Blog // From Falafel to Freedom: Arabic: A Language and a Culture

When I talk with my mom in Arabic, my friends look at me like I am crazy. Their disbelief at listening to me speak in a different language is quite entertaining. Arabic is my second language. It is the language that makes me feel a bit more (for lack of a better word) authentic. Instead of just saying that I am Egyptian, and really knowing that I am American, I have the ability to validate it by speaking in the native tongue. I was taught Arabic many years ago by my grandfather. He came from the motherland and was baffled, and rather angered, that his grandchildren did not know how to speak Arabic. It started out with a word. Then it became a plethora of words. Then it became sentences. I was proud. My pride is still with me and now I will teach you all some words that are good to know.

So let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start:

Hello                                    Ahlan (Ah-laan)
How are you?                       Izayek (Is-ayy-ick [female]) Izayuk (Iz-ayy-uck [male])
Restroom                             Hamam (Ha-mam)
Sun                                      Shams (Sha-am-s)
Rain                                     Natara (Na-tar-ra)
Food                                    Akl (Ah-k-le)
Grass                                   Hasheesh (Hah-sheesh)
Tree                                     Shagarah (Sh-ah-gahr-ah)
Bus                                      Outobis (Oh-toe-beese)
Good bye                             Ma’asalaama (Ma-ah-sal-am-a)
Church                                 Kinesa (Kin-e-sah)
Apple                                   Tofah (Toe-fah)
Falafel                                  Ta’meyah (Tah-may-a)
Book                                    Kitab (Kit-ah-beh)
Cheese                                 Gibna (Gib-nah)
Come on                              Yallah (Ya-l-ah)

These are all words in the Egyptian form of Arabic. I added some words in the list for educational reasons. The first word I want to point out is the word falafel. Most Americans believe that falafel is the Arabic word for, well, falafel. This is not true for all dialects of Arabic. I have grown up around the word ta’meyah. The first time I heard falafel I was completely confused to have a ta’meyah handed to me. So to help you avoid confusion I am telling you that they are the same thing.

The second word used for educational purposes is gibna (cheese). In Egyptian Arabic this word is said as gib-nah. In other forms of Arabic (i.e. Lebanese Arabic) it is pronounced jib-nah with a “j” sound instead of a “g” sound. In my opinion, spoken as a true Egyptian, the “g” has a prettier and cleaner sound than the “j” sound. This is the tip-off for me to see which Arab country a person comes from when I am speaking to them. The only time it throws me off is when an Egyptian person speaks with the “j” sound; then it’s a WHOLE different story. That is when I look at them with confusion and start questioning where they learned their Arabic.

Now lastly if you learn any word from this list it will most likely be the last word. This word is usually said if someone you are waiting on is taking their time and you want them to hurry up. Almost everyone I know uses it now and it doesn’t matter what nationality they are. So next time you want to be do something different with your word choice, just pick a word from the list, add it into your vocabulary, and be prepared to feel like the most cultured person ever.

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