literally "my knowledge is your knowledge".
  • ما بيطلع بيدي (ma byatl'a biidi) - I can't do it
Literally, "it can't happen by my hand."
  • طوّل بالك (tawwil baalak) - Calm down/wait a second
Literally, "lengthen your mind".
  • روق (roo') - Calm down
You may also hear روق يا فاروق because it rhymes. فاروق is just a guy's name.

How to Hit on Arab Girls تلطيش


Here are a few phrases you can try out on Arab girls. All but the last one are Lebanese but they will be understood by all Arabs. Don't get mad at me if they don't have the desired effect, but in most cases the girl will think it's cute and smile or laugh since you're a foreigner. However, if it's an Arab guy saying it the result won't be the same. There's a big chance they'll get slapped or at the very least ignored. Use with caution :P. The Arabic word for phrases like this is تلطيش which is "cat calling". The word غزل is "flirting".
The comic says, on the right "Lebanese flirting: You see how big the moon is? That's how much I love you". On the left: "Our flirting (meaning Saudi): I swear I'll punch in the stomach anyone who says your name."



  • انت بتتأكلي بلا ملح (Inti btitakli bila milih) - You could be eaten without salt.
This phrase sounds dumb in English, but it's actually something that's said in Lebanon. It's like, "you're so sweet" or something. The idea is that she tastes so good you don't need to put salt on her to eat her. The connotation isn't sexual as it might be taken in English.

  • حلو جسمك. شو اسمك؟ - (Helu jismik. Shoo ismik?) - Your body is nice. What's your name?
It's cool because it rhymes. Not as cool in English. :)

  • رح جبلك لبن العصفور (Rah jiblik laban al'asfoor) - I will bring you birds' milk
So the idea with this one is that since birds don't have milk you're basically saying "I'll do the impossible for you" or "I'll do anything for you". I think this is used in countries outside the Arabic world as well because I read it on a Russian site. Needless to say it definitely wouldn't be understood in English speaking countries.

  • تقبريني (tu'burini) - Bury me
This one is a phrase of endearment. It's like saying "I'd die for you" or "you're to die for". You can even use it to address someone. You can say to your girlfriend or someone you love يا تقبريني which would be like "oh one who buries me".

  • شو هالجسد يا اسد (Shoo hal jasad ya asad) - What a body you lion!
Another rhyming one. Saying lion here is like calling a girl a fox in English.

  • شو هالنطة يا بطة (Shoo hal nuttah ya battah) - What's this bouncing you duck!
A girl with a big chest and big butt is called a بطة (duck) in Arabic slang. If you look at a picture of a rubber ducky you can see why.

  • شو هالطعجة يا نعجة (Shoo hal ta'je ya na'je) - What a swagger you ewe (female sheep).
This is just like the two above it. It's a cat call. I wouldn't call it a pick up line. It's something some Arab guys will say as a girl is walking by. This one is used in Jordanian and I'm not really sure if it would be understood elsewhere, so if you have a female Jordanian friend try this out and see what she says. :)

Tuesday

Is Arabic harder to read than other languages?


This article from the BBC say that it is. Due to the fact that many Arabic letters are very similar, mainly the ones that only differ in the number of dots they have, the left side of the brain is the only side that works when reading Arabic. This is in contrast to languages like English and Hebrew where most of the letters are very different from each other. I remember confusing "b" and "d" as a child though and I've seen some people who are learning English do the same since the two letters are just a mirror image of each other. When I was learning the Arabic alphabet about 3 years ago I always mixed up the letters, and one can see how that is easy to do. You've got ن ت and ث which only vary in number of dots, ح ج and ح as well as ص and ض and don't forget ع and غ. Pretty much every letter can be changed into another letter by adding or taking away a dot and I guess the right side of the brain has trouble dealing with that. I wonder what the brain does when you're trying to decipher Arabic calligraphy. :)