Popular Arabic words and phrases for Dubai expats
By Samar Owais · September 21, 2012
With the expat community making up over 80% of Dubai's population (Source: World Fact Book ), it's no wonder that expats go for days without listening to any Arabic being spoken. With such a large expat population, everyone's preferred language of communication is English.
Even the expats who've lived here for years or decades still don't understand enough Arabic to follow a conversation. When asked about it, they claim that they never felt the need to. Even expat children who were born and educated in the UAE don't know Arabic.
That said, most expats learn a few common words and phrases that they use every now and then in their conversation.
Below is a list of 20 popular words and phrases almost all expats know and use.
Khallas means 'finished'. It can also mean stop, end, enough etc. It's one of those words that can be and is used in every situation.
Example: Khallas! I'm done talking about this.
2. Maafi Mushki
Another Arabic term that's used often. It means 'no problem'.
People say it when you thank them, when you ask them for a favour or make a request.
Example: Sorry about being late. Response: Maafi mushkil!
Habibi in Arabic means 'friend' and is often used in conversation – both formally and informally. It's one of those words that can be used in any situation – when genuinely calling someone a friend, when fighting or even when being sarcastic!
The closest English word of Habibi I've come across is 'Dude'.
Example: Thanks, habibi!
Example 2: Get out of my face, habibi.
The first time someone said Hala to me, I thought they were addressing me by someone else's name. Little did I know that the person was saying Hi to me in Arabic slang!
Hala is considered an informal way of saying hello. Ever since that day, I've equated 'Hala' to 'Holla!'. Not the best association but it works for me and never fails to remind me that the person saying it to me is being friendly.
Example: Hala! How's it going?
5. Assalam Alaikum
Assalam Alaikum is a formal greeting in Arabic. It means 'Peace be upon you'.
Example: Assalam Alaikum! How are you?
6. Walaikum Assalam
Walaikum Assalam means '…and Peace be upon you too' and is said in response to Assalam Alaikum.
Example: Walaikum Assalam! I'm fine, thanks. How are you?
Insha'Allah is one of those words that is used in abundance in conversations all over Dubai irrespective of whether it's a local, expat, arabic or non-arabic speaking person.
Insha'Allah means 'God willing' or 'If God wills it'.
Example: I'll see you tomorrow, Insha'Allah.
Explaining the meaning of Masha'Allah is a little difficult as it's used in myriad ways. The closest translation is 'Allah has willed it'.
It's mostly commonly said when admiring or praising something.
Example: Oh Masha'Allah! That's great!
9. Ahlan Wa Sahlan
Ahlan Wa Sahlan is probably the first phrase expats hear when landing in Dubai. It means welcome.
This is not the welcome one says in response to 'thank you' though. This is used in response to welcoming someone in your home, party or country etc.
Ahlan Wa Sahlan is usually used as a stand alone phrase.
There are a number of words for saying hello in Arabic. Marhaba is one of them.
Example: Marhaba! How are you?
Masalamah means 'goodbye' in Arabic. While there are other words that mean goodbye too, this one is the easiest to learn.
Example: See you later. Masalamah!
If you want to say 'Thank you' or 'Thanks' in Arabic, Shukran is the word you want to use.
And should you want to say 'No, thanks.' in Arabic, say 'La, shukran'.
Example: Shukran! That's very kind of you.
Example 2: La shukran, I don't want any.
If you want to say congratulations to someone in Arabic, say 'Mabrook'.
Example: Mabrook! I'm so happy for you!
14. La afham
Having been mistaken for an Arab quite a few times in Dubai and having people start a conversation in Arabic with me, I thought adding this phrase would be prudent.
La afham means 'I don't understand'. It's also useful for when you run into someone who only speaks Arabic and you have difficulty communicating.
Example: Sorry, la afham.
15. Min Fadlak
If you ever want to say please in Arabic, say Min fadlak. Keep in mind though that the pronunciation changes a bit when addressing a female.
If you're saying please in Arabic to a female, say Min Fadlik.
How to use these words in your conversations
The above words and phrases are ones that get their message across even if you say them without attaching them to a sentence. Even then, if you're unsure of how to use them in your conversation, pay attention to how other people use these words in their sentences. Shouldn't take you long to figure out what context to use them in!