Arabic For Dummies
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Making small talk in Arabic is just the same as in English. Touch on familiar topics like jobs, sports, children — just say it in Arabic! Small talk describes the brief conversations that you have with people you don't know well. Small talk is where friendships are made. If you know how to make small talk in Arabic you'll be able to "break the ice" and get to know some of the people you meet during your trip.

Small talk generally consists of greetings and introductions and descriptions of personal information and interests. If you are able to hold your own in each of these areas, you'll be able to handle most small talk situations.

Greetings and Introductions

Although people in Arabic-speaking countries are often more formal than those in the United States, you don't need to wait around to be introduced to someone. Take the initiative to walk up to someone and say hello (ahlan) or (marHaban).

As you'd expect, it is considered polite to greet people you meet, whether you know them well or not. In fact when a greeting a group of people, it is most polite to greet each person in the group individually. However, because of the conservative nature in many Arabic-speaking countries it is considered rude for men and women to greet each other in public.

The next thing to do is make introductions. The following phrases are all you need to get a conversation started.

  • ismii . . . (My name is . . .)

  • ismuhu ahmad. (His name is Ahmad.)

  • ismuhaa layla. (Her name is Layla.)

  • maa ismuka? (What is your name? [masculine] [literally: “What is your noble name?”])

  • maa ismuki? (What is your name? [feminine])

In Arabic, as in English, the question “How are you?” (kayf Haalak?) usually comes up after a greeting. If someone asks you how you’re doing, you should respond with the formulaic response "Fine, praise God" (bi-khayr, al-Hamdu lillah) rather than a detailed inventory of your condition.

People in the Middle East tend to stand closer to each other during conversations than Westerners are used to. Try to resist the temptation to step back to increase your personal space. It is considered rude.

Personal information

After the necessary introductions, making small talk is really just a question of talking about yourself and asking the other person questions about themselves. The following phrases will come in handy when you're chitchatting with someone new.

  • anaa min. . . (I am from . . .)

  • anta min ayna?/anti min ayna? (Where are you from? [M/F])

  • maa waDHiifatuka? (What is your profession?)

  • ayna taskun?/ayna taskuniin? (Where do you live? [M/F])

  • anaa Taalib fii jaami'a . . . (I’m a student in [university].)

Personal Interests

Many friendships are forged on the bond of common interests. To talk about your hobbies or interests you can insert any of the following nouns into the sentences uHibb . . . (I like . . . ) or ul'ab . . . (I play . . . ).

kurat al-qadam (soccer)
kurat al-qadam alamriikiya (football [American])
kurat al-maDrib (tennis)
al-baysbuul (baseball)
as-sibaaHa (swimming)
al-jarii (running)
at-tajdhiif (rowing)
riyaaDa (sport)
al-muusiiqaa (music)
qiithaar (guitar)
biyaanuu (piano)
film, aflaam (movie[s])
masraH (plays, theater)
al-qiraa’a (reading)
ar-raqS (dancing)

Terms for an entire category or an abstract concept, like "swimming" or "music" require a definite article in Arabic, unlike English. Literally, you say in Arabic "I like the swimming" (uHibb as-sibaaHa).

You can use the following phrases to give you some guidelines to when making small talk in Arabic.

  • uHibb an ushaahid kurat al-qadam. (I like to watch soccer.)

  • nuHibb an nal'ab kurat al-maDrib. (We like to play tennis.)

  • yuHibb al-qiraa’a. (He likes reading.)

  • maadhaa tuHibb an tal'ab? (What do you like to play?)

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