Do you speak Arabic?

Well, the answer is no. Despite the fact that I have been taking Arabic lessons for about three years now. Arabic is by no means the first foreign language I have been trying to master but why is progress so slow?

First of all, there is the Arabic alphabet with its 28 letters to learn and the pronunciation of those to master. Interestingly, trying to read a word from right to left isn’t necessarily the challenge. More so that some letters look different at the beginning, the middle or at the end of a word. Additionally there 25 consonants in the Arabic alphabet and only three long vowels. Short vowels are only indicated by little ticks and dots underneath or on top of a consonant if you are lucky to help beginners!

Secondly, English is widely spoken here. The person behind the counter doesn’t necessarily speak Arabic either because they come from a different country. Arabs are also conscious about losing face. They don’t want you to lose face in front of them when you are trying to cobble a sentence together and they also don’t want to be seen loosing face by not understanding what you are saying. Or, how my Arabic teacher put it: they are expecting you to speak English and are confused and afraid to not understand or to correct you.

Spoken Arabic in the GulfThis brings me to my third point: the spoken Arabic here the Gulf Dialect (or Khaliji as it is known) is different from the Standard Arabic. Interestingly when you see Arabic writing it is Standard Arabic as there is no written Khaliji. And we are not talking slight differences, we are talking about two seemingly unrelated languages at first glance. For example, ‘I want’ is ‘orid’ in Standard and ‘abi’ in Gulf Arabic. When you go deeper though, you realise that only the 100 most used words are different! Thankfully though ‘kaifa haluki’, the “how are you, male person?” is taught in school here and is widely understood together with the Khaliji of ‘shack-baric’ or the Saudi version of ‘kaif-halic’.

My last point is that it is really difficult to find an Arabic teacher here! Yes, there are a few language institutes teaching Standard Arabic but it took me a little while to find a fabulous Bahraini Arabic teacher called Shehab Ali who created a course and method for foreigners to learn Gulf Arabic in 48 hours. For further info have a look at his website:

So, am I leaving you eager to take up learning Arabic? I really hope so because there is nothing more exciting than to start picking up some words and then sentences from around you! There will be more on this to come in one of my next blog post about frequently heard words and sentences in Bahrain.


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