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. :)


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. :)


Website Review: MTV Lebanon

A few weeks ago Dish Network replaced LBC (Lebanese Broadcasting Company) with MTV Lebanon on my satellite. MTV Lebanon isn't a music channel which is what I first thought when they replaced it. It's the same type of channel as LBC. It has news hours but also all types of shows in Lebanese (mostly), Syrian, and Egyptian. What's great about MTV though is their website. There's a commercial that comes on that really plays up how nice their website is and it isn't lying. Via the website you can watch nearly any show that they air on the TV channel. It's the same kind of thing that MBC (Saudi channel) does but the MTV website is navigable for English speakers and has more shows in Lebanese. On MBC they have a lot of Turkish soap operas dubbed in Syrian dialect, but most of their shows are in Gulf dialect since it's a TV channel based in Saudi Arabia. With the talk shows on MTV (such as بالهوا سوا "Bel Hawa Sawa" and "At MTV") the people speak like they speak in real life. They throw in all the French and English terms that they would normally use in every day speech since the show is meant for Lebanese people they don't have to change the way they speak so that Arabs from other countries will understand which is something you see on shows geared toward the entire Arab world. Another plus about MTV is that since it's a Lebanese channel their news anchors look like this:

I don't know why, but Lebanon seems to have their disproportionate share of beautiful ladies. Pictured is Diana Fakhoury. Anyway, if you're interested in video resources to help you learn the Lebanese dialect MTV Lebanon is the best place to go. Even if you don't understand much it's still a good way to immerse yourself in the language. Your brain will pick things up even if you don't feel like you're learning.


Just Interviewed for a Job with Language Line

I've been dealing with Arabic for a while now (coming up on 4 years) and I feel like I'm decent at it so I applied for a job with Language Line. They are a company that deals with over the phone interpretation. Companies such as banks, police offices, and utility companies will contract with them to interpret for customers who don't speak English. It seems like it would be a fun job where you would learn something new every day, so I thought I would apply. Now I can't interpret as well as the guys on Al Jazeera who can listen to what is being said and interpret it while it is still being said, but if someone says a sentence and then stops talking I can translate that sentence into English or Arabic. The fact that there are people who can translate while a person is continuing to talk amazes me and I can only hope to be able to do that one day. I don't like to limit things to bilingual people (people who grew up with 2 languages), but for that type of thing I think having grown up with 2 languages might be required.

Anyway, I just got off the phone with a lady who was doing my language assessment to see if I qualified to be an interpreter between Arabic and English. I think things went fairly well. She asked questions like, "Can you tell me how to get from your house to your work place?" and "Can you describe some TV shows that you watch?" I didn't make any blaring mistakes except when I was role playing a bystander who saw a car crash happen I said "there was a lot of cleaning" instead of "there was a lot of bleeding". The word for bleeding is نزيف and the word for cleaning is تنظيف. If you say them with a Lebanese accent they sound the same except for the "t" at the beginning if cleaning. She even asked me, "There was a lot of cleaning?" and I knew I had said it wrong but for some reason I didn't correct myself. Hopefully that isn't enough to disqualify me from the job, but it might be. They do get 911 calls where lives are on the line after all so every little mistake matters.

Whether I get the job or not I'm glad I gave it a try. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? Even if I'm not good enough right now, in a year or two I'm confident I will be.