Basic Arabic Words, Terms, and Phrases for Traveling to Dubai
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
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