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Monday, December 11, 2006

A beginner's guide to Arabic


Arabic is treasured by Muslims as the language God spoke to Mohammed in, although it has evolved since this time. There are a number of different dialects, with some differences, although normally Arabic speakers find themselves mutually intelligible. This can lead to frustrations when learning Arabic, especially in Qatar where there is such a variety of people and therefore dialects. I sometimes find myself being given different Arabic words for the same things by different nationalities, and sometimes if you ask a group of people a word they will end up arguing over which is the correct one. You may also be given the classical Arabic version which, while undoubtedly correct, may not be the Arabic used in everyday speech. (There’s also a sort of pidgin-Arabic used for foreigner workers with a tenuous grasp of Arabic). If you are interested in learning Arabic in Qatar, have a look at this list of language courses in Qatar (some free or very cheap) or at the Arabic language books on the Qatar visitor bookshop.

It is worth noting that you absolutely don’t need to speak Arabic to function in Qatar. However, not everyone speaks English and there times when it will be an advantage. Arabs will also be pleased at the interest in their language, and are always eager to help you learn.

Arabic writing

Arabic is written from right to left, although numbers are written from left to right The system of numbers we use in the West are sometimes known as Hindu-Arabic as they are based on Arabic numbers, which are in turn based on Hindu numerals. They were introduced by Arabic scholars - 0ne of these scholars' Latin name was Algorismus, from which originated the word algorithm.

One word you must know...

Khalas, meaning finished – used all the time, and even by people with a good knowledge of English. You’ll probably also hear: Yani - I mean.

Common religious phrases

Religion in Qatar is a part of everyday life, and this is reflected in the language. For instance, if you ask someone in Qatar how they are, they will reply “Fine, thanks be to God”, or more commonly just “Thanks be to God”. It’s worth knowing these phrases, as you will be sure to hear at least some of them.

Alhumdullelah – Lit: Probably closest to Thanks be to God, although used a lot more frequently than in the West. It is often mis-translated as Thank God or Thank goodness.

Assa-lum-alaikum – standard greeting lit meaning “peace be with you brother”, to which you should reply Wa-alaikum-salam

Inshau’ Allahh – God willing (or, sometimes, “you haven’t got a chance mate!”)

Bismillaah (short for Bismilaah Al Rahman Al Rahim) – Bismillaah means the name of and Al Rahman And Al Rahim are the two names of God. This is normally expressed before beginning something, whether food, a journey or an exam.

Mashaoulaah! – this literally means what God wants. It may be said to you when you report something good has happened to you, and is meant to avoid envy.

Other basic words and phrases

How are you:

To a man: Keif Halek
To a woman: Keif haluki

Answer: Bikhair, Alhumdullelah: fine, thanks be to god or more informally Zane (fine)

What is your name? – Ma Ismoka?
My name is – Ismi ... (Lit., name is... – in Arabic the subject of a sentence is often left out.)

Note: Men should be careful before asking other men about the female members of their family in Qatar. Try using the Keif Al Hal, or how’s your family)

If you please –Min fad lak
Thank you Shukran
thank you very much – Shukran jazeelan
You’re welcome - afwan
Yes - Naam (formal) Aiwa (informal)
La - No
Sorry – Asif
Today – Al Yaum
Yesterday - Ams
Tomorrow - bukrha
please – minfadlak/ lau samaht


Do you speak English?– Hal tatakalam Al Englesia?
I don’t speak Arabic. – La Ataklam Al Arabeia.
I speak a little Arabic? – Atakalam Al Arabeia Kaleelan,
I don’t know. - La Aa’ref.
I don’t understand. - La Afham.
Slowly – shwei shwei (can also mean a little)
Again! Haratan okhra.


How much? – Kam?
Food – Taa’m of Akel
Drink (verb) - Yashrab
Drink (noun) - Sharab
Water - Maa’
I want – Oreed
A little – Kaleel
A lot - Katheer
big - kabeer
small - Sagheer


Where is...? .... min wein? (informal) min Aina (formal)
Left - Yasaar
Right - Yameen
Straight on – seedah
Take me to...please Khuthnee ela...min Fadlak


one - wahed
two - ethnan
three - thalathah
four – arba’ah
five - khamsah
six - sitah
seven – saba’h
eight - thamaneiah
nine – tesa’h
ten - ashara

Farsi - useful phrases

Japanese language basics

The Online Indonesian Phrasebook

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