Talking Egypt, President Trump, travel warnings and Arabic in Boston


I spent last week in the great city of Boston attending two Arabic-related events. One was the Middle East Studies Association annual conference. The second was a forum on Teaching Arabic sponsored by the Qatar Foundation.

I was there as a consultant with International Language Institute, an Arabic school in Cairo. I had studied Arabic there many years ago. Last July I did an interview with the school’s Directors on the situation facing Arabic schools like in the post-2011 era. Since October I’ve been working with ILI to help them increase their presence in the US market.

Like any school in Egypt catering to foreign ASL students, the last 5 years have been very difficult. Enrollment everywhere has tanked. Many a good teacher has lost their livelihood. Several schools been forced to shut their doors. They are working hard to make a comeback. But you can’t avoid:

The elephant in the room – the Security Issue

Anyone familiar with the study of Arabic knows the merits of Egypt. Cairo is by far the best place in the Middle East for learning Arabic.

But the security issues along is preventing a comeback for Egypt as a study abroad destination. A major element of that are formal US government warnings against travel to Egypt.

The main effect of the travel warnings occurs at the institutional level. In other words, the domain of formal arrangements between US universities and institutions in Egypt (such as AUC or ILI).

Before attending Boston I conducted a market research survey and spoke with people at about 30 universities. Nearly all Most were sympathetic to the idea that the travel warnings “hype” up the security issue more than is merited.  Most US academics I spoke with are open to the idea of having students from their school return to Cairo. Yet they also pointed out that it’s a mute point, given the legal liability their schools face as long as the USG warnings are in place.

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14 more takeaways on Moroccan Arabic

Back to blogging about Arabic – last few days have been a blur because of the election.

In the last few weeks I’ve been looking at written transcripts of spoken Arabic – from Algeria ( see here and here) and Morocco and trying to highlight practical takeaways for Arabic students, to make this whole process less intimidating than people often make it out to be. Here are 14 more takeaways.

Click the titles to hear the accompanying audio

Navigating a Taxi

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Developing Arabic skills with Maximim Regional Utility – Morocco Part 2

Things to focus on when reading spoken Arabic: 

  • Seeing spoken written allows the student to conceptualize  regional differences and think about how you can communicate than concept based on your Fusha/MSA base
  • Hearing the audio allows the student to recognize differences in accent
  • Reading the transcripts out loud  to yourself after hearing the audio allows the student to internalize differences

Click the title to hear the Audio from the LangMedia transcripts.

Making a Purchase

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(20)  ( ديال ) is a new term for someone like me with no exposure to Moroccan. How does the newcomer approach new terms like this?  You can try and figure it out on your own, which I was starting to do. You can get a tutor once you go to Morocco and learn the rule in about 3 minutes.  Or, even better, you can get assists from readers like Chris T. on Twitter.  Very clear- this has entered my mental database on Moroccan Arabic.

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Breaking down North African Dialects Part 4: Declining & Accepting invitations + story telling

I’ve lost track of the number of times over the years that I’ve heard people talk about how North African dialects as if they are drastically different from those of the Central Middle East. This is a mindset that unjustifiably intimidate students, especially because it isn’t true.

3 more Algerian Arabic dialogue as part of my effort to break the perceived “scariness.”

Click on the title to hear the audio.

Declining an Invitation


(1)  This is the first time I’ve heard ( نهار ) instead of ( يوم ) when describing days of the week.  On one hand, I’d never thought of people saying it this way, but as soon as I saw it said this way, the meaning was crystal clear.

(2) Had never heard this verb before as far as I can recall.  As I’ve already mentioned in this series  of posts on Algeria, if the goal is to just become competent in Algerian, where it comes from doesn’t really matter.  Just memorize the verb and use it.

But out of curiosity, I wanted to know if it’s some random Algerian verb, or in fact coming from a clear “Fusha” root. I couldn’t come up with a decisive verdict where it’s coming from in my allotted 10 minutes per word – but I am 95% sure it’s coming from one of these two verbs listed in Hans Wehr:


(3) Nothing uniquely Algerian here.  Pretty close to how you’d say this in Egypt.

Accepting an Invitation

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Issues and Strategies – A good book for those interested in translation

One of my favorite things about having a website is that readers send you tips to things to you may not have been aware of otherwise. Many thanks to Magnus for sending me a link to the below book.  After looking through it – I agree – the book is must-read for anyone who is or aspires to be a translator.

I’ve added it to my list of excellent Middle East-related books I’ve read recently.

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One, there really aren’t very many books out there on the specific field of translation. This one aims to fill a gap in that market and offers a useful mix of theoretical and practical knowledge. The chapter on Legal translation is especially interesting.

But two, even for those who aren’t working as professional linguists, it’s filled with practical language takeaways for anyone interested interested in Arabic, and therefore worth a read.


Converting a strong Fusha foundation into Algerian Competence


For the 90% of high school and university students who are learning Arabic for some practical yet still general and undefined career purpose, here is a key point: you cannot predict where in the Middle East you will end up applying your language skills.

This is why I discourage most early stage Arabic students (less than 4 years) from trying to make perfecting any single Dialect their core Goal. Why?

Continue reading “Converting a strong Fusha foundation into Algerian Competence”

Quite possibly the best online resource for Arabic students in existence

Yesterday I received a tip from an Arabic student (thanks Svetlana) about a good online resource. This morning I spent some time looking through the site – LangMedia at the 5 Colleges Arabic program.

I am in agreement. I can’t overstate how good a resource this is. Here is the  link.

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Confusing the Tactical & Strategic: 2 mistakes of Arabic language social media analysis during Egypt’s Arab Spring

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Marc Lynch and Deen Frelon of George Washington University have published an interesting report called Blogs and Bullets. They study how social media data was analyzed during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution and conclude that “social media undermines transitions to Democracy.”

In this post, I offer my take on the kinds of conclusions that can be drawn from analyzing social media data in this context.

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