Arabic Lessons for Grandma

I called my Gramma on Christmas day, from my parents’ pleasantly warm fireplace-heated living room.  We talked about how things were going, said our holiday greetings, then she said “We still have that book of blog posts that Judy adds to.  You don’t write in it often anymore though.  Why don’t you try to just write once a month?  That could work, right?”

As much as I may be too busy for any random reader, or even a friend, I am never too busy for my Gramma.  So you can thank her for this post.  InshAllah (God willing), I will keep posting, at minimal, monthly.  I am grateful that the reason I have been posting less is that I feel really at home here and have found… friends!  That and teaching is anything but boring, and means that I have a never-ending to-do list.  I have officially signed on for a second year at my school, so I should have an easier second year (though we are switching text books, so my plans won’t be completely the same).  Point is that I like Kuwait and, especially, my school enough to return to it another year.

In today’s post, I’m going to give you a quick Arabic lesson, basically share the handful of words that I’ve learned.  I’m currently “grading” with a friend of mine who is studying for his college exams.  He’s Arab, so I can check with him on any spelling issues and ensure that you are getting the most accurate spellings.

Before coming, I had the best intentions to learn Arabic while here.  I bought some books on the Arabic alphabet at Barnes and Noble, had a couple of lessons with a friend of mine who spoke some Arabic, and toted an Arabic textbook all the way to Maine for the summer (where it sat in my suitcase for two months).  After not following through with my plans to study it in the US, I figured that I’d learn it on arrival.  Even that hasn’t happened much, though.  The thing is that just about everyone here speaks at least some English, I work at an English-speaking school, and I live in an apartment building with teachers who speak English.  Nothing like Ecuador, where I was truly immersed in the language.  Still, I’d be daft if I hadn’t picked up the most essential words, the words that my students and friends use all the time.  I don’t expect you to memorize them or use them, but I do hope that they give you an idea of how rich a language Arabic is.  One thing that I love about Arabic is the way that each word and phrase is deep.  What do I mean?  I’ll give you an example.

How do you greet someone in English?


How do you greet someone in Arabic?

Al salam alikum (peace be upon you)

Here’s a quick blip about why you might want to learn Arabic:

Arabic is the language of one of the wealthiest portions of the globe: the Middle East. It is the language of Islam, and as such is learnt in its classical form by Muslim children across the world. It is an extraordinarily romantic and poetic language, very rich in vocabulary, and Arabic speakers tend to be rather wordy compared to other languages. Arabic script is very beautiful, as is the importance of the language to all those that speak it. It is also between the third and sixth most widely spoken language on the planet, depending on your sources.


Here‘s a funny article about the difficulties in learning Arabic.

Onto the words that I know (prepare to be impressed- hahahaa)

inshAllah- God willing (they say this ALL THE TIME, even the secular ones.  I basically use it instead of saying “hopefully”)

masAllah- You say this whenever you complement someone or something.  You cannot just say “You have beautiful hair!”  You have to cap it with “mashAllah.”  It means: God has blessed you with this thing.

ma salama- goodbye.  Literally: safety

shukran- thank you

sahtain- bon appetit, literally “I wish a double dose of health upon you.”

wallah- I sweat to God (I learned this one in school because the girls will say it when they’re making excuses about not having their homework: “Wallah, Miss, I did it!  It’s just at home.”)

haram- forbidden in Islam.  What I like about this word, though, is that it’s also used to say “that’s terrible.”  If a student can’t read well, a teacher could say “Poor girl.  Haram.”

halal- permitted in Islam.

habibi- a term of affection for men

habibti- a term of affection for women

shinu hada- what’s that?

tisbah ala khair- sweet dreams, literally “I hope you wake up to a blessing”

mia mia- good job/ ten out of ten.

yani- they use this when they are clarifying their meaning.  Usually my girls use it whenever they know the word in Arabic that they are trying to use, but don’t know it in English.

alhamdulilah- Thank God.  Whenever someone asks “How are you?” the polite response is alhamdulilah, which is cool.  It’s like “I’m good, praise be to God.”

abla- teacher

I think that’s all I know.  See?  I really need to take classes and actually learn the language, rather than just words and phrases.  If you ever come to visit me in Kuwait, you will definitely hear these words.  Even if you don’t, and I’m visiting with you, you will find that I say them without thinking about it.  Ma salama!


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