Africa, Culture, Middle East

10 Essential Arabic Phrases

By Chantal Blake


Traveling throughout the Arabic-speaking world can be intimidating. Squiggly curves and dots in the place of letters and numbers make reading street names and road signs a challenge. Even when you ask for directions, unfamiliar guttural sounds and clicks distance this Semitic tongue from Anglophone languages. If you don’t have the time or interest to sort out Arabic and its many dialects, there are a few words and phrases that can be really helpful in your travels. Knowing Arabic has obviously served me well throughout the Middle East and North Africa, but some of the phrases might help you in the Muslim world at large.

Ahlaan/As salaamu alaykum:  For a general greeting you can use the former or latter.  The latter is actually a greeting generally exchanged by Muslims all over the world, so if being mistaken for co-religionist makes you uncomfortable, use the former.

Min Fadhlik: Make your mom proud and remember to say “please” when making requests.

Shukraan: “Thank you” is another important phrase to be used generously.

Ma Hadha?:  This question can help you learn new vocabulary, abstain from undesirable foods, or discover a new place.  Knowing how to ask “What is this?” is extremely useful.

Bi kam?:  Whether are not you plan to shop, asking “How much?” is a critical question for taxi fares, tour guides, and market bargaining.

Laa/Na’am:  “No”/“Yes” are life-saving answers – commit them to memory!

Shurta:  In the unfortunate even that trouble arises, knowing how to call for the “police” is important.

Mustashfa:  If you can’t communicate a medical emergency, just ask for the “hospital”.

Mataar:  The “airport” is always an important landmark in a new country.

Safaara:  If for any reason, circumstances take a turn for the worse and you fear for your wellbeing, make your way to the “embassy”-  a little patch of native soil to find protection if need be.

Travel Noire

Chantal Blake

Chantal Blake is a Jamaican-American writer from New York City. A frequent traveler since birth, she married a fellow nomad and has been living abroad since 2008. In spite of her background in environmental engineering, her work abroad has included teaching English, travel writing, and raising two amazing kids. Her writing has been featured online and in-print and covers themes of family travel, veganism, and migration.

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