Language in Egypt: Tips for You to Travel like a Local

“The Arabians learn Arabian with the speed of summer lightning," said Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, but for most of us, it is a difficult language to master. The official language in Egypt is Arabic but most Egyptians speak vernacular dialects of Arabic and Masri. Language in Egypt has many vernacular variants and it is difficult to master all of them. However, knowing a few words can be helpful. If you are travelling to Mauritania, Chad, and Western Sahara, the dialect undergoes a considerable change.

Languages in Egypt

Every Arabic country has its dialect but the most spoken is the Egyptian Arabic version that is practised in most of North Africa. For a person who is not familiar with the language in Egypt, it is hard to discern the nuances.

There are Saidi Arabic, Bedouin Arabic, Sudanese Arabic, Domari, Nobiin, Beja, Siwi and Coptic among others. Egyptians admit that their language is difficult to speak. The Southern part speaks mostly Sa'idi Arabic while the Upper Nile Valley, Nobiin. The Bedouin speak Bedouin Arabic. People of the Eastern desert speak Beja while the North Cairo people speak Domari.

Other languages in Egypt like the ancient Egyptian and Coptic are Afro-Asiatic languages and not connected to Arabic. Egyptian features among the first written languages in the world.

You Will Manage with English and French

English is widely spoken in Egypt as around 70 years ago Egypt was a British colony. It is also taught in Egyptian schools and many tourist centres also have guides who understand and speak English fluently. With the presence of French influence in Egypt, French was also taught in Egyptian schools. Therefore, the country is quite conversant with French as well.

Importance of Knowing the Local Language

It is very important to know a few Egyptian Arabic words while you are in Egypt. For any intrepid traveller, Egypt is the destination of choice. When travelling to any destination in the Middle East the most challenging factor is the language. It is important to be able to communicate with the locals. You need help in several things - to procure the right directions, right transport and to avail the basic amenities. You might be lucky and come across English speakers, but then again, you may not.

Some Useful Words & Gestures to Learn in Arabic

If you can master some of the handy phrases you can manage your way through Egypt, confidently, from one end of the country to the another.

•  The first thing you do is to ask an Egyptian if he knows English so ask a man Betekkallem ‘engelizi? And to a woman betekkallemi ‘engelizi?

•  Thank you: Shukran

•  If you want to know where is the toilet? Ask El-hammam fain? And finally if you wish to bid goodbye Ma’is salama.

•  If you want to greet someone in the morning, with a good morning, say abaah il-kheer, while for a good evening “Masaa’ il-kheer”.

•  If you want to ask someone, how are you? You say “Izzaayak”.

•  In the Egyptian culture, they believe in thanking God at every stage and often say “Aal-Hamdu lilleh”.

•  If they agree with you, then for okay, they will say Tamam.

•  The great pyramids are called Al-haram. The street is called Shareé and your hotel room will be called ōdaa. The elevator will be called Asansir.

You could also learn up the numbers from one to ten because that will help you to identify the buses and taxis and become handy in various ways. Do as much homework as possible and enjoy your trip to Egypt.

Gestures are also an especially important part of language. Most men and women greet each other with different gestures. When two men meet, they double kiss on the cheek and when two women meet, they do the same. However, as a traveller, you need not worry about these gestures because a simple handshake would do.

Knowing these small phrases in Arabic adds a friendly touch and shows that you are trying to appreciate the culture of Egypt. It’s always an advantage to know a bit of some other language, and they will interpret your knowledge of the Arabic language while you're communicating with the locals as a friendly act and will appreciate it. At the airport, for taking a taxi or going to your hotel you will not have any problems even if you don't know Arabic because English is a language that most people are conversant with.


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