Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Arabic phrases international teachers in Saudi Arabia will hear/use a LOT

The Mister and I had studied Arabic a little bit before we moved to Saudi Arabia--I took it as my foreign language in college, he lived in Kuwait for two years and had a tutor. But it is a very complicated language with just as many bizarre rules as English, so we by no means were prepared to converse when we arrived.

However, you pick up a few key terms after living here for a little while. Here's a very short list of a few of the words and phrases we learned right away.

Aadi (عادي ): This might be the Arabic word I use the most. This word (pronounced with the "ain" sound at the beginning, a sound we don't have in English), literally translated, means "typical," but it means soo much more than that! It can be used to mean "this is not surprising," especially when you're stuck in traffic and horns are honking all around you and your husband is brewing up a massive case of road rage. Just turn to him and say "aadi." It can also mean "that's about par for the course," like when you are informed of a meeting 3 minutes before it's supposed to start and you're told it's very important. Then you show up only to find the entire meeting is conducted in Arabic and you have no idea what anybody's saying. Aadi.

Sahh (صح): This word means "right." As in correct, not as in opposite of left. This is one word that both the Mister and I use all the time. You know how in English, when you give directions, it can be very confusing when someone says, "We need to go right, right?" or "it's right over there." You have to really be paying attention to decipher if they mean the direction or not. Problem solved with the use of this Arabic word! Students use it to differentiate between right, right, and write. "This answer is right, sah?" Or "You told us the test is on Saturday, sah?"

Tayeb (طيب) : This word means "ok." That's pretty much it's only use, but we hear this word all the time. Usually followed by...

Khalass (خلاص) :"stop it" or "that's enough." But khalass is one of those Arabic words that have a lot of meanings. It can be used casually to mean "gotcha," as is the case when it's used after tayeb. "Ok, gotcha, talk to you later."

It can be used in lethargy to let your teachers know you're mentally fried. One of the jokes of our Tuesday night Arabic class last year was when one of the guys who livesd upstairs said, "Khalass, Ustadh, khalass!" ("Enough, teacher, enough!") He waved the white flag on everyone's behalf.

It can also be used in frustration and be a way to let your counterpart know he/she is about to step over the line. I used khalass in this way not long after I arrived. My seventh graders were begging for...something, I can't even remember what anymore. I had answered no, but they were still begging. This process is not unusual, students around the world use this tactic. However, my kids in the States gave up the effort after 2 or 3 nos. They usually figured out I wasn't going to change my answer so they gave up.

Not my Saudi students! They have learned through years of practice with their parents that if you annoy the adults long enough, they'll finally cave and you get what you want!

So after saying no more than my typical 3 times and seeing that this could go on for a while, I firmly said, "No, khalass! End of discussion!" and my only response was stunned silence. I think I might have surprised them with my correct use of this word so soon after starting to learn the language, but I didn't care! The conversation ended there and I was able to move on with my class.

Insh'allah (إن شاء الله ), Mashallah (ما شاء الله ), Wullah (والله) and all the other 'allahs: Being that Saudi Arabia is the land of Islam and this is where the Arabic language originated, Allah finds his way into a lot of the conversation. I've already explained the inner workings of insh'allah and mashallah, and we do hear those two a LOT. But it's the wullah that is used more frequently than both of those combined.

"Wullah" basically means "I swear to God." Now, growing up in the Christian South, I was told that you should never ever swear to God because you usually didn't mean it. That doesn't seem to be what children are taught in Saudi Arabia. We joke with our colleagues that you can always tell the students are lying when they start their sentences with wullah.

"Wullah, teacher, I am not late to class!" ...huh, that's funny because class started 3 minutes ago and you're just now walking through the door...where I come from, that's the definition of late...

"WULLAH, teacher, I did my homework!"

"Wullah, teacher, it wasn't me that was talking."

As I said, this is a VERY short list, but I've tried to concentrate on the most used terms so you can get an idea of what the Mister and I hear around us every day.

Vicariously yours,


  1. Love reading your blog will be teaching at Dhahran next school year. Jennifer

  2. Hi Jennifer! I hope the blog helps get you excited for your move. Will you be working on Aramco?