My Happily Ever After

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My happily ever after خلاص

[Editor’s note: I am really excited to have Monica beginning to write some posts about her experience of learning Egyptian Arabic. I am going to be having her share some of the process that she lives out in real time over these months ahead. For you, the reader, it will break the monotony of me writing each week… and hopefully will inspire some of you who are launching your Arabic learning, or thinking of launching. – Andrew]

“Khalas خلاص,” I simply replied. And I lived happily ever after.

No one taught me to say khalas خلاص. To this day no one has explained the definition to me. But that hasn’t stopped me from using the word. Especially early on in my time in Cairo, this word came in handy. It was like a gold nugget in my pocket.

When I moved to Cairo in 2015, I knew only a few words of Egyptian Arabic from a trip to the pyramids in 2004. I knew how to say things like table, chair, sunglasses, flip-flops, and thank you. And when I say that I knew how to say these things, what I mean is that I knew how to string together sounds which in my mind sounded similar to actual Arabic. In reality, it’s quite likely I was just doing my fair share of butchering the language.

I don’t remember the first time I heard someone say khalas خلاص. But I was able, by listening, to learn what it means and how to use it. Let’s see if you can figure it out. Continue reading “My Happily Ever After”

Ambiguity: Four ways you can learn from not fully understanding Arabic

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Accept ambiguity

Accept Ambiguity.

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner

Accept ambiguity in your conversations and interactions in Arabic. Being able to accept and be comfortable with situations in which you do not understand everything that is being said to you (or written) is essential to learning Arabic. Having the flexibility to be able to adapt to input that is slightly beyond your ability to fully grasp will stretch you and cause you to apply internal learning strategies that advance your language skills.

This article is based on the 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner.

An unfortunate scenario of not understanding everything


“Thank you very much for your offer, but for this daughter of yours, a thousand pounds would never be enough!” Setting aside the thorny issues of arranged marriages, finances, and power relationships in families in a conservative society, this sentence probably signifies the high water mark of my Arabic language blunders. It shows how awkward it can be to not understand everything being communicated around you in Arabic.

I was visiting a village in southern Egypt. I was young and thought I knew a lot of Arabic. While being introduced to the extended family of my friend I was staying with, they told me with a smile that they wanted me to marry into the family so I could stay with them forever. Arranged marriages are common in village life. I knew enough to realize that they weren’t serious, but rather were just paying a compliment to me. That compliment being, if I would pay 1000 Egyptian Pounds, I could marry their daughter Fatma. She was sitting in the room with us at the time, looking as awkward as I felt.

 ممكن تدفع ألف جنيه

Mumkin tidfa3 alf guineeh…

(you can pay 1000 pounds…)

Unfortunately, rather than do the safe thing and just laugh and not really respond, I decided to be clever with my Arabic. Continue reading “Ambiguity: Four ways you can learn from not fully understanding Arabic”

Arabic use in real life – five levels

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Five levels of Arabic

This week’s blog post is an infographic I made the other day, after speaking with Laila Al-Sawi of the Intensive Arabic Program at the American University in Cairo.  She made reference to the five levels of Arabic use described by the late El-Said Bedawi, and it got me thinking about how Classical Arabic (فصحى) and colloquial Arabic (عامية) are not as distinctly separated as many books and teaching approaches make it out to be. Rather, there is a spectrum of use. I hope this infographic is helpful in describing one model of what that looks like. Continue reading “Arabic use in real life – five levels”