Untranslatable idiomatic expressions

I’m preparing to teach an intensive colloquial Arabic course starting in November, so you may hear more from me again in the coming weeks as I delve back into my teaching archives and shake off old worksheets that I haven’t touched for almost 18 months. Looking forward to getting back into it.

Particularly excited that my student wants to focus on Levantine dialect, with a concrete goal of wanting to be functionally conversational after two months. We’ll see what happens! It’s very hard to know precisely what kind of level a course like this will result in as so much depends on the student’s previous experience of learning a language and their motivation, but I have high hopes and know I’m going to be pushed to the test.

I’m going to be teaching mainly with the wonderful spoken Levantine course BBC Talk Arabic, but with a range of other authentic audio sources such as the films Caramel and West Beirut. It’s a delight to note down some of the lovely idiomatic expressions that come up in just the first 5 minutes of Caramel, especially the first one, na’eeman (نعيماً). I remember this coming up so early on in my first ever Arabic course and being astonished at what a bizarre thing it was to say. Literally it means “ooh, smooth!” and you say it when a friend has just had a shave at the barber’s or a haircut. I needed to check that I really did understand it, and found a great blog post on Baraka Bits about untranslatable Arabic expressions and another one in Thaqafa Magazine. I really recommend both of these lists of fascinating Arabic idioms!

What are your favourite intrinsically Arabic phrases?


About Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

Literary translator from Arabic, German and Russian into English
This entry was posted in Beginners, Colloquial Arabic, Speaking, Useful websites and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Untranslatable idiomatic expressions

  1. S says:

    We also say nayman for someone who comes out of the shower!

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