Ten Essential Arabic Phrases To Transform Your Trip

Written by Jaillan Yehia. Posted in Africa, Continents, Egypt, Opinion, Top Ten Travel Tips

Arabic signs in Downtown Cairo

Arabic signs in Downtown Cairo

Learning a few key words and phrases of a language always helps your trip to go more smoothly. Unlike some countries where your best linguistic efforts go unappreciated – or worse you’re answered in perfect English –  Egypt and other Arab countries smile on those who try a bit of Arabic.

A few words and a little bit of willing goes a long way to build rapport and can literally be the making of your trip.  Here are ten essential Arabic phrases you’ll hear and use over and over again …

Arabic dream

Do you dream of speaking some Arabic? These ten phrases will get you started

1. Salaam Alaikum – Meaning ‘peace be upon you’, this is like saying hello and is a standard greeting. The response is Alaikum Salaam – and ‘upon you be peace’.

2. Shukron – Thank you / Afwan –You’re welcome.

3.  Ana iza (f) Ana Ayez (m) – I want / ana izine  – We want (and  just as importantly, don’t want = Mish Iza).

4. Meya meya – It literally means ‘100, 100’ but translates as ‘excellent’ or ‘really good’. Great to say at the end of a meal!

5. Bezupt! – Exactly!

6. Bukra –  Means ‘Tomorrow’. But you know when the Spanish say mañana and the South Africans say just now and they’re referring not to actual tomorrow but to some undetermined time in the future –  whenever someone gets round to it. Well Bukra is the Arabic equivalent.

7. Yani –The Arabic for ‘you know’, ‘so’, ‘like’ or in French alors. The word peppers Arabic conversation to such an extent that you’ll probably find it, yani, really hard to stop saying it when you get home.

8. Inshallah. Meaning God WillingThis isn’t so much a phrase as a way of life. This is added to every statement uttered, because no-one expects anything to happen, it can only come to pass if it is God’s Will  – and to assume something is guaranteed and controlled by man is bordering on the heretic. You will hear on an EgyptAir flight the following announcement: ‘Today we will be flying to Cairo, Inshallah.’ I enjoy this.

9. Khalas – It’s finished, that’s enough, let that be an end to it. If someone is hassling you, you can use this word, but it is a little abrupt so be warned!

10. Yalla – Come on, let’s go, hurry up all rolled into one great word.

Note: I am using Egyptian Arabic here as this is what I know. If I’ve got something wrong or there’s another Arabic equivalent in different countries please say –  and if you’ve found my top ten essential Arabic phrases useful I’d love to hear from you in the comments below too!

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  • Ellen Augustyns

    Jill and I are takibg a roadtrip through Morocco next March… These words could be handy while stuck in the Atlas Mountains or having a flat tire in the desert… or just while having a beer with surferboys in Essaouira 😉

  • Hisham yehia

    A nicely written and very useful blog:-)
    3. Ana ayza I want (female speaking) Ana ayez – I want (male speaking) ehna ayzin – we want
    (plural any gender)

    • savoirthere

      Thanks for the clarification! 🙂

  • “Eye-wa” – Yes and “La’a” – No, along with “hena kwayeis” are forever needed, especially if you’re going to taxi it anywhere.

    Also, I find that the gesture used to express “wait” or “hang on a sec” (cupping the palm and bringing the fingers of the hand coming together while moving the wrist up and down) is worth 1,000 words. When you want to cross roads, when you want someone to slow down, when you want someone to pay attention to what you’re saying…it’s actually quite priceless. 😉

    • savoirthere

      Thanks for the additional info – I was going to put stanna hena as ‘stay/wait here’ which I was using for taxis in a further ‘Ten More Arabic Phrases’ post , but I will use the phrase and gesture you’ve given me too 🙂

  • Sorry, “hena kwayeis” being “here is good.”

  • BeyondBlighty

    I love learning a few useful local phrases. I thought I was doing well with my Spanish until I picked up a map yesterday with all the different Peruvian, Chilean and Argentinian slang on the back. No wonder I get confused all over again when I enter a new country!

    • savoirthere

      Slang and different pronunciation really throws you off. I remember my Chilean friend getting frustrated in Argentina by their pronunciation of the letter y in Plaza de Mayo; they were going back and forth between saying Majo and Mayo and I just stood there laughing!

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