Weekly Spoken Arabic Transcript Drill: #1

New Feature: Each week I will do a practical analysis of a transcript of conversation in colloquial Arabic, emphasizing the points students should be focusing on to develop high-level spoken. Two Learning Assumptions behind this post:

  • #1 – because “Fusha is Amaya” reading/seeing Spoken Dialects in print allows people who have studied MSA to make certain connotations and Fast-Track their retention through an economies of scale studying effect
  • #2 – Transcript work combined with audio allows you to recognize  and internalize accent differences and pronunciation differences faster than they would through the normal process of learning Colloquial.

This week’s Drill: 

The first 20 minutes of a 2015 documentary on Southern Egypt, a poor, rural and under developed region known as The Said (see transcript here).  Why did I choose this one? It is one degree of difficulty to communicate with the educated Arabic intellectual. It is more difficult to understand and to communicate with  those from what we might call “blue-collar backgrounds,” in this case construction workers from the Said. If you can do that, you can engage with anyone.

13 takeaways from the First 20 minutes

#1.  (بقى لي )   clear “Fusha”  root – yet highly functional Egyptian Arabic

See what Al-Maany says. This is Amaya, yet basically MSA at the same time.  That should enable you to make immediate meaning associations on sight alone (although perhaps not sound at first):

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 8.49.12 AM

How long have you/ she/he/ they doing something?

Can be used in literally any situation you could think of in spoken Egyptian.


#2.  ( زي ما )  is the Egyptian equivalent of ( كما ).  

As you can see, there is no work here.”

If you are a foreigner working on a project in the Said and you had to communicate with this guy, if you said ( كما  ) you would be understood just as easily as if you said  (زي ما).

Some Arabic teachers may debate about which one is best and insist that there has to be some ultimate “right” answer. With all due respect, I don’t see the utility of that debate. The right answer is whether you are understood or not.  If you aren’t a local, they don’t expect you to talk like a local.

Furthermore, it is inconceivable to me that any of these guys from the Said would be offended or thought you were doing something “wrong” if you chose to use  ( كما  ) rather than (زي ما).  The most likely outcome is that they would think it is the awesomest thing in the world that you are speaking in Arabic to them as a foreigner.

#3.  ( قعد ) usually in Fusha means to sit.

Again, clear Fusha roots. Immediate meaning connotations in the Amaya context should be made from sight alone to even someone with 1 semester of MSA. In other words, how long they have been in a certain spot or location. In other Colloquials you could plug in (جلس).


#4. The Value of Transcript + Audio to Recognize Regional Accents

Within every country, accents can vary wildly, this is no less true within Egypt, where several letters are pronounced significantly differently in the Said. For early stage Arabic students, this means you are likely to get thrown off when you hear certain words, and think you are hearing something differently than what you are hearing.

For example, here are 7 words that are pronounced differently in just one 45 second segment (starts at 4:00):

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 9.38.38 AM

Listen to the difference. Now you have visualized it, you’ve heard the difference, internalized it and you shouldn’t be tripped up by this one again.


#5. Use Basha for Egyptians Only

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 9.23.11 AM

This guy gives the ultimate Egyptian title, but as I wrote in this post each country is different. If you are working in the Gulf, for example, don’t call a Saudi or Qatari prince Basha.

Nothing will happen to you, but it would just sound incredibly funny and everyone in the room will start laughing. More importantly, it will convey an amateur vibe when your goal is to convey that you are an expert.

#6. “Going to Egypt” = going to Cairo

This phrase is related dozens of times throughout the text.  What he means is Cairo.  So if you hear an Egyptian, likely from the countryside, tell you at some point that they went or are going to Egypt, it always means Cairo.


#7.  The Around the World Drill

You have a certain abstract  context written here in Formal:

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 9.25.21 AM

And then you have two guys immediately talking about their situation as relates to that context, leading to a perfect opportunity to apply what I call The Around the World drill. You have all the vocabulary and sentences on paper written out for you. Do this:

  • Rephrase the sentence in 3rd person – he said
  • then rephrase it in 2nd person – you said, then you plural
  • Then rephrase it in 3rd person plural – they said

Say each sentence 5x, never writing anything down.  Pretending like you are having a conversation with them. You can also do a variation of the drill by writing the sentence out. That helps retention.

Switch back and forth and you are thinking and talking about variations on income, a Real World Problem most people think about. At some point in “Real Life”, it’s the kind of topic you may talk about. You already have.

Just like an athlete who has practiced certain plays effectively “in practice” or “training” will do it effectively when put into a match.  Same concept.


#8.   The  Fusha roots of Ammaya ( أنعدم , معدوم )

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 10.23.44 AM.png

Screen Shot 2016-08-18 at 10.27.18 AM.png

What else is there to say that this is pretty much “Fusha,” mildly modified for a local context?  With even a high-beginner MSA base you should be able to immediately recognize the meaning here.

#9. (دي ) vs (هذه)

Another example of how the “differences” between Fusha and Amaya are not often as big as they are made out to be. Both mean the same thing.  He says one but he could have easily said the Fusha version. So can you and you will always be understood.


Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 9.30.10 AM


#10. ( بس ) vs ( فقط )

Same thing as #9. Bess is the colloquial equivalent of Faqat. You will be most certainly understood either way.

It is difficult for me to envision a situation where you might run into trouble by saying the more formal term of ( فقط ) in anywhere in the Middle East.


#11. ( يجيب )  vs ( جاء ب )

Another classic example of how Ammaya is Fusha that becomes even clearer through reading Spoken. In Egyptian, Ageeb is merely a combination of the more formal.  “To bring something”….


#12. (  عايز )

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 9.31.00 AM

A few days ago I noted how this is the Egyptian equivalent of (بد) in Levantine or (abGha) in Saudi or ( أريد) in formal. Same meanings. Just plug in and out. All will be understood by these guys in Southern Egypt.



#13. (  ما حدش  ) versus ( لا احد )

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 9.32.01 AM


Another example of the thin line between Amaya and Fusha. In Formal class you will be taught to say ( لا احد ) which has the exact meaning as (ما حدش ) in Egyptian.

In very formal situations, you should say  ( لا احد ) but those situations are likely to be few and far between.  For example, I once interviewed the #2 of the Muslim Brotherhood in Arabic, and he was perfectly happy with whatever I used.

Nor did he speak especially “formal” himself. Saying (ما حدش ) instead of  ( لا احد ) wouldn’t have been unusual at all.

#14.  Should you read the transcripts out loud to yourself? 

Most of the time I would say yes because that’s a fundamental part of transcript work. It helps internalize conversation patterns and accents, but I would suggest not doing it with this one since your goal is not to talk like people from the Sayyid. You should be aiming for a High-level Amaya that commands respect and authority.  This would not be that.


Next week’s transcript session will cover a discussion in Levantine dialect. 



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One thought on “Weekly Spoken Arabic Transcript Drill: #1

  1. Pingback: Reader Mail: 5 questions from an Arabic student in Cairo – Real World Arabic

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