My Happily Ever After

Read More
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”

24 ideas to activate your Arabic today

Read More
Activate what you learn

15 Essential Skills of an Arabic LearnerUse what you have already learned in Arabic immediately. One of the dangers that some people fall into is growing in their knowledge of vocabulary, grammar, or pronunciation, but never taking initiative to actually use it in real life. If you make a daily habit of using your Arabic in some small way, you will have broken the inertia of passive learning and will be actively increasing your Arabic level.

“To keep [Arabic] in your head, you have to use it.” (David Wilmsen)

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

Habits for learning Arabic

What habits do you have that are helping you learn Arabic? What habits do you wish you had?

AristotleAristotle said, about habits, We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit”. 

This week, I’ll begin to discuss some of the daily habits that make up a solid Arabic learning strategy. With the right mindsets in place, choosing what you will repeatedly do will form habits of excellence in you as an Arabic learner.

Over the past weeks I have discussed the five key mindsets that are essential skills of an Arabic learner. These include setting fluency as your aim, committing to interact, being enthusiastic, accepting ambiguity, and making mistakes. I call them skills because they are mindsets that are intentionally developed through conscious effort, not gifts that are endowed on random people. Each of these mindsets came up repeatedly as I discussed learning Arabic with 6 thought-leaders in the field of teaching Arabic. If you develop these mindsets, you will be positioned to learn Arabic effectively.

What I am trying to do with this applied research and discussion is to help you form a learning strategy for acquiring Arabic. If you have not yet read the overall strategy given in The 15 Essential Skills of an Arabic Learner, I recommend that you download that now and skim through it. Then come back to this post.

The first habit is to activate the Arabic you learn by using it daily. This post is going to give you 21 ideas that you can put into action today to begin to use your Arabic. Continue reading “24 ideas to activate your Arabic today”

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

Read More
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”

4 keys to effective interaction in Egyptian Arabic

Read More
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

Read More
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”

Learning Arabic – Milestone 2

Read More
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”

Arabic Without Walls Online Course

Read More
Arabic Without Walls

Arabic Without Walls

This is a full fledged online course in Arabic by the UC Consortium for Language Learning and Teaching that is designed around two textbooks with accompanying DVDs: Alif Baa: Introduction to Arabic Sounds and Letters and Al-Kitaab Fii Ta’allum Al-’arabiyya Part 1 by Kristen Brustad, Mahmoud Al-Batal and Abbas Al-Tonsi.  Its program includes sections on: Continue reading “Arabic Without Walls Online Course”

Egyptian Arabic: Five Important Things

Read More
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”

Learning Arabic can take time

Read More
Learning Arabic at the Cairo Airport

Learning Arabic at 2:00 am

It’s 2:00 am and I am checking in at Cairo Airport Terminal 1.  Heading out of country for a short trip to the US and Canada.  Gearing myself up for some COLD weather in Canada!

Airports have a lot of verbal interaction, as you deal with porters, check in agents, drivers, security people, and other passengers.  Arabic definitely comes in handy.

Some people learning Arabic that I have come across here in Egypt seem to feel that the usefulness of Arabic is that it saves you from having to give tips, or lets you pay local prices.  Personally I don’t care as much about this one, although it is in fact helpful for living on a budget.  One trip’s worth of tips in a place like the airport can blow your whole monthly budget. But what I appreciate the most is the fun and sometimes humorous interactions it brings.  For me, humor is good.  And Egyptians love to joke and laugh.

Arabic conversation 1 – Porter

A porter lifts my carry-on bag onto the security belt.  I don’t actually need his help, and I don’t want to tip him because I’ve given out lots of tips already.  So instead I joke with him, and get him smiling.

Porter:  إنت بتكلم عربي كوايس.  بقالك كم سنة فى مصر؟

(You speak Arabic well.  How many years have you been in Egypt?”) Continue reading “Learning Arabic can take time”