I won't kid you - it is unlikely you are going to be required to speak or understand Arabic in Dubai. Local Emiratis will use their mother tongue to communicate with each other, but you will find very few opportunities to interact with them in daily life, and even if you do, they probably speak better English than some Americans.
Fortunately for us, English is the 'second' official language of Dubai, with over two hundred nationalities living side by side in the city. Road signs are in English, shop staff, waiters and officials speak English.
To be honest, you are more likely to be able to use Urdu, Hindi, Russian or Filipino Tagalog than Gulf Arabic. On the other hand, expats do pepper their language with choice Arabic terms.
Arabic words used to spice up English
Some of the most often used are yalla, meaning 'Let’s go!'; khalas (pronounced halas), meaning 'done'; and the most feared Insha’Allah, translating as 'If Allah wills it', which is a valid answer to anything from 'Could you come over for dinner?' to 'Could you fix my toilet this week?' Practically, it means anything from 'No way, pal' to 'I have no idea'. The same is true for the term mafi mushkila, which means 'no problem'. If you hear this, you are safe to assume there is a BIG problem.
Some other Arabic terms you may notice thrown into everyday English are habibi (when addressing a man) and habibti (when addressing a woman), meaning 'darling' – men use this with each other all the time!
English-speaking Arabs may also pepper their language with yanni, meaning 'you know'. One word that tends to have a lot of clout is wasta. It's difficult to translate, but essentially a person with wasta has influence and friends in the right places - Godfather-style.
In truth, there are as many Arabic dialects as countries where Arabic is spoken. Levantine Arabic, spoken in Lebanon and Syria, tends to be quite sing-song, Egyptian Arabic is slang-driven, and Gulf Arabic is much more guttural.
Gulf Arabic in Dubai
Most people living in or traveling to Dubai speaks at least passable English. Street signs and public documents in Dubai are written mostly in English. Information in hotels, restaurants, shopping centers, sports facilities, entertainment complexes, etc. is usually posted in both Arabic and English. In some of the city’s more traditional areas, such as Deira and Bur Dubai, you will also hear Hindi, Urdu, and Farsi.
Local Emiratis speak a Gulf dialect of Arabic that is similar to the Arabic spoken in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and parts of Oman. Gulf Arabic is more guttural than classic Arabic and has been peppered with some Persian words. Unique features of Gulf Arabic include pronouncing 'k' as 'ch' and 'j' as 'y.' You will hear it spoken on tv, and when traveling outside Dubai where it is more common.
Your Arabic Vocabulary for When You Travel To Dubai
Since you are a polite traveler, you want to speak and understand at least a few words and phrases in the local Gulf Arabic tongue of Dubai. Here are the very basics that you might pick up in the United Arab Emirates.
I understand / Ana fahim/ana fahma (M/F)
I don’t understand / Ana mu fa-him / ana mu fahhma (M/F)
I’m sick / Ana ay-yan / Ana ay-yana
I like / Ana beheb
I don’t like / Ana mabeh-bish
I want / Ana areed
I want to buy / Ana areed an ashtaree
I’m looking for / Ana badowar
What? / Shuw?
Why? / Laysh?
Who? / Meen?
When? / Mata?
Where? / Wayn?
How? / Kayf?
May I? / Mumkin?
Could you please? / Mumkin min fadhlak?
Where is / Wayn al [thing]
the grocery store / ba’ala
the gas station / mahattat betrol
What does that mean? / Yanni eh?
Where’s the nearest . . . ? / Wayn aghrab?
How do I get to / Ana unzil [place] zay?
the Corniche / corniche zay?
What time is it? / Sa’ kam?
It is . . . / Sa’ [number]
ala yameen / to the right
ala shi-mel / ala yassar / to the left
fo’ / up or above
wara’ / behind
wara es-shams / middle of nowhere
uddam al / in front of [thing]
khush / go
ala tool / straight
henna / here
khush yameen min henna / go right here
Yes / Ay-wa/naam
No / La’
Thank you / Shu-kran
No thanks / La shu-kran
Please / Min fadlak / min fadliki (M/F)
Let’s go / Ya-llah
God willing / In-sha-la
Sorry, excuse me / Af-wan, muta’assif
Hello / Salam alaykoom
Hello (in response) / Wa alaykoom salam
Good morning / Sabahh el-kheer
Good morning (in response) / Sabah in-nuwr
Good evening / Massa’ el kheer
Good evening (in response) / Massa’ in-nuwr
Welcome / Ah-hlan wa sah-hlan
Welcome (in response) / Ahh-lan beek/beeki (M/F)
Greetings / Mar-haba
How are you? / Kay fah-lak? / Kay fah-lik? (M/F)
Fine, thank you / Zayn, shu-kran / Zayna, shu-kran (M/F)
Praise God / Al hum-duleh-la
Great / Zay al foll
What’s your name? / Shuw ismak?/Shuw ismik? (M/F)
My name is / Is-mee [your name]
No problem / Mish-mishkella
Where are you from? / Inta min-ayn / Inti min-ayn? (M/F)
I’m from / Anaa min [country]
America / Ame-ri-ki
Britain / Brai-ta-ni
Europe / O-ro-pi
India / Al hind
It’s a pleasure to have met you / Forsa sai-eeda
I’m honored (in response) / Ana as-ad
Goodbye / Ma-salama
Leave it, or Who cares? / Kalli Valli
Check out the rest of the course on Maha's YouTube channel.
Learn Arabic as spoken in Dubai and the Gulf states.
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Use this great online tool to meet people from just about any country.
More Useful Arabic Words and Phrases to Use in Dubai
funduq / hotel
ghurfa / room
Andak / andik [thing?] (M/F) / Do you have . . . ?
ghurfa fadya? / an empty room?
Bikaam? / How much?
tareekh / date
an na-harda / today
Mumkin atfarag-ha? / Can I see it?
takif / mukae-yif / air-conditioning / air-conditioned
ghurfa mukae-yifa / air-conditioned room
marwaha / fan
hamam / toilet
leila wahada / 1 night
arkhees / cheap
ghalee / expensive
Ghalee giddan! / That’s expensive!
hali / free
faadi / empty
kabeer / big
sagheer / small
mataar / airport
sareer / bed
beera / beer
agala / bike
arabeya / car
hes-sab / restaurant check / bill
bab / door
bab al reisi / main door / entrance
saffara / embassy
saffarat Ameriki / American embassy
saffarat Canadeya / Canadian embassy
saffarat Braitani / British embassy
betrol / gas / petrol
mahattat betrol / gas station
moustashfa / hospital
fallous / money
methaf / museum
sayidalaya / pharmacy
mat’am / restaurant
magha / café
ughfa / room
taks / taxi
haga / thing
walla haga / nothing
maiya / water
maiya madaneya / mineral water
Hamdan on February 28, 2020:
There are lots of mistakes and misinformation in this post. You should have at least done a little more research before publishing.
Nayeema on December 12, 2019:
"...and the most feared Insha’Allah."
I really don't understand why so many people misunderstand the meaning of "Insha'Allah". It's not a bad thing at all. It means "If Allah wills/permits/allows it" and we mean it literally. There's no double meaning of this. When we say this, we mean "I am willing to do this but as we don't know what future holds so if I can't do this that will be because of some unavoidable circumstances." Which we believe as fate or luck which is not in our hand. So, it basically means "If everything is okay and go by the plan I'll do this."
Non-arabic speakers need to understand this.
Lj on October 23, 2019:
What the meaning of mazboot in tagalog
cherry on October 11, 2019:
thanks for this...i can use to understand basic communication skills in communicating with Arab friends
Imran on June 07, 2019:
Jazak Allah khair well done
altaf on April 29, 2019:
A lot of mistakes. Insha Allah. you wrote In-sha la.?? no meaning
Stephen Appiah on April 23, 2019:
Shukran Habibi...Allah Karim
Ssebowa kamar on January 04, 2019:
thank you for teaching us
Fahad Nicole on September 04, 2018:
Very informative and interesting. Keep posting more.
Ajith on May 21, 2018:
Learn to spoke about the Arab
Vamsi on November 16, 2017:
Gina Salinas on June 13, 2017:
Thanks very informative..keep posting information..
John on September 01, 2016:
Wife and husband
Md Tousif Rajdan on October 15, 2015:
Thanks sir for this......
I m from India and I belongs to Muslim family and need job in Kuwait or Dubai, I just passed B.tech civil engineering please do something for me because I need a job.... My email id email@example.com please I m waiting for your response any can inform me about job opportunities.... Thanks
rehan on December 28, 2014:
Brilliant', 'Quite Good', 'What?', these are just some of the comments made recently in the press regarding Russian to English Translation in Dubai . I really, really like Russian to English Translation in Dubai . Though Russian to English Translation in Dubai is a favourite topic of discussion amongst monarchs, presidents and dictators, its influence on western cinema has not been given proper recognition. Crossing many cultural barriers it still draws remarks such as 'I wouldn't touch it with a barge pole' and 'i'd rather eat wasps' from the over 50, trapped by their infamous..
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Think back to the first time you ever heard of
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maricar on July 12, 2014:
Hello may i ask what is because in arabic?
Kelly A Burnett from United States on March 09, 2014:
I visited Dubai and was amazed that my English took me everywhere. I felt so much at home. I wish to return but this time for more of a vacation and for a much longer time frame with my husband so I am will return to this great for this much needed information. Voted up. Very well written - concise and useful. You are great instructor.
Linda Bryen from United Kingdom on December 13, 2013:
Great Article, Haunty. Voted up. Well done.
VeRumier on April 17, 2013:
Thanks for teaching. This is very helpful to me.
ariane on March 17, 2013:
I want to learn the arabic og egyptian.
frankjames963 on February 13, 2013:
Very helpful. Also, for people planning to move to Dubai you can check www.alliedmoversco.com for help.
Mahmo on September 12, 2012:
In most hotels of Dubai you will find expatriate workers who speak English specially from the Asian countries.However you need some Arabic words when you go for example to public places or interact with people in the streets or in work environment sometimes.The effect of Islamic religion is obvious in some words which are common in most Arab countries and the people like them .The most repeated words that you hear and their meanings are :-
-Insha Allah / by the God will.( Allah : the God )
-Alhamdo Li Allah/ All the praises and thanks be to Allâh ( for good or bad news) .It includes the meaning that everything happens by His will and we should accept this even if it is bad thing!.
- Masha Allah or Masha Allah Tabarak Allah /the first two words to show that you liked something or somebody and it is used usually as opening statement when you have just seen that thing , or if somebody introduced himself to you or being introduced by another person, and you say the other four words together if you want somebody to feel that you liked his dress or appearance.
-Subhan Allah / it means all grace to Allah / when you want to show your surprise for strange thing happened in front of you or you just heard about it .It includes the meaning that Allah is able to do or to cause anything to happen.
doddid from Bandung Indonesia on September 12, 2012:
Nice Info, Insha Allah I'll go to Dubai Next Year :)
michyoung from North Carolina, USA on July 19, 2012:
Thanks. I learned few Arabic languages.=)
Haunty (author) from Hungary on July 19, 2012:
Thanks, NC4Life078. I'm glad I did this Hub as it turned out to be my 9th most visited.
Nicoli Clause from United States of America on July 19, 2012:
This is a great idea, I never would have thought to have put something like this on HubPages. I love how easy it is to follow too, great hub!
Haunty (author) from Hungary on June 30, 2012:
Thanks for the suggestion, SamsSon. I've included the word in the Basics list.
SamsSon on June 30, 2012:
Very useful article.
It would be nice if you could include word "Kalli Valli" (Khalli Walli) in the list. Please refer below URL for more info about word Kalli Valli.
Lemon Slice from Dubai, United Arab Emirates on June 07, 2012:
nice article .. dubai is indeed worth a visit ..
Nora411 from Chicago, IL on April 27, 2012:
This is a great article for people traveling to arabic countries! I like how you make it easy for people to print out and take with them when they are walking the streets in Dubai!
Haunty (author) from Hungary on December 22, 2011:
Thank you for the corrections, Mahmo!
Mahmo on December 22, 2011:
Please note these corrections : ghurfa / room ( Gorfah )
arkhees / cheap ( Rakhees )
fallous / money ( Filoos )
Mahmo on December 22, 2011:
ughfa / room ( this is incorrect the correct word is Gorfah )
Olita on December 21, 2011:
ohhhh shucran for this ))
MissFrost from 50% Island Girl, 25% East Coast Girl, 25% Country Girl on December 15, 2011:
Very useful. I will be traveling to Dubai after Christmas. The Arabic words will come in handy!
Mahmo on December 14, 2011:
I have to state that in Arabic there are some letters which are difficult for Non-Arabic speakers to pronounce unless they train themselves many times.These letters are not found in English and the English speakers are not expected to pronounce them correctly.The problem is that the wrongful pronounce brings out sounds for other different words and the speaker becomes funny in some situations where the unintended words do not fit within the expected response.However you should not get ashamed if somebody smiles or even laughs because the Arabic speakers know already that it is not easy to you.
Steve Andrews from Lisbon, Portugal on August 29, 2011:
The hardest part of all is going to be moving my cat and worrying about how it would affect her. If I didn't have a cat I would jump at the chance!
Haunty (author) from Hungary on August 28, 2011:
Yeah I know, it must be tough. But you know, sometimes it's just hard to make the changes and then it turns out to be one of the best things that could happen in your life. I wish you this.
Steve Andrews from Lisbon, Portugal on August 28, 2011:
It is a massive move and not one I would ever have dreamed of but is the only answer to my current problems being offered.
Haunty (author) from Hungary on August 28, 2011:
Thanks Bard! I hope it will be of some use if you decide to make the move.
Steve Andrews from Lisbon, Portugal on August 28, 2011:
I have voted up and tagged as useful for this excellent hub! I have been invited to live and work in the UAE and it is possible I will end up there so this is of interest to me.
Haunty (author) from Hungary on May 28, 2011:
drbj and sherry from south Florida on March 16, 2011:
Thank you, Haunty, for this info. Now I won't have to buy an English-Dubai dictionary - I'll just use this hub.
Haunty (author) from Hungary on March 16, 2011:
Thanks, people. :)
UltimateMovieRankings from Virginia on March 16, 2011:
Nice hub, should be very useful for someone that is heading overseas...thanks for posting
jrsearam from San Juan, PR on March 15, 2011:
Thanks for putting this together....JR