Oct 13

The Case of the Mysteriously Appearing ي – How to Conjugate يجيء in Levantine Arabic

So my lovely friend Gioia Forster (aspiring journalist, history enthusiast, world travellor extraodinaire and ardent Arabic learner) has been asking me to write a post on how to conjugate the word the Fus-ha word يجيء / yajee2 or to come, in Levantine Arabic.

It’s been stumping her for a while because she couldn’t understand how to conjugate it right and when she found out I was writing about verb conjugations and asked me to write about this particularly tricky verb.

And in all honesty, I can understand where all the confusion comes from – in fact I had the exact same problem when I tried to get used to using and hearing the word for the first time. And it’s so often used that it’s one of the verbs I shortlisted in 21 Verbs that Will Completely Revolutionise Your Levantine Arabic.

يجيء is simple enough to conjugate in Fus-ha, but somehow it gets tricky in Levantine Arabic. And so after doing some detective work, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s all because of the Case of the Mysteriously Appearing ي.


Conjuggling يجيء

So to begin, I’ve conjuggled the يجيء in Fus-ha below and you’ll see that it pretty much follows the standard Fus-ha rules of conjugation.

Pronoun Fus-ha Pronunciation Meaning
هو يجيء yajee2 he comes
هي تجيء tajee2 she comes
هم يجيئون yajee2un all of them come
انتَ تجيء tajee2 you (mas) come
انتِ تجيئين tajee2eena you (fem) come
انتو تجيئون tajee2uun all of you come
انا اجيء ajee2 I come
احنا نجيء najee2 we come

Nothing very revolutionary there.

When we conjugate يجيء  in Levantine Arabic, however, something really curious happens.

A second ي will miraculously appear after the first ي .

Take a look at the table below if you want to know what I mean and compare it to the table above.

Pronoun Levantine Conjugation Pronunciation Meaning
هو ييجيء yeejee he comes
هي تيجيء teejee she comes
هم ييجوء yeejuu all of them come
انتَ تيجيء teejee you (mas) come
انتِ تيجيء teejee you (fem) come
انتو تيجوء teejuu all of you come
انا اجيء aajee I come
احنا نيجيء neejee we come

You can see the the additioned ي appears after the initial ي , which results in an elongated -ee sound at the beginning of the verb.

I also can’t really explain why the ي is doubled at the beginning of يجيء in Levantine Arabic (which is probably why I called it the mysteriously appearing ي ). It might simply be a case of fluidity and ease on the tongue in pronouncing it like that instead of the regular Fus-ha method.


Want More Tips?

Aside from the appearing ي :

1. Because the ء is never quite pronounced in Levantine Arabic, it usually gets changed into a ي sound, which is why نيجيء for example is pronounced neejee and not neejee2, with a sharp ending.

2. The -ون Fus-ha ending for انتو and هم is also hardly used in Levantine Arabic – instead the ن is usually dropped, leaving just the و behind.

This is the reason why ‘all of them come’ is  يجيئون in Fus-ha but just ييجوء in Levantine Arabic.


Ready to See it in Action? Here we go.

As usual, on this site we don’t really think anything becomes crystal clear until you have a great example to go along with it, especially when it comes to language learning.

So I’ve culled this video from an interview segment on Youtube from the Jordanian channel Ro2ya entitled سؤال: شو رأيكم لو البنت تصير تطلب الشب ؟ / su2al: sho ra’yokom lau albinet tiSeer tiTlub ashab?

In other words, Question: What is your opinion if a girl goes and asks for a man (in marriage)?

Basically the interview goes around on the streets of Amman and interviews regular people to get their responses on the question, and the answers give you some really valuable and interesting insight into the Jordanian psyche.

Here, the word تيجيء and ييجيء are used a lot, to mean ‘the guy comes to…’ or ‘the girl comes to…’.

Example #1:

هلا انه ييجيء الشاب يخطب البنت هاد اشي عادي و طبيعي بس انه البنت تروح تخطب الشاب انه كتير عيب

halla2 ino yeejee alshaab yukhTob albinet had ishy ‘aadi wa Tabee’i bs ino albinet troH tokhTob alshaab ino kteer ‘aib.

Now the guy comes and proposes engagement to the girl this thing is normal and natural but the girl goes and proposes engagement to the guy that is really embarrassing/ shameful.

Example #2:

لانه ما بعرف هلا البنت لازم تكون بانوثتها تستنى هي الشاب الي ييجيء عندها

lianno, ma b’arif, halla2 albinet lazim takuun bi-unthiyatha tastanna hiya ashaab ili yeejee ‘indha.

Because, I don’t know, now the girl has to be with her femininity and wait for the guy that comes to her.

Notice that she says ‘ييجيء عندها ‘ to mean ‘come to her’. Unlike in Fus-ha where you would use يجيء اليها , in Levantine arabic they use the word عند instead. Similarly, if you wanted to say ‘she comes to me’, it would be تجيء الي / tajee2 ilaii in Fus-ha and تيجيء عندي / teejee ‘indi in Levantine.

We will examine more later on how prepositions are used in Levantine Arabic – you’ll see that while the prepositions themselves are the same as in Fusha, they are used a little differently in Levantine dialect.


Example #3:

Now this clip I gathered from كلمة واحدة , another Jordanian series on Youtube that talks about issues concerning Jordanian youth.

In this segment, the issue was what was considered appropriate attire in the university, and one of the students interviewed said that sometimes girls come dressed like they’re going from /coming to a party.

لانه في كتير بنات بيجوء والله العظيم فكرهم جايات لسا من حفلة

lianno fe kteer banaat beejuu wallahi al’aTheem fakkirhom jai-aat lissa min Hifleh

Because there are a lot of girls that come, I swear by God, their thinking is that they are coming from a party.


Do you understand better now how to conjugate يجيء in both Fus-ha and Levantine Arabic? Since it’s stumping us so much, do you have a theory or solution for the Case of the Mysteriously Appearing ي ?. Let us know in the comments as well as any other verbs that you want to see conjuggled! I’m also going to share this post with Gioia, why don’t you do the same with a friend of yours?

Oct 13

What Do Roundabouts and Your Average Self-Help Guru Have In Common?


If you’ve ever been to Amman, you’ll realize quickly that the entire city is pretty much built around 7 roundabouts (or دوار /diwar), kinda like the legendary circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno.

I kid, I kid.

Amman is worse than Dante’s inferno.

Now before you get all riled up about how dare I have the gall to criticise Amman, rest assured that I do actually love it. In fact some days when I was there it warmed the cockles of my bitter, cynical heart to such a degree that I thought it would explode and I would have a heart attack.

Now in order to get from place to place, chances are you’re going to have to pass through at least one of these roundabouts. It’s the aorta of the city, pumping massive volumes of honking traffic to and from one end to the other, tirelessly from day to night.

And more often than not, since road names and addresses aren’t used in Amman, at least one of these circles is going to be a major landmark on your journey. The problem is that most of the major roundabouts don’t have actual names, and they just go by First Circle, Second Circle, Seventh Circle – you get the idea.

So you can imagine how important it was to know how to express which circle you wanted to get to, lest you said it wrong and the driver ended up dropping you off at الدوار السابع / addiwaar assabi’ (Seventh Circle) when you really meant Sixth.

In linguistic lingo, first, second, and third and so on are called ordinal numbers. That’s what you’re going to learn today. And what does it have to do with your typical motivational guru? You’ll find out below.


The فاعل of Numbers

I’ve posted about before on how to use the فاعل for verbs in Levantine and Fusha.

Interestingly, what I’ve found is that you can actually use the same strategy in order to create the ordinal numbers if you already know the numbers themselves.


Here what you need to know in order to arrive at the ordinal numbers:

1. Separate the roots of the word. For example, the root letters of ثلاثة are ث, ل, ث.

2. Place the root letters into the فاعل template, which means to insert an ا between the 1st and 2nd root letters. So continuing with the same example, the ordinal form of ثلاثة (three) would be ثالث (third).

3. Add a taa marbuuta if required if the noun that comes before the ordinal number is a feminine noun, (as in, ends with a taa marbuuta)

Then you have to similarly add a taa marbuuta to the end of the ordinal number in order to make it feminine as well. For example, the third car would be السيارة الثالثة / assayara athaalitha while the third book would be الكتاب الثالث / alkitab athaalith.

Think of it the ordinal number as the annoying but lovable little sibling– whatever the bigger sibling (ie the preceding noun) wants to become, the little one wants as well.

And voila, here is the ordinal table for the numbers from 1 – 10.

Number Arabic Ordinal Form mas/fem Meaning
1 واحد الاول\الاولى the first
2 اثنين الثاني\الثانية the second
3 ثلاثة الثالث\الثالثة the third
4 اربعة الرابع\الرابعة the fourth
5 خمسة الخامس\الخامسة the fifth
6 ستة السادس\السادسة the sixth
7 سبعة السابع\السابعة the seventh
8 ثمانبة الثامن\الثامنة the eighth
9 تسعة التاسع\التاسعة the ninth
10 عشرة العاشر\العاشرة the tenth

Now you might realise at this point that though most of the letters fit the فاعل template, not all of them necessarily do. Six, for example, doesn’t and neither does One. But those are pretty much the only two that you need to look out for.


The Difference between Fusha and Levantine

The great thing about ordinal numbers in Fus-ha and Levantine Arabic is that the words themselves are the same in both languages.

Where they  part ways, however, is in terms of pronunciation.

For example, as you will see from the table below,

1. the ث will be changed to a ت

2. and the taa marbuuta ة at the end for the feminine form will be pronounced -ey in Levantine Arabic and ah- in Fus-ha.

Number Arabic mas/fem Fusha mas/fem Levantine mas/fem
First اول\اولى awwal/uula awwal/uula
Second ثاني\ثانية thaani/thaaniya taani/taaniyeh
Third ثالث\ثالثة thaalith/thaalitha taalit/taaliteh
Fourth رابع\رابعة raabi’/raabi’a raabi’3/raabi’a
Fifth خامس\خامسة khaamis/khaamisa khaamis/khaamseh
Sixth سادس\سادسة saadis/saadisa saadis/saadiseh
Seventh سابع\ سابعة saabi’/saabi3a saabi’/saabi’a
Eighth ثامن\ثامنة thaamin/thaaminah taamin/taamneh
Ninth تاسع\تاسعة taasi’/taasi’a taasi’/taasi’eh
Tenth عاشر\عاشرة ‘aashir/’aashira ‘aashir/’aashireh


As Promised – Ordinal Numbers and Your Typical Self-Help Guru

So I’ve taken this video from the Jordanian comedy series N2O Comedy on Youtube called نيكولاس خوري في دع الفشل / nikolas khoury fi da’ alfashl or Nikolas Khoury in Leaving Failure Behind.

To give you some context, the clip is set up as a satirical personal help video, where the comedian, Nikolas Khoury, is acting as a self-help guru dispensing advice on how to be a successful employee.

And so he proceeds to outline individual steps to achieve said success, which more often than not includes brown-nosing the boss, pretending to work late, scheduling email replies at 2 in the morning and all manner of other hijinks and shenanigans.

I personally thought this clip was great because, aside from its utter hilarity (let’s face it, we all know that one person in the office), you can hear exactly how the ordinal numbers are pronounced so that you can say them like a pro next time when you need to.


Step #1

الخطوة الاولى. صاحب المدير / alkhuTwa aluula. SaHib almudeer.

The first step. Friend of the boss.

اعمل البحث. اعرف مديرك ايش بيحب. اعرف هواياته / i’mal albaHth. i’raf mudeerak esh biHibb. i’raf hiwaayatoh.

Do the research. Know your boss, what he likes. Know his hobbies.


Step #2

الحطوة الثانية. كن الرجل المناسب في الوقت المناسب/ alkhotwah attaniyeh. kun alrajul almunasib fi alwaqt almunasib

The second step. Be the right guy at the right time.


Step #3

الخطوة الثالثة. الوقت و الجودة / alkhotwah altaliteh. alwaqt wa aljoodeh

The third step. The time and the quality.


Step #4

الخطوة الرابعة. كن ثعلبا / alkhotwah arrabi’a. kun tha’laban.

The fourth step. Be a fox.

مش بس لازم تخفي فشلك قدام مديرك / mish bas lazim takhfi fashalak gudam mudeerak

You don’t just need to hide your failure in front of your boss.

لازم تخفي فشلك قدام الموظفين / lazim takhfi fashalak gudam almuwaDhafeen

You must hide your failure in front of the employees.


Step #5

الخكوة الخامسة. عليك بالمظهر / alkhotwah alkhaamseh. ‘leik bilmaTh-har.

The fifth step. The appearance is on you.

دائما لازم بتكون لابس بذلة و حامل شنطة سمسونايت / da2man lazim bitkuun labis badleh wa Hamil shanTa samsonite.

Always you must be wearing a suit and carrying a Samsonite bag.


Step #6

الخطوة السادسة. الايميلات ثم الايميلات ثم الايميلات / alkhotwah assadiseh. alemeilaat thumma alemeilaat thumma alemeilaat.

The sixth step. The emails, then the emails, then the emails.


Step #7

تلجا على الخطوة السابعة / tilja2 ‘ala alkhotwa alsabi’a.

You resort to the seventh step.


Step #8

بما ان استقلت و صرت فاضي رح على الخطوة التامنة / bima inna istaqalet wa Surt faDi, roH ‘ala alkhotwa attamneh

SInce you have resigned and have become free, go to the eighth step.

Step #9 and #10 don’t exist for this video, but never fear, you can refer to the table above to find out how they should be pronounced and you’ll be in good hands.

(Hint: Step #9 would be alkhotwah attaasi’a and Step #10 would be alkhotwa al’aashira).

Now not only can you travel to any of the roundabouts in Amman without a problem, you can list and rank anything and everything to your heart’s content.


Which of the circles in Amman have you travelled to? Are there any topics in particular that you would like to request to see written here? If you found this post useful, share it with anyone whom you think would help them out!

Oct 13

The Ultimate Barrier to Language Learning That No One Talks About


It always intrigues me to find out the reason why some people are just better at language learning and some aren’t.

We’ve all met those people before, those who seem to be able to get it (almost instantaneously and annoyingly at times), while others plod along, even though they spend hours and hours studying, memorising vocabulary words, learning the grammar rules and seemingly doing everything by the book.


My Rigorously Unscientific Study

So in order to examine this in further detail, I took out a clean sheet of paper and drew a line down the middle. On a second separate piece of paper, I made a list of all the people whom I had known during my time at the language institute I was studying at in Jordan.

Then I got to work categorizing the long list into two groups – those who got it, and those who had struggled with Arabic more than average. Now clearly this wasn’t the most scientific and meticulously researched of studies (I have the hugest aversion to anything math and science related, in fact I break out in hives the second I see a chemistry problem) but I just wanted to get a quick-and-dirty idea of why was it that some of my peers were able to make leaps and bounds in progress from class to class while others just barely scraped by from level to level.

This is what I’ve found.


It’s Got Nothing to Do With Intelligence

When I looked at the Struggle list, it was pretty clear that there was clearly nothing wrong with them academically or intellectually. Quite the opposite in fact.Some of them had graduated from Ivy League undegraduate programmes in the US and the UK, some were studying Arabic on full scholarships and still others were pursuing masters programmes in top universities.

Similarly, there were shining stars in the Got It list as well, some that had graduated from top universities in the UK and the US.

There were also a sprinkling of students who had gone to lesser known, smaller schools in both columns, but lest you think they’re not as smart, let me assure you that from my conversations with them, none of them were intellectually challenged – in fact they could probably kick my ass anytime in a discussion on the Middle East.

So clearly, academic and intellectual ability had nothing to do with it.


It’s Got Nothing To Do With Time

A quick mathematical calculation turned up that the average amount of time that each group had spent learning Arabic was around 3.4-4.5 years, which made sense since most of them had gone through academic instruction in Arabic during their college, which averaged out to be around 4 years long.
It’s Got Nothing to Do With Age

Most of the students averaged between 23 and 27 years in both groups. It wasn’t as if the Got It group happened to have incredibly young students and it wasn’t that the Struggle group had geriatrics in there.

Nope, barring for some outliers of people who were a little older (in their 30s) and those a little younger (younger than 20), on average the spread of ages in the two groups were more or less equal.


It’s Got Nothing to Do With Being Muslim

I’ve heard this argument before, that people who are Muslim tend to do better in Arabic because they’ve had increased exposure to the language since childhood.

To an extent, I can see how this would be true. I would be the first to admit that being Muslim myself, I certainly started out a step ahead of the others in the beginning because I was already familiar with the alphabet and the pronunciation of the letters.

But only in the beginning. That advantage is quickly levelled out when you realise that Classical Quranic texts are vastly different from Fus-ha, which is in turn vastly different from Levantine dialect. And to be honest, a vast majority of Muslims read the Qur’an without any sort of understanding as to what it means.

So sure, there is an edge but only marginally so.

Over and above that, there were Muslims in the Struggle group and non-Muslims in the Got It group. Like I said before, this is purely anecdotal evidence, but it proves that if it can be done, then it’s definitely possible.


What has it got to do with then?

If you were to ask my humble two cents worth, the one differentiating factor that set the Got It column from the Struggle column was one thing – fear.

More specifically, the lack of fear.

See in my opinion, the Got It group were willing to go outside of their comfort zone. They were willing to get their hands dirty in language learning. They were willing to succeed at all costs and put themselves out there.

Let me give you some examples.

One of them joined went for religious sessions every week to discuss deeply the teachings of the Qur’an. Another joined a rock climbing group to get the opportunity to meet and make friends with local Jordanians. Another volunteered every weekend at a centre that dealt with orphaned children, helping to create programs to entertain them and help them socialise. Another worked in an NGO that dealt with Syrian refugees and spent large amounts of time with his best friends who were mostly Arab.

The Struggle group, however was a little more content to stick around with people from the same countries they were from, people who spoke the same native language they did, not as eager to expand their circle of friends or zone of comfort and ultimately, ended up learning less about the culture, people and language than the Got Its.

Now you could sensibly argue that it was increased practice and exposure that allowed them to achieve kick-ass levels of fluency more than anything else, and that answer would be true.

Well, partly true.


My next question would then be – why?

Why was it that these people were more motivated than the others to achieve more practice and exposure? After all, the same resources and opportunities were available to everyone. Plenty of organisations were in dire need of more volunteers, plenty of conversation partners were available and seeking English speakers, churches and mosques abound with Arab families who would have been thrilled to have a native speaker teach their children English in exchange for Arabic.

I think the reason is much more deeply-rooted than that.

It goes back to this fearlessness that separated the Got Its from the Struggles.

If we were to drill down further, it’s that they were fearless in making mistakes. Unlike so many others, fear was not a barrier for them.

If you were to ask someone who Gets It in any language, Arabic or otherwise, if they felt self-conscious and afraid of failure at any point, chances are they’re going to say yes. Probably most times!

Is it scary to come up to a stranger and introduce yourself in a foreign language? Of course. Does it make your stomach flip to give a presentation in Arabic? Definitely! Does it make your hair stand to hold interviews with people who can’t speak a work of English! Hell yes!

But they’ll also tell you ‘if I never made a mistake, I’d never learn.’


It’s About Reframing Failure

See it all depends on how you view failure. If you (like many people) view making a mistake, and therefore failure as some sort of fundamental flaw of you as a person, then you’ll probably want to avoid putting yourself in that position and feeling that way at all costs.

What happens next? You’re likely to not try as often because:

Not trying = not failing = you’re not a failure = life is good. 

And as we can all agree, not trying in something as practice- oriented in language learning puts you squarely nowhere.

But what if you were to reframe failure as a stepping stone to where you want to be?

What if failure were merely an experiment, merely a means to find out whether Method A leads to Results B? Take scientists for example – if they took every single scientific failure they did as a personal flaw, we’d never have the light bulb today. Or the ability to travel by air. Or the cure for cancer.

We need to look at language learning and speaking in the same paradigm. The Got Its did, which is probably why they were crushing it better, faster and harder than those who were content to sail through within their comfort zones, sipping coffee at Starbucks, eating at Macdonalds, and watching Breaking Bad with their English-speaking friends.


Why Am I Telling You All This?

Now I’m not saying all this to scare those of you are reading into thinking that you’re never going to get to where you want to go Arabic-wise, but to inspire you to be more aware that your psychology plays a bigger role in this than you think.

Once you’re more aware of it, chances are you’re more likely to change it.

Once you’re more aware of it, you’re more likely to spend more time identifying and facing this fear head on and getting out there speaking to people, rather than throwing more vocabulary lists, verb conjugations and listening exercises at it. Of course, the latter is much easier to do than the former, which is why so much time is spent talking about strategies and techniques and not enough time on what the underlying limitation is.

I have seen too many times students who are perfectly capable, second guess themselves in their ability and end up not trying as hard as they should. I’d like for you not to experience the same.

And before you think that I have no fear altogether, I’m writing this for you as much as I am for myself, for even after years and years of studying Arabic, I still have a twinge of self-doubt when I start a conversation with a native Arabic speaker, thinking that I won’t be able to express my ideas and will end up making a complete fool of myself.

The great thing is that it’s possible to overcome this. All it takes is a little tweaking in your belief system.


So how do you Slay the Self-Consciousness Dragon? Look out for it in our next post, when we talk about The Top Limiting Beliefs About Language Learning – Busted. In the meantime, do you agree that getting over your self-consciousness will help you to accelerate progress in language learning? Or do you think it’s a crock of s***? Let us know or if you prefer, rip us a new a**hole in the comments!


Oct 13

3 Cardinal Rules of Using the فاعل in Levantine Arabic (with 8 Bonus Videos Included)

For those of you who have some background in Fus-ha, you’ve probably learnt that you use the فاعل form of the verb when you want to describe the state of someone or thing currently performing an action, like going, coming, sleeping and so on.

For example, هو نائم/huwa na2im means ‘he is sleeping’, هي لابسة / hiya labisa means ‘she is wearing’ and so on.

Of course, you could just as easily say هو ينام / huwa yanaam and هي تلبس / hiya talbas respectively and it would mean exactly the same thing.

It’s more of an artistic or linguistic difference rather than a difference that has to do with meaning.


Fusha vs Levantine Arabic

The difference between using فاعل in Fus-ha and Levantine Arabic is that you will probably hear the فاعل form more often in Levantine Arabic than Fus-ha.

Also, the فاعل form in Levantine is used for verbs that don’t exist in Fus-ha, and so a lot of them might come across as foreign at first. For example, verbs like يروح /yaruuH (to go) and يطلع / yiTla’ (to go out or go up)

I say at first because, as with everything, you will get used to hearing them over and over again with time.

Here’s what you need to know to start using فاعل for Levantine Arabic.


Your 3 Cardinal Rules

1. You need to first isolate the 3-letter جذر / jadhr or root and then fit into the فاعل template. This means to say, separate the 3 letters, and then insert the alif after the first letter.

Ta-da! You’ve got your فاعل sorted out.

However what you need to know is that not all 3-letter verbs will have a فاعل form.

Think of it as a size 2 dress- some women can fit into it, and others can’t. Some women can fit into it but don’t like it and therefore never use it. And some women just can’t fit into it at all.

Similarly, some 3-letter verbs can fit into the فاعل dress, other 3-letter verbs can fit but may not like the fit (and therefore never use it), and other 4,5 and 6-letter verbs just can’t fit into it at all and need to find another dress.

Here are the verbs that do fit into that dress. There are probably hundreds of them, but here are the ones that you will most commonly find being used in Levantine Arabic.


Levantine Verb Pronunciation Meaning فاعل Pronunciation
راح ra-Ha to go راي raa-y
طلع Tala’a to leave طالع Ta-li’
جاء jaa2a to come جاي jaa-y
شاف shaafa to see شايف shaa-yif
لبس labisa to wear لابس laa-bis
حاب Haaba to like حاب Haab
سمع sama’a to hear سامع saa-mi’
فات faa-ta to enter فايت faa-yyit
نجح najaHa to succeed ناجح naa-jiH
فشل fashila to fail فاشل faa-shil
قدر qadara to be able قادر 2adir/ghaadir
نزل nazala to descend نازل naazil


2. To change the فاعل from masculine to feminine, you need to add a ة / taa marbuta at the end, just like in Fus-ha.

3. The فاعل form is usually (but not always) used to refer to human objects. And therefore to change the فاعل to plural, you need to add يين- at the end of the word, because the plural -ون ending is hardly ever used in Levantine Arabic.


Seeing it in Action

I’ve gleaned some of these from the episode entitled رجائي قواس في الشتاء / raja2i Qawwas fi shiTaa2 (Rajae Qawwas in Winter)  from the N2O channel on Youtube, which is a Jordanian comedy series.

To give you some context the main comedian Rajae is talking about the lengths people go to just to keep warm in the freezing Jordanian winters, and some of the hijinks that occur as a result, from arguing over the Soba (or gas heater) and wearing your entire wardrobe just to get comfortable.

The rest of the clips I gleaned from other videos on Youtube for your learning pleasure!

Example #1: حاب / Hab (someone who is liking/loving)

المجتمع كله معي حاب يدفع / almojtama’ kolloh ma’i Hab yidfa’

All of the society that’s with me, love getting warm.


Example #2 and #3: طالع / Tali’ (someone/thing that is going out) and فايت / fayyit (someone who is entering)

Person #1: وين طالع؟ ألوفت متاخر / wein Tali’? alwa2t mitt-akhir!

Where are you going out? It’s late! (literally the hour is late)

Person #2:  لا طالع ولا اشي الله يسامحك يا بابا فايت انام

la Tali’ wella ishy allah yusamiHak ya baba, fayyit anaam!

I’m not going out or anything, God forgive you Dad, I’m going in to sleep.


يالله صباح الخير. اطفو الصوبة اه؟ / yallah SabaH alkheir. iTfu aSSoba ah?

Alright, good morning. All of you turn off the soba, yeah?


Example #4: لابس / la-bis (someone who is wearing)

حاجتك مس لابس تدافع حالك في الحياة / Haa-jatak mish labis, tudafi’ Halak fi alHayaa

Your need is not to wear the clothes (or literally not to be the wearer), (it is to) defend yourself in life.


Example #5: ناجح / na-jiH (someone who is succeeding)

بس تحمل البرد بشكل عام لا يعكس الرجولة / bas taHammol albard bishakl ‘aam la ya’kis arrujuuleh.

But bearing the cold generally does not reflect masculinity!

بالعبارة عن في كتير ناس بريدة بس مشاء الله عنهم ناجحين في حياتهم. و مدراء البنوك / bil ‘ibarah ‘an fe kteer nas bareedeh bas ma sha2 allah ‘anhom, najiHeen fi Hayaathom. wa mudara2 albunuuk

In the sense that there are a lot of people who are cold, but God has willed it, successful in their lives. And they are bank managers.


Example #6: فاشل / fa-shil (someone who is failing)

اذا عملت كل ما سبق و ما زلت فاشل. / iza ‘amalet kol ma sabaq wa ma zaalat faashil.

If you did everything previously, and you still fail.

يعني ما زالو ناس بيعتبروك فاشل / ya’ni ma zaalu nas bi’tabiruuk faashil

Meaning people still consider you a failure.


Example #7: قادر / ghadir or 2adir (someone who can)

Person #1: تعبان تعبان تعبان / ta’baan ta’baan ta’baan

Tired, tired, tired

Person #2: ايش في يا زلمة / esh fe ya zalameh

What is it man?

Person #1:لو تعرف شو بدي احكي لاكي شو بدي احكي لاحكي يا زلمة

Lau ta’rif, sho biddi aHki li aHki, sho biddi aHki li aHki ya zalameh

If you only know, what can I tell you, what can I tell you man?


شغل شغل كله! كل الشركة فوق ظهري فوق ظهري / shogl shogl kolloh! kol shogl alshirkeh fough thahri fough thahri

Work, work all of it! All the work of the company is on my back, on my back!


مش قادر مش فادر. بس لازم. لازم اضل متحمل /mish ghadir mish ghadir. bas lazim. lazim aDill mittHamal.

I’m not able, I’m not able. But I must. Must. I have to keep bearing it.

(Note here that the letter ق has been changed to a غ in pronunciation because he says it that way, as many people, specifically men, in the Levant tend to do.)


Example #8: shaayef (someone who is seeing)

Person #1: اثبت لي! / ithbit li!

Prove it to me!

Person #2: كيف اثبت لك؟ / Keif athbit lak?

How do I prove it to you?

Person #1: شايف؟ شايف؟ شايف؟ / shaayef? shaayef? shaayef?

See? See? See? (Literally, a person who is seeing).


What other verbs can you think of in Levantine Arabic that fit the فاعل dress? Did we miss any out? Try putting these verbs in a sentence in the comments below and we’ll tell you if it’s right or could be improved on!

Oct 13

How To Use اله in Levantine Arabic (And What Not to Confuse It With)

I often browse through videos on Youtube racking my brain for inspiration on what to post that will help you guys more in Levantine Arabic (you’re welcome).

So today I was reviewing the video اللبس في الجامعة / allibs fi aljami’ah (Attire in the University) by a Jordanian series called كلمة واحدة / Kilmeh WaHidah (One Word) which I’ve posted about before, on how to use the word يكون / yikuun.

And one thing happened to stick out at me.

The number of times the hostess used the word اله / iloh in her opening lines.

I swear she must have used it 4 times at the very least.

So I thought to myself, what better opportunity than the present to teach you guys how to use اله?


What’s it mean?

If you’re familiar with Fusha, the word Levantine word اله / iloh is the equivalent of the Fus-ha word له / lahu.

To break it down even further, it stems from the letter لِ / li, which means ‘for’. Now in both Fus-ha and Levantine, لِ can be used in 2 ways:

1. To denote reason.

Another meaning for لِ would be ‘to’, but in the sense of to do something, like to study, to eat, to have fun, and so on. In this case لِ would be followed by a masdar verb, as you can see in the example below.

انا رحت على المدرسة لدراسة / ana ruHet ‘ala almadraseh lidiraseh

I went to school to study.


2. To denote possession

In which case, لِ would be conjugated like a noun. For example, لي means ‘for me’, لها means ‘for her’ and so on and so forth.

(Don’t worry the conjuggle table is coming up soon if you need it).

Therefore, له means ‘for him/it’ and it’s equivalent in Levantine is اله.

The difference is that in Levantine Arabic the word takes on an additional meaning, which is ‘he has’ or ‘there is’, while in Fus-ha you would most likely use something like هناك or يوجد instead.

For the purposes of this post though, I’m going to be focusing more about how اله is used in the second meaning, that is in terms of possession.


Examples please?

I thought you’d never ask.

Example #1:

What she said:

لاكن كل مكان اله لبس معين و احترام معين / lakin kol makan iloh libs mu’ayyin wa iloh iHtiram  mu’ayyin

But for every place, there is/it has a specific attire and a specific respect.

Here اله refers back to the مكان, which is a singular male noun, which explains why it’s اله and not الهم for example.


Example #2:

What she said:

اذن لكل مكان اله لبس مناسب / idhan, lakol makan iloh libs munasib

Therefore, for every place, there is an appropriate attire.

Again, same usage as in Example #1 above.


فالجامعة الها لبسها مناسب / fa aljami’3ah, ilha libs munasib

So the university, it has appropriate attire.

But in this case, she used الها , because she’s referring to the university, which is a singular feminine noun.


Conjuggling All Them Pronouns

Now the conjugation for both Levantine and Fus-ha are pretty much the same, however the pronuncation of the verbs is where the difference really kicks in. If you pronounce them the Fus-ha way, native speakers will immediately be able to pick out that you’re not speaking Levantine Arabic.

So here’s your conjugation table for both Levantine and Fusha, because we’re just servicey that way. And take particular notice of how the pronunciation difference occurs.

Pronoun Fus-ha Pronunciation Meaning
هو له lahu for him
هي لها laha for her
هم لهم lahum for them
انت لكَ laka for you (mas)
انتي لكِ laki for you (fem)
انتم لكم lakum for all of you
انا لي li for me
احنا لنا lana for us


Pronoun Levantine Pronunciation Meaning
هو اله iloh for him / he has
هي الها ilha for her / she has
هم الهم ilkom for all of you/ all of you have
انت الَك ilak for you (mas)/ you have
انتي الِك ilik for you (fem)/ you have
انا الي ili for me / I have
احنا النا ilna for us / we have


Also this point you might realize that the conjugations are similar to how you conjugate a noun, instead of a verb.

What do I mean by that?

I mean you conjugate them by changing the ends of the words only instead of at the beginning, for example how you would say my book is كتابي . Similarly, ‘for me’ is الي.


One word of caution!

Do not mix up الي (for me) with الي which means ‘that which’ or ‘the one that’.

I know they sound exactly the same (ili), but you need to examine the context in which the word appears to determine which of the two is being used.

I’ve written about the usage of الي  here and here, if you’d like to understand how to use it accurately.


What else does Nur have to say?

Let’s find out:

What she said:

يعني ما بتئدر تروح على المسجد او الكنيسة و انت لابس لبس مش مناسب / ya’ni ma bta2dar truH ‘ala almasjid aw alkaneeseh wa inta laabis libs mish munasib

Meaning, you cannot go to the mosque or the church and wear attire that is not appropriate.

(Also note here that  تئدر is actually the Fus-ha word تفدر , which means to be able to. It’s changed to تئدر here because often times in Levantine Arabic the ق is changed to a ء or غ )


لانه لكل مكان اله حرمته / lianno lakol makan iloh Hirmitoh

Because for each place, it has sanctity.


بردو ما بتئدر تروح على الحفلة و انت لابس بجاما لانه ناس رح تنتقدك / bardo, ma bta2dar truH ‘ala alHifleh wa inta labis bajama lianno annas raH tantaqdak.

Also, you cannot go to a party and wear pajamas because people will criticise you.


لانه هاد الابس مش لهاد المكان / lianno had allibs mish lihad almakan

Because this attire is not for this place.


Did this post help you to understand how to use اله ? Do you agree with what Nur says about there being proper attire for a university? What other examples can you think of using the word اله? Let us know in the comments, we love hearing from you!

Oct 13

The Verb I Wish Someone Had Taught Me From Day 1

To be or not to be, that is the question.

So echoes the timeless words of Shakespeare till today.

(Sidenote, does anyone actually understand what that line even means? I took literature as a college entrance exam, studied Othello, English is my native language and till today I’m still not 100% certain I know what the Bard was talking about.To be or not to be what?)

(But maybe that’s just me being a ignorant, uneducated, shallow plebe.)

(Yeah. Most definitely the plebe argument.)

So if you haven’t guessed already, the verb that I mean is the verb بكون or ‘to be’ or ‘is’.

Now firstly, let me tell you: don’t underestimate the implications of being familiar with this verb. Think about how often you use the word ‘to be’ in English or your native language.

The truth is, tens, possibly even hundreds of times a day.

Similarly, when you get used to hearing the sound of this precious verb in Levantine Arabic, you’ll be able to see for yourself how much your understanding improves and increases.

For that reason I think of بكون as the one of those nifty little verbs that hit the proverbial sweet spot. The one thing you can work on to improve your understanding and command multiple-fold.

But hey, don’t take my word for it.

Let me show you.


Your Basic Conjugation Package

For your easy reference, as we’re wont to do on this site to facilitate your learning, here is the conjugation table for بكون .

Pronoun Conjugation Pronunciation Meaning
هو بكون bi-kuun he is
هي بتكون bit-kuun she is
هم بكونو bi-kuunu all of them are
انت بتكون bit-kuun you (mas) are
انتي بتكوني bit-kuuni you (fem) are
انتو بتكونو bit-kuunu all of you are
انا باكون ba-kuun/bi-kuun I am
احنا منكون min-kuun we are


When do you not use it?

No, that wasn’t an error.

I feel a little dumb trying to explain how to use the word ‘to be’ because, well, it’s ‘to be.’ That’s the irony sometimes with teaching language – the easiest concepts are often the hardest to explain.

Now in English we’re often taught that the word ‘to be’ or ‘is’ is used after the object of the sentence and before the predicate. For example:

The house is red.

In Arabic, however, it’s sufficient to say:

البيت احمر / albeit aHmar.

Which literally means ‘the house red.’

In Arabic (both Fusha and Levantine dialect in general), the ‘is’ is already implied because the definite article of the house (البيت) is followed by the non-definite predicate احمر . So it’s not necessary to use the word بكون in this sentence.

Similarly with sentences like:

The taxi is coming / التكسي جاي

altaksi jaii.

The movie is bad / الفيلم سيئ

alfilem sayyi2.

She is beautful / هي حلوة

hiye Helwe.

As you can see, none of the above sentences require the use of بكون .


Soooo…when do I use it then?

The word بكون in Levantine Arabic (and Fusha) is more prevalent in instances when you would use the actual words ‘to be’ in English instead of ‘is’.

For example:

It has to be beautiful. /هو لازم يكون حلو

huwe lazim ya-kuun Helu.

The party will be at 10 pm. / الحفلة رح تكون في ساعة عشرة

alHifleh raH ta-kuun fe sa’ah ‘ashara

Why can’t all of you be patient? / ليه كلكم ما تقدرو تكونو صابرين؟

Leh kollokom ma ta2dir takuunu Sabireen?
Can you see the difference? It’s almost like the usage leans towards instances when you use the verb ‘to become’ rather than ‘to be’.
If this is still unclear, don’t worry, things will BE (see what I did there?) clearer by the end of the post.

The Secret is in the Sound

Now by all appearances, the word بكون is exactly the word يكون in Fusha. And aside from the regular differences in conjugation between Fus-ha and Levantine Arabic, the all-important distinction you should take note of is how the word is pronounced in the Levant.

While in Fusha تكون would be pronounced ta-kuun, in Levantine dialect it would be بتكون / BIT-kuun, and NOT bi-ta-kuun. I think you’d get some really odd looks saying bi-ta-kuun.

But wait, I hear you say, could you give me some real life examples?


Challenge Accepted

So this series I came across on Youtube is called كامة واحدة / kilmeh wa7deh or One Word, and is a Jordanian series focusing on youth topics and issues and this episode is called اللبس في الجامعة / allibs fil jami’eh (Attire in the University).

At the time I’m writing this, it only has 4 videos, but I like it because it’s short, sweet, easy to digest, and it has interviews with Jordanian twenty-somethings that throw up some interesting facets of youth culture.

For example, did you know that sometimes girls in hijab would put yoghurt cups underneath their scarves on the top of their heads?

It doesn’t say in the video why, but I think it has something to do with giving more height to their hijabs and giving the impression of more voluminous hair.

Who would’ve thought?

Here the word بكون appears at least 4 times in a 5-minute stretch, which tells you a ton about how often it’s used in Levantine Arabic. That’s an average of one a minute. The great thing is that I managed to pull 3 of them that used بكون in 3 different conjugations, to let you hear what it should sound like. For the conjugations that are not included in these videos, you can see them in the table above.

Example #1:

What she said:

كيف نكون مرتبين و انيقين؟/ keef nakuun mratibeen wu anyaQeen?

How do we become neat/organised and fashionable?

Note: Now I realise that in this sentence she said  نكون instead of منكون but the م prefix is not always used, depending on the person. Either way it would still be right.


Example #2:

What she said:

دائما البنت بتحاول بتكون الاجمل/ daiman albenet bitHawil bitkuun al-ajmal.

Always, the girl tries to be the most beautiful.


Example #3:

What she said:

مثلا الشاب كشاب لازم يكون شوي رجولة. و بردو اناقة / mathalan alshaab, ka shaab, lazim yakuun shwai rujuuleh. wu bardo anaqah

For example, the guy, being a guy, has to be a little masculine. Also, fashionable.

Note: Similar to Example #1, she uses يكون instead of بكون but that’s because of the verb لازم appears before it, which eliminates the need for the ب prefix.


So I hope this has helped you to understand a little better when to use بكون. If I could distill this post into one line, it would be to use بكون only when you would use the words ‘to be’ in English and not when you need to use ‘is’.


Can you think of more examples of using بكون? Are there any changes or additions that you think should be made to the rules above? What do you think Shakespeare meant when he wrote that famous quote? I’d love to get some enlightenment, after all it’s only taken me about 27 years.

Oct 13

3 Important Features to Know about بدي (want) in Order to Use it Flawlessly

We know around these parts how much I love the N2O comedy series on Youtube.

So this morning, while searching for inspiration to strike, I happened to come across an amusing clip from the irreverent comedy channel about the trouble with coffee shops in Amman.

Here’s the scene in particular, which is basically about how some unreasonable customers treat the waitstaff like dirt.

What she says:

مش ئلت لك بدون تلج؟ انا ئلت لك بدون تلج / mish 2lt lak biduun talj? ana 2lt lak biduun talj!

Did I not tell you without ice? I told you without ice!


صح؟ صح ولا لا؟ حيوان. حقد / SaH? SaH walla la? Haiwan. Ha2d.

Right? Right or no? Animal. *insult*


ما اخباط ما اخباط! انا ئلت لك بدون تلج / ma akhbaT ma akhbaT! Ana 2lt lak biduun talj!

How frustrating (or literally What frustration), how frustrating! I said to you without ice!


شو هاد؟ ما اخباط باحكي ما بدون تلج / shu had? ma akhbaT baHki biduun talj!

What is this? How frustrating I’m saying without ice!


انا بدش تلج! ما بدي تلج / ana biddish talj! ma biddi talj!

I don’t want ice. I don’t want ice.


What he responds:

تلج مش في تلج بدك تشربيها سامعة؟ / talj mish fe talj biddik tashrabeeha, sama’a?

Ice or no ice, you’ll want to drink it, understand?

(Here, سامعة literally means ‘the female one who is listening’ but in this context is more like understand??)

By this point I hope you’re smart enough to realise that تلج / talj means ice. =D

But what I want to teach you today is by far one of the most valuable, useful words in not just Levantine Arabic, but any language in the world. In fact, I listed it as one of the verbs under my post entitled 21 Verbs that will Completely Revolutionise Your Levantine Arabic.
which is the verb بدي or I want.

Let’s dive right in shall we? Like I promised, here are the 3 simple things that you need to know in order to use the word بدي like a pro.


1. Interestingly, it conjugates like a noun instead of a verb.

You probably know that in Fus-ha, the word يريد conjugates like a typical verb, meaning the front (and sometimes back) of the verb is changed to reflect who is the one that wants something. For example,

you (masculine) want is تريد and

all of you want is تريدون and so on.


In Levantine Arabic, however, the word بدي is actually conjugated more like a noun.

Take a look at the tables below to see what I mean. The first table show you the conjugations for all the pronouns for the word بدي .

Pronoun Conjugation Meaning Pronunciation
هو بده he wants biddoh
هي بدها she wants biddha
هم بدهم they want biddhom
انت بدكَ you (mas) want biddak
انتي بدكِ you (fem) want biddik
انتو بدكم all of you want biddkom
انا بدي I want biddi
احنا بدنا we want biddna


Now let’s compare the conjugation table above to how we conjugate for the word كتاب / kitab (book).

Pronoun ‘to want’ Pronunciation  ‘book’ Pronuncation
هو بده bidd-oh كتابه kitab-oh
هي بدها bidd-ha كتابها kitab-ha
هم بدهم bidd-hom كتابهم kitab-hom
انت بدكَ bidd-ak كتابكَ kitab-ak
انتي بدكِ bidd-ik كتابكِ kitab-ik
انتو بدكم bidd-kom كتابكم kitab-kom
انا بدي bidd-i كتابي kitab-i
احنا بدنا bidd-na كتابنا kitab-na

Can you see that they share similar endings? Like -oh and -i and -hom? This is what I mean when I say it conjugates like a noun rather than a verb.


2. Lucky us, it doesn’t conjugate for the past tense.

This is one of the ways in which Levantine Arabic is easier then Fus-ha. Unlike the word يريد in Fus-ha (which conjugates for both past and present) the word بدي doesn’t have to go through the same wringer.

If you would like to put بدي in the past tense, all you have to do is to put كان / kaana (was) ahead of the word. So for example, if I wanted to say ‘I wanted’, it would be

كان بدي / kaan biddi.

Literally, it means ‘I was wanting’.

If I wanted to say ‘they wanted,’ it would be

كان بدهم / kan biddhom, or they were wanting.

Notice that you don’t have to conjugate كان for the pronoun, meaning you don’t have to say كنت بدي to say I wanted or كانو بدهم to say they wanted. I don’t think it would be wrong, but it would be unnecessary.

Thank goodness for small mercies!


3. It can take a direct object, but in a slightly jazzed up way.

Do you remember how to say ‘I want it’ in Fusha?

It would be: اريده / ureeduhu or اريدها / ureeduha.

In Levantine Arabic, however, the direct object can’t simple be tacked on to the end of بد . Instead, you’re going to have to use this mysterious new word ايا .

But don’t get intimidated or scared, it’s actually really simple.

See instead of tacking on the direct object at the end of the word like you would do in يريد , you would instead stick it at the end of the word ايا . So if I wanted to say:

‘I want it/he/she’,

It would be:

انا بدي اياه / ana biddi iyyah or انا بدي اياها / ana biddi iyyaha .

For your easy reference, yours truly is going to give you a conjugation chart to make this clearer for you, using بدي / I want.

If direct object is Conjugation Meaning Pronunciation
هو انا بدي اياه I want him / it ana biddi iyyah
هي انا بدي اباها I want her / it ana biddi iyyaha
هم انا بدي اياهم I want them ana biddi iyyahom
انت انا بدي اياك I want you (mas) ana biddi iyyak
انتي انا بدي اياكي I want you (fem) ana biddi iyyaki
انتو انا بدي اياكم I want all of you ana biddi iyyakom
احنا انا بدي ايانا I want us ana biddi iyyana

Now obviously you can switch out بدي for any other conjugation that’s available in the first table above, depending on who’s doing the wanting. So for example, if you wanted to say

‘He wants me to write this letter’

It would be

هو بده اياني اكتب هاي الرسالة / huwe biddoh iyyani aktob hai arrisaleh.


Can you understand better how to use بدي in its past, present and conjugated forms? What are some examples of how you can put it in a sentence? Write to us in the comments below and we’ll tell you what we think! Or even better, share it with friends whom you think could benefit from this information.

Oct 13

A Beginner’s Manual to Typing in Arabic on Your Laptop and Smartphones


Believe me, I am well aware that this may not be the sexiest topic around.

But one of the things that I find people tend to gloss over when they talk about learning Arabic is how to successfully marry Arabic language with technology.

It’s easy to take for granted.

After all, most language learning takes place in the form of old-school resources like books and papers and hardly any thought or explanation is given to how to type, send a text, Google search in Arabic and so on and so forth.

It’s a little ironic, considering how much more of our time is spent online rather than offline.

I personally only came across this problem when I first started studying at Qasid Institute in Amman, when the teacher demanded a full 1000-word essay in Arabic, typed up and emailed to her by the end of the semester.

After panicking for a good week, I decided to just buckle down and sort out how to go about doing this.

As such, here is my manual that will hopefully make your transition from writing to typing Arabic much less painful. Please remember that I am not a techie of any sort (in fact I will be the first to tell you I’m the biggest tech idiot around) so I only went about trying to solve the problem in as few steps and as simply as possible.


How to Type in Arabic on Your Laptop

Now this would depend first and foremost on what operating system you’re using.

If you’re using a Macintosh

You would have to:

1. Go to your System Preferences application

2. Under Personal, go to Language and Text, where you will see four bars at the top, Language, Text, Formats, and Input Sources.

3. Go to input sources and click on the checkbox that corresponds with the language you want to have available. In this case it would be either Arabic, Arabic PC or Arabic QWERTY.


What is the difference between them?

The difference basically lies in the Arabic letters that correspond with individual keys. In the Arabic PC keyboard (pictured above) for example, . would appear as ز while in the Arabic keyboard, it would appear as .

Arabic QWERTY is a different animal in the sense that the Arabic letters match as much as possible with the letters in English by how they sound. So ك would be k and ل would be l. It’s probably a more intuitive keyboard if you’re first starting out.

Here’s what the Arabic QWERTY keyboard looks like, to make it clearer.



After selecting the keyboard, you will notice that at the top right hand corner of the screen, right beside the date and time, a country flag will appear to show which keyboard is currently in use.

In order to change the language, just click on the flag and select from the list that appears one of the keyboard you’ve installed. This comes in especially useful if you need to search on Google for something in Arabic or create any type of document.


Which keyboard do I use?

I personally use the Arabic PC keyboard because it’s the most common. But it really depends on which one you’re most comfortable with, so don’t fret about which one is the best one.

In any case it’s just a matter of time before you get used to it so don’t sweat which keyboard you need to pick.


If you’re using Windows

You would have to follow the steps outlined in this video. I’m a little cautious about giving advice for Windows OS, simply because I’m not using one.


Another alternative solution you can try, if you’re averse to installing new keyboards or if it’s still too newfangled for you, would be to use free online software to type Arabic into. I can’t lavish enough praise on Yamli Editor , I used it for most of my assignments and got away with it, and later on experimented with Arabic Keyboard with much success as well.
How to Type Arabic on your Smartphones

Now don’t fret, I’ve found this to be pretty simple as well. I clearly can’t devise instructions for every single smartphone out there, but I do know how to do this for iPhones and Samsungs. For the rest of you smartphone users out there, you can use this as a sort of template, or even better, trying Googling how to change your keyboard input.

You’re a smart bunch, you’ll figure it out.

Also at this point I would caution not to end up changing the entire language of the phone into Arabic just yet because believe me, you will be kicking yourself when you have to turn something off under Data Settings and don’t know what Data Settings are in Arabic and can’t go back to changing the language back to English because you don’t know where the Language Settings are either and end up frantically pressing anywhere, anywhere on the screen in the hope that your operating language will magically return to English.

Not that it’s uh, happened to me or anything.


So in order to change your language input for iPhones:

1. Go to your Settings

2. Go to General

3. Go to Keyboard

4. Go to Add New Keyboard

5. Choose Arabic

Now for example, if you want to switch from your English keyboard to your Arabic keyboard, open the Messages or Whatsapp application and you’ll have to click on the Globe icon on the left side of the space bar and this will allow you to toggle between keyboards.


For Samsung phones,

1. Click the Menu button

2. Go to Settings

3. Go to Language and Input

4. Click on the Gear icon next to Samsung keyboard

5. Click on input language

6. Select عربية and make sure that the checkboxes are tickes for English and Arabic

On the message screen, simple swipe the spacebar from left to right in order to toggle between keyboards. This website explains it in much more detail than I ever could.


If all else fails, go to either here or here to get any and every tech issue you could possibly have sorted out when it comes to typing Arabic.

Seriously, I should have just posted am empty page with links to both these pages, they are that awesome.

Was this post useful for you? Does technology drive you up the wall like it does us? What other Arabic language-related technological problems have you faced? Let’s face it we probably can’t help you out, but share with us in the comments and hopefully another commenter can!

Oct 13

5 Reasons Why Every Al-Kitaab Needs to be Burned (and what you can do instead)


This is a rant a long time in the making.

As some of you might know by now, I started studying Arabic close to 5 years ago. And literally from the first day I turned up in class, I wasn’t able to escape the mind-numbing dreariness of the dreaded al-Kitaab li ta’allum al’arabiyyah.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot from al-Kitaab, though what I learnt probably had more to do with training my patience not to rip the ridiculously heavy, unwieldy tome into a million little pieces and set them on fire Carrie-style, than actual Arabic.

Now you may feel al-Kitaab is a godsend from the Arabic gods, and that you couldn’t possibly imagine life without discussing Maha and Khaled’s romantic life and you quivered with anticipation to understand how to say stuff like ‘my dad is an interpreter at the United Nations’ and ‘my mom is an admissions officer at a university’.

In which case, this post is probably not for you.

I mean it. Stop reading. You’ll only get your feelings hurt.

No, this post is for all those other Arabic students, who, like me, have needlessly suffered with the complicated, un-intuitive and most of all f***-ing brain-bashingly boring ish that is contained within its pages.

Now trust me, I could have ripped into al-Kitaab book by book, chapter by chapter, and page by page, but that would require an entirely new blog altogether. So for simplicity’s sake (and that of my mental health), I’m going to keep this simple.

So how much do I abhor thee, al-Kitaab? Let me count the ways.

1. Utterly Useless Vocabulary

Okay so perhaps I’ve got the vocabulary for complicated politico-socio-economic conversations, with words like nationalism, governmental, facade, movement and research paper. I assure you, writers of al-kitaab, if I ever found myself on prime time Arab news with the Foreign Minister of Egypt and we had to debate the merits of writing a research paper on the facade of nationalistic movements in post-Mubarak government, I assure you would be more than well-prepared for such a task.

But the reality is, I won’t be finding myself on prime time with the Foreign Minister of Egypt.

More likely, I will probably find myself somewhere on the streets, having drunk a tad too much water and wondering where the nearest public toilet is in case I absolutely piss my pants, at which point I would realise I don’t know how to say:

‘Excuse me, where’s the bathroom?’

Or now that we’re on it, how to order food in a restaurant.

Or how to negotiate for a bargain in the souk.

Or how to strike up a simple conversation.

To basically, live life in any competent way in the Middle East.

Now, how is it possible to not have these expressions in an Arabic textbook, when even the most fundamental, simple travel guides will contain them between their pages?

The irony, it boggles my mind.


2. Complicated Presentation of Grammar

I swear to you, I didn’t have anything close resembling a grasp on grammar until I went to Jordan. Why? Because I didn’t have the foggiest clue what al-Kitaab was talking about. It wasn’t clear in the book when to use concepts like marfou’, majruur and the other thing (still can’t remember what it’s called) and things like i’rab flew right over my head like homing missiles and multiple attempts to come to terms with the grammar yielded absolutely zero understanding.

On the other hand, it did yield increasing levels of high blood pressure, stress and confusion.

My understanding of grammar now is far better, (not that hard to do if you’re starting from rock bottom) but believe me, that had absolutely nothing to do with al-Kitaab and everything to do with finding alternative ways around having to refer to it.


3. Disorganized Chapter Content

I always think that one of the most crucial cornerstones of any resource or manual is how easily and quickly it is to find what you’re looking for. If you’re in a rush to refer to something, the last thing you want to do is ruffle through pages and books and sections and saying I swear that one time I saw it in here!

Unfortunately, al-kitaab fails epically at this.

Firstly, the chapters are not organised around any really strong theme or content. Concepts are sort of scattered throughout the book instead of being presented in any sort of focused way.

Secondly, the contents pages are all in Arabic. Now I understand that as a textbook of Arabic that you want to force students to be comfortable with the language, but if you’re a student rushing to refer to a specific grammar rule or linguistic technique, being faced with pages of unintelligible squibbles that you have to decode is an exercise in utter frustration.


4. Dismal Audio-Visual Guide

I’m firm believer that if you want to add an additional product or service on top of a textbook, that additional item should add incredible value to the product you’re already selling.

Do you know how many times I’ve used the CD from al-Kitaab?

Precisely twice.

And that was only because the teacher assigned us homework from it. Would I have willingly listened to it on my own discretion?


And I’ll tell you why. The clips are confusing, incorrectly titled and above all, the material is not compelling. The videos look like they were taken in the 1970s, the cinematography is disappointing, and the topics do nothing to inspire feeling, thought or action. Which, in part, is a result of:


5. Disappointing Choice of Topics

Out of all, this is probably my biggest gripe with al-Kitaab.

When students show up for a class in Arabic, it’s true that some of them show up because they have to for the credit. But for the vast majority, they show up because they are genuinely interested in learning it and are passionate about it.

Why, then, does al-Kitaab try to flagellate the s*** out of that passion, by presenting the Most Boring Topics In the History of Mankind? Here is a sample of the topics al-Kitaab has chosen, (out of millions of possible unique topics).

1. From Islamic Social History

2. Who are the Pioneers of the Feminist Arab Movement?

3. The Mission of University

4. Personalities from Modern Arabic Literature

Now don’t get me wrong, each and every one of these topics belong somewhere in the academic realm and I’m not saying at all that no one has the right to teach them. But I beg you to step into any Arabic class while the poor teacher is dealing with them and I guarantee you that almost every student has the same expression of blank, bored apathy.

I know my class did. I especially remember a particularly dull reading exercise on Tawfeeq al-Hakeem and how painful it was to get through the text. There was nothing even remotely interesting or attractive about it at all.

Perhaps the one and only chapter that got us excited was the one on Alf Leila wa Leila (A Thousand and One Nights). The rest were just met with tired sighs of resignation.

What about producing content that is actually interesting? What about increasing rates of plastic surgery in the Middle East? What about travelling? What about celebrities? What about fashion, food and dating? Sure, they may not be strictly ‘academic’ topics, but realistically speaking, these are the things we humans talk about on a daily basis.


And the strange thing that I’ve found is that so many other students and teachers feel the same way about this wretched textbook (that it is a cleverly-disguised demon bent on sucking any remaining passion for Arabic from your soul), yet it still remains the most used reference in most Arabic classes today. The reviews pretty much say it all.

It just goes to prove that just because something is popular doesn’t make it good.


What can you do about it?

At this point you might ask me:

‘But my teacher/college/language institute uses al-Kitaab for instruction and I can’t possibly do anything about it!’

To which I would reply, my dear reader, with all due respect that is a crock of b***shit. Because:

You have total control over your Arabic education.

Sure, you can spend your six hours a week in academic instruction, but time outside of class is yours to do with it what you wish. So if you really want to be successful at this, you’re going to have to find other ways outside of al-Kitaab to complement your academic instruction. I’ve written about this before, in How Timothy Doner Became Fluent in Arabic (and 21 other languages) Without Leaving His Country but I’ve distilled the most important lessons here.

1. Don’t depend on al-kitaab alone.

If you do, you’re going to be in big trouble. There’s no harm using it, but I would strongly urge you to instead, find other textbooks that can do better to complement it. A quick search on Amazon for example, showed that people had good things to say about Ultimate Arabic.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just because your teacher or institute is using this book, that it’s the Holy Grail of Arabic education, because it’s not. You wouldn’t go to a buffet and eat only from one dish, would you? You wouldn’t be doing your money or tastebuds justice. Use the same approach here – take the best out of a few books and work from there.


2. Find some people to talk to.

Most of your learning will happen when you’re interacting with people who are native speakers of the language, rather than from a textbook. If there’s an Arab coffee joint, restaurant or sheesha place, it’s more likely that’s where they’re hanging out. Your city is far more international than you think, if you just take the time to search.

But if you say that you can’t find any Arab people in your town or city, then I would urge you to go online.

Plenty of the Arab people that I’ve met are thirsty to practice their English skills with native speakers, so there’s something you can offer to them in exchange for their Arabic skills. In fact the less English they speak, the better, because you’ll have to understand the explanation in Arabic. Conversation Exchange, for example, is a website that I’ve tried with success. Which then leads me to..


3. Find other resources online.

It never fails to amaze me what the Internet has done for our education. Resources that were once impossible to get your hands on or chargeable, is now available to you 24/7 at your fingertips at no charge. Some days I still can’t believe that I get to hear experts from every field like Tony Robbins, Ken Robinson and Seth Godin for free, which would have been absolutely impossible even 15 years ago.

Use this to your advantage.

Before I left for Jordan I was frequenting websites like BBC Arabic, AlJazeera Arabic, Rusiya alYom, which helped me greatly in my Arabic education. A lot of these news websites have Youtube channels as well where you can check out past clips of news broadcasts and listen to how words are being pronounced to get you accustomed to hearing spoken Arabic.



What do you think of al-Kitaab? Does it rile you up as much as it does us? Or do you disagree with this article in its entirety? Let us know in comments, we’d love to hear from you. Or better yet, share this article if you agree that al-kitaab needs a revamp like, yesterday.

Oct 13

The Time Najwa Karam Stopped A Guy from Leaping to his Death (and what it has to do with نيالك )


It happened about an hour into the performance.

Najwa Karam, one of the most timeless Lebanese singers around, had been slated to sing at the Jerash Music Festival in Jordan.

When she finally appeared onstage, tanned and bronzed, with chocolate- brown locks sexily tousled to perfection and resplendent in a glittery silver gown that reflected the spotlights like a million stars, the crowd roared with excitement and thunderous applause as she promptly launched into one of her classic songs.

We gamely sang, clapped, danced and lelele-d along, regardless of the fact that we were packed nearly back to back, sweaty despite the cool desert evening air.

Then it was clear that something wasn’t right.

Somehow in the midst of the party, a guy (no more than 19 or 20), had found a way to go from the highest row of the bleachers, across the beams and to the top of the construction in the background of the photo, to get up close and personal with his idol.

To make things worse, he looked like he was about to jump from the structure, which was a proper 20 metres high, to the stage.

If he didn’t break his neck in the process and end up killing himself, I was pretty sure he would at least break his leg.

Najwa stopped the song halfway and addressed him directly, if for no other reason than to at least stall him while her bodyguards hurriedly tried to figure out a way to get him down safely.

‘If you really want to make me happy,’ she reasoned, ‘you wouldn’t jump.’

The audience watched quietly for a tense 15 minutes while the guards rushed to put together a makeshift ladder to lean against the framework, while Najwa engaged in light- hearted chit chat and repeatedly assured him that she wasn’t going anywhere.

Finally, we breathed a collective sigh of relief as the fan climbed down safely into her waiting arms.


What’s This Got to Do with Anything?

I’m getting there, don’t worry. =D

When I sent photos of the concert to my friend Amr (who is an unashamedly huge Najwa Karam fan), he had this to reply:

‘نيالك’ / niyyalak!

At that point in time I had no idea what he was talking about but as I found out, niyyalak is the equivalent of saying  على حظك / ‘la Huthak (literally on your luck) and is closer to saying in English:

‘You’re so lucky!’.

To be honest I’m not 100% sure what the root word for niyyal is (my attempts to search for it in the dictionary yielded approximately nothing), but suffice for you to understand that it means to express to someone how lucky or fortunate they are.


What Other Contexts Can I Use It In?

Basically, whenever you want to express admiration or envy at something someone has. You can use it when a friend of yours is going on a holiday to someplace amazing, got a promotion at work and so on and so forth.

In fact the inspiration for this post was when I saw how one of the people I subscribe to on Facebook posted a photo of himself and a friend at a personal concert with an Algerian singer, and almost 80% of the comments were ‘نيالكم’ / niyyalkom.

The Arabic Student defines it as ‘good for you!’, as seen in his Youtube Video here and explains that it is possible to also use it sarcastically.

How Do I Conjugate It?

In terms of conjugation, niyyal is taken like a noun, in other words by adding the pronoun suffix according to whom you’re talking about.

For example, if you wanted to say

He’s so lucky, it would be:

نياله / niyyaloh

And if you wanted to say

‘All of you are so lucky’ it would be

نيالكم / niyyalkom.


Here is the full conjugation table for niyyal, for your easy reference:


Pronoun Conjugation Pronuncation Meaning
هو نباله niyyaloh He’s so lucky!
هي نيالها niyyalha She’s so lucky!
هم نيالهم niyyalhom All of them are so lucky!
انتَ نيالَك niyyalak You’re (mas) so lucky!
انتِ نيالِك niyyalik You’re (fem) so lucky!
انتو نيالكو niyyalku All of you are so lucky!
انا نيالي niyyali I’m so lucky
احنا نبالنا niyyalna We’re so lucky


It’s also interesting that niyyal is mostly used in the present tense. I haven’t really come across much use of it in the past tense, probably because if you envy someone, you’re doing it at the current moment. For example, even though the concert I was talking about above with the Algerian singer might have happened last weekend, commenters were feeling envy right now.

So next time something great happens to a friend, family member or colleague, you know one of the many expressions you could use.

Can you think of other situations in which you would use nayyal? Or remember the other times in which you’ve used it in the past? Share with us in the comments below!