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?

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