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”

Egyptian Arabic Absolute Beginners Workshop – your sneak preview

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Egyptian Arabic Absolute Beginner's Course

Why should you care about Egyptian Arabic?

Welcome to the Egyptian Arabic Absolute Beginner’s Course. It’s great to have you here! You have made a smart choice by wanting to learn Egyptian Arabic. These past few years, Arabic has been designated as one of the top priority languages for learning not only in the United States, the UK, and other western countries, but literally worldwide. Whether it’s for business, education, government, or humanitarian work, there are opportunities for people who can speak Arabic in literally every part of the world. And the Egyptian dialect is the most-spoken dialect in the entire Arab world.  This course is going to get you up and running fast. My focus is on interaction – giving you the most important words and phrases that will allow you to begin establishing relational connections in Egyptian Arabic.

Hold on a second…

You might be wondering what you’re reading here…. Let me explain.

Over the past month I’ve been working hard at putting together a new course that helps teach Egyptian Arabic to absolute beginners. This course is not designed to be a complete treatment of the language, but it’s meant to bridge the gap for people who want to get up and running in the language, but are not sure where to start or don’t have access to teachers or courses. Continue reading “Egyptian Arabic Absolute Beginners Workshop – your sneak preview”

4 keys to effective interaction in Egyptian Arabic

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Egyptian Arabic Absolute Beginner's Course

Over the summer, I’ve been working on developing an introductory course for Egyptian Arabic called, “Egyptian Arabic: the Absolute Beginners Course”. This has taken a lot of my time and that’s why I haven’t been blogging very much. It’s been really fun talking to absolute beginners in Egyptian Arabic to find out what is important to them, and laying out a simple course that approaches Egyptian Arabic from the point of view of asking “how can I begin to interact quickly and effectively in spoken Arabic, in a matter of hours”.

If, by the way, you are interested in being notified when the course goes live, you can sign up here.

Developing the course materials got me thinking about things I’ve learned so far in my own Arabic journey. Here are four things I’ve learned that can help you fast-track your Egyptian Arabic language learning, or any type of Arabic language learning.

1. Use the Arabic that you have so far

Don’t be afraid of making mistakes! One of the most difficult things as a new learner of the language can be the fear of making mistakes. This fear is very counterproductive, because it prevents you from doing the one thing that will actually improve your language, and that is using it. Use it to the full extent that it exists!

Now it’s true that mistakes can mean getting into some potentially awkward situations, but that’s where you can laugh at yourself and what’s happened, and learn. It reminds me of a time in my first year in Egypt in the 1990s when I was visiting a farming village in southern Egypt. I was staying with a friend whose entire extended family lived in the village. One morning we visited his aunt at her house, only to find out that she had invited about 30 women and girls to the house at the same time. A bit awkward, but my friend assured me it was fine. At one point in the conversation, the aunt said to me, “We love having you here with us! I have a great idea… if you pay us 1000 Egyptian Pounds, you can marry my niece, and live with us forever.” Continue reading “4 keys to effective interaction in Egyptian Arabic”

My Big Fat Arabic Wedding – Milestone 3

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Arabic wedding

The Arabic Wedding Vows – Matrimonial success, Arabic language fail!

(If you haven’t read Milestones 1 and 2 – “A cup of Tea” and “Signing the Contract”, this post will make more sense once you have read those). And the title of this post comes from the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).

Learn Arabic through Arabic Weddings

There I was, standing at the front of an Egyptian church in Cairo, about to say my Arabic wedding vows in front of hundreds of people. My about-to-be wife was standing beside me looking gorgeous, rows of smiling faces stretched as far back in the seats as I could see, and I had my Arabic vows memorized. At least, I thought I did…. (you can probably see where this is going…)


My first milestone was ordering a cup of tea in Arabic. The second big milestone was signing a rental contract. This is the third milestone – my wedding vows. In Arabic. I’m going to get vulnerable in this post and tell you all kinds of details about my personal life! Introduce you to my wife Heidi. And just in case you haven’t figured it out yet, that’s NOT me in the wedding picture above.  Keep reading.

Continue reading “My Big Fat Arabic Wedding – Milestone 3”

Shem El-Nessim شم النسيم

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Shem El-Nessim

Shem el-Nissim (شم النسيم) is an Egyptian holiday that celebrates the coming of spring each year.  We just got back from our annual Shem el-Nissim trip up to my wife’s family’s beach house on the Suez Canal.  Sunshine, water, an old rowboat, my awesome teenage kids, tons of food, and a generally fun spring atmosphere.  Here’s some Arabic words that came up a lot this weekend (Egyptian Arabic ones marked with a *): Continue reading “Shem El-Nessim شم النسيم”

Learning Arabic – Milestone 2

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Milestone 2 - the rental contract

Signing the Contract

(If you haven’t read Milestone 1 – A Cup of Tea, this post will make more sense once you have read it).

My first year in Egypt was spent immersing myself in Arabic. I was determined to make the most of what I thought would be a single year here. My plan was to take in as much Arabic language learning as I could in as many ways as possible.

Five days per week, I was in class at the American University in Cairo.The program was intense – five hours a day of instruction.About 3/4 of the class time was spent studying Modern Standard Arabic (فصحى) and 1/4 of the time spent studying Egyptian Colloquial (عامية).The teachers were for the most part good, and some of them were excellent.One of my favorite teachers was Abbas Al-Tonsi, co-author of the famous Al-Kitaab books for Arabic language learning.He revolutionized my thinking about learning vocabulary, even though that was not the main focus of the course I took with him. More on vocabulary in a later post.

In addition to class time, we had 2-3 hours of Arabic homework per night, on average.On top of this, I decided I was going to spend as much time speaking Egyptian Arabic as possible.Learning Arabic was my priority. I was unconventional.I made friends with a fruit-seller on our street named Ibrahim, and sat on a chair next to him for 1-2 hours per day, at least 5 days a week.I would talk with him in Arabic (he spoke no English), as well as with all kinds of customers that came by.It was only after I had been doing this for several months that I learned from other people that in Egyptian society, this was seen as strange.I was not concerned with that!

Fruit Seller
Fruit Seller (credit: Fox News)

So all in all, I was spending something in the range of 8-10 hours/day learning Arabic.Eating, breathing, sleeping… lots of Arabic. Continue reading “Learning Arabic – Milestone 2”

Learning Arabic – Milestone 1

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Learning Arabic with Egyptian Tea

Learning Arabic in the everyday things

Learning Arabic has been a long journey for me.  As I share resources, tips, and insights on this blog to help people in their own journey to speak, understand, read, and write Arabic, I thought I would share some of my milestones that I passed.

If you are getting to know me, I arrived in Egypt in 1991, on a year abroad from the University of Toronto in Canada.  I was studying in a linguistics program (which later shifted into the Department of Near and Eastern Civilizations, since I overloaded my credits with Arabic courses!) and wanted to learn a “different” language.  My friends were taking years in places like France, Spain, or Germany.  I though through the places in the world that interested me, and decided to study in Egypt.  I’ve been here since.

Thinking back over how I started learning Arabic, I can think of a few milestones in my progress.

New in Egypt

On my first day in Egypt, I went from my apartment to the place I would study:  the American University in Cairo.  I was signed up for a year of learning Arabic in their Arabic Language Institute (now the Department of Arabic Language Instruction).  I walked through some crazy traffic, found my way to Tahrir Square, and eventually discovered the old campus of AUC.

Tahrir Square Continue reading “Learning Arabic – Milestone 1”

Egyptian Arabic: Five Important Things

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Egyptian Arabic Teacher

At the request of one of my Arabic learning acquaintances on Twitter, أمريكية صعيدية @AmericanSaeedi, I am re-posting here the text of an interview made back in 2003.  The interview is with Dr. David Wilmsen, who was at that time living in Egypt and working at the American University.  Dr. Wilmsen is now, according to my quick google search, at AUB, the American University in Beirut.  You can check out his page, or his research publications.

Egyptian Arabic expert Dr. David Wilmsen

The article was originally posted on my old website,  That site was where we showcased our software Egyptian Arabic Vocab Clinic®, and Modern Standard Arabic Vocab Clinic® and Verb Clinic®.  They are now no longer being distributed, as AUC Press decided to not continue publishing them.

On a side note, AUC Press is a fantastic publisher and puts out some of the best Egyptian Arabic course books, as well as other publications about Egypt.  Check out their website.  I don’t blame them for not continuing with distributing the Vocab Clinic software, as it was on CD-ROM and that medium kind of is a dim memory for most of us now, sort of in the cassette tape zone.  If you used that software or are interested in an Arabic learning course, I am dropping a small hint here:  stay tuned here for some upcoming news about something we are putting together.  Or sign up for my newsletter over on the right sidebar.  That’s all I will say for now.

Here’s the interview: Continue reading “Egyptian Arabic: Five Important Things”