Getting along in Arabic

From Wikimania 2011 • Haifa, Israel

Arabic (العربية, al-ʕarabiya or عربي ʕarabi) is a Semitic language, and is one of the two official languages of Israel. The written form of Arabic differs significantly from the spoken form, therefore street signs and leaflets often use different vocabulary and grammar from those heard from native Arabic speakers on everyday occasions. Unlike the written form which is more-or-less the same in all Arab countries, spoken Arabic has numerous dialects. The local dialect of Haifa is known as Palestinian urban dialect, and is part of the Shami (شأمي) group of dialects, which is common in northern and central Israel (though southern dialects are spoken in some villages in the north), the Palestinian Territories (particularly north of Hebron), northern and central Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Local Arabic speakers are usually multilingual (as most Israelis, but even to a greater extent) and can often speak or at least understand the Egyptian dialect of Arabic (مصري Masri), Hebrew and English.


Street sign in Haifa directing to the auditorium in Carmel Centre. The word "Auditorium" repeats in Hebrew, Arabic and English. The Arabic spelling is Alif-Waw-Dal-Ya-Ta-Waw-Ra-Ya-Waw-Mim. Note that Arabic and Hebrew are written from right to left.

Arabic uses an alphabet of 28 letters (and some additional symbols). The alphabet is an abjad, namely it indicates first and foremost the consonants, while the vowels are partially marked, and often in an ambiguous way. The Arabic alphabet is cursive, i.e. letters usually join one another, which means that their shapes also change according to their position in the word. Many letters share similar shapes, therefore Arabic relies heavily on diacritics (dots and lines above and below the letters) for disambiguation. There is a set of diacritics to distinguish between similar letters. These diacritics are always used, and are considered part of the letters themselves. There is another set of diacritics for marking vowels. These are used only when accurate reading is necessary (e.g. in holy scripts like the Quran or in poetry), or to reduce strong ambiguity which cannot be resolved by the context.

Letter Name of letter Transliteration
أ ا ـا Alif See below
ب ـبـ Ba b
ت ـتـ Ta t
ث ـثـ th (like in "thing")
ج جـ ـجـ Jim j
ح حـ ـحـ Ħa ħ (like h in "half", but with more noise)
خ خـ ـخـ kh (ch as in "loch")
د Dal d
ذ th (like in "there")
ر Ra r (like the Scottish or Spanish pronunciation of "r")
ز Zay z
س ـسـ Sin s (like in "song")
ش ـشـ Shin sh
ص ـصـ Śad ś (like "s" but with a slight rise of the back of the tongue)
ض ـضـ ď (like "d" but with a slight rise of the back of the tongue)
ط Tet ţ
ظ ź (either "th" like in "there" or "z" but with a slight rise of the back of the tongue)
ع عـ ـعـ ʕayn ʕ
غ غـ ـغـ gh (very similar to the French "r" in "rue" or the Flemish pronunciation of "g")
ف فـ ـفـ Fa f
ك كـ ـكـ Kaf k
ق Qaf q (like "k" but a bit further deep in the throat; in spoken dialects often pronounced like Alif)
ل لـ ـلـ Lam l
م مـ ـمـ Mim m
ن ـنـ Nun n
هـ ـهـ ـه ه Ha h (like in "half")
و Waw w
ي يـ ـيـ y


The letters "ا" (Alif), "و" (waw) and "ي" (ya) are letters that can sometimes indicate a vowel instead of a consonant (which would be, respectively, ', h, w and y).

Basics Phrases

Hello - مرحبا. (márħaba)
See you later إلى لقاء. (ìla lɪqá)
Goodbye (asking to leave a meeting) - بخاطركم ("bèkhatérkom", lit. "with your permission")
Goodbye (response to a request to leave) - مع سلامة ("maʕ-saláme", lit. "peace be with you")
Good morning - صباح الخير (ṣabàħ-el-khér)
Good evening / Good afternoon - مساء الخير (màsa-l-khér)
Good night - تصبح على خير (téṣbaħ ʕála kher lit. "wake up to a good morning")
How are you feeling? - addressing to a man -
كيف حالك؟; (kif ħalak?)
How are you feeling? - addressing to a woman-
كيف حالك؟; (kif ħalki?)
How are you feeling? - polite address-
كيف حال حضرتك؟; (kif ħal ħaďratak?
What's new? -
شو أخبارك؟; (shu akhbarak?)
Nice to meet you / How do you do? - تشرفت (tsharaft or təsharafət lit. "I am honored")
Thank you - شكرًا (shokran)
Please - addressing to a man-
من فضلك; (mən faďlak)
Please - addressing to a woman-
من فضلك; (mən faďləki)
Allow me - addressing to a man-
اسمح لي; (əsmaħ li)
Allow me - addressing to a woman-
اسمحي لي; (əsmaħi li)
Sorry - when said by a man-
متأسف (mətʔasef);
Sorry - when said by a woman-
متأسفة (mətʔasfe);
I don't understand - ما بافهمش (ma bafhaməsh)
What is your name? (said to a man) - شو اسمك؟ (shu ismak?)
What is your name? (said to a woman) - شو اسمك؟ (shu isəmki?)
What is your name? (polite address) - شو اسم حضرتك؟ (shu isəm ħaďratak ?)
My name is... - اسمي ... ("əsmi ...")

Other Online Resources

Getting Along in Hebrew

See also Getting Along in Hebrew - the other and main official language of Israel.