Arabic vocabulary for beginners

Written by nicole hunter
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Arabic vocabulary for beginners
The Arabic language is spoken in many countries around the world. (peace! in Arabic: Salam image by Tristano Ajmone from Fotolia.com)

Over 220 million people throughout the world are speakers of the Arabic language. Many of these people reside in countries where Arabic serves as the official language. Moreover, there are as many as 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. Many of them do not speak Arabic as their native language, but since Arabic is the primary language of Islamic religious observance, most Muslims speak at least some Arabic. Overall, Arabic is an important language on the world scene, and while it may seem to be an intimidating language to learn, there are some simple words and phrases that beginners can easily pick up.

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Greetings

A common greeting in Arabic is "marhaban" (emphasis on the second syllable), which typically means "hello" and/or "welcome." To respond, simply say "marhaban" back to the person who said it to you. Another common greeting in Arabic cultures, albeit one with more Islamic significance, is "salam alaikum" (emphasis on the second syllable in both words). This phrase is translated as "peace be with you," but it serves the same purpose as "hello." The appropriate response to this greeting is "walaikum assalam" (emphasis on the second syllable in both of these words, as well), which means, "Peace be upon you, also."

Polite Responses

If you ever go shopping in an Arabic shop (or "souk" in Arabic), it will be helpful to know a few words in Arabic to use with the shopkeeper. "Shukran" (emphasis on the last syllable) means "thank you." The appropriate response to "shukran" is "afwan" (emphasis on the first syllable), which means "you're welcome." If you need to say "please" in Arabic, you should say "min fadlek" (with the emphasis in "fadlek" on the first syllable).

Exchanging Names

When you meet someone new, you will likely want to ask for that person's name. In Arabic, you would say, "Ma ismok?" (The emphasis in "ismok" is on the second syllable.) If someone asks you what your name is, the appropriate response should begin with "ismokee" (emphasis on the last syllable). So, if someone said "Ma ismok?" to you, you would respond by saying, for example, "Ismokee John."

Polite Conversation

We have already discussed how to appropriately greet someone in Arabic. However, if you wish to continue the conversation, you can say, "Kaif halak?" (The emphasis in "halak" is on the first syllable.) This means, "How are you?" Appropriate responses to this question are "bikhaiyr" (emphasis on the second syllable) which means "fine," or "alhamdulillah" (emphasis on the fourth syllable), which if literally translated means "thank God," but in this context is taken to mean something along the lines of, "Not great, but not bad ... thank God for everything I have been given."

Some Colloquial Expressions

There are many different dialects of Arabic, and each one has its own unique features. However, the Egyptian dialect is the most widely understood, because it is the dialect of Arabic pop culture; it is often used in Arabic films and TV shows. A few of these simple colloquial expressions can be very useful. For example, if you are in a taxi and wish for the driver to slow down, you can say, "Ala mahlak" (emphasis on the first syllable of "mahlak"). If someone does something that surprises you, you can say, "Ya salaam!" (The emphasis here is on the second syllable of "salaam.") If you approve wholeheartedly of something, you can say, "Zaay ilfull" (emphasis on the second syllable of "ilfull"), which is literally translated as "like jasmine," but is taken to mean "perfect."

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