Languages Spoken in the Holyland

Many people speak some English and they want to practice it. So, along with body language, you should not have trouble being basically understood. But, you need to be polite and know a few words and phrases. Long lists of words in standard travel guides are not much use in everyday life since you can’t find them in a hurry. Here is what I found personally useful during three years of living in the West Bank.

Getting to Know Others

You will never be able to read Arabic in just a few weeks or even months.  The letter marks for consonants and vowels are different in the beginning, in the middle, and in the end of a word. It is a Semitic language which uses groups of consonants to convey a concept and adds vowels to make specific words.  You will be delighted as you recognize this in word similarities. It is read from right to left. You can much more easily learn words to speak and hear in Arabic, than to read. Vowels are pronounced softer than in English but the “I” is often pronounced as a long “E” at the beginning of a word. There is also the “glottal stop” designated by an apostrophe (‘) which is a pause in the throat in pronunciation. (It is like uh’oh in English) Arabic speakers will understand you without it, but it is fun to learn and use.     

Getting to Know Residents
Conversing with Residents

Hebrew pronunciation and letters can be learned fairly easily by learning the sound of the letters, as they are written separately and the same no matter where they appear in a word. This is called “becoming phonic”. Sometimes when you pronounce a Hebrew word, the sounds even give you a clue to its meaning because some modern Hebrew words are actually English words in Hebrew letters. It is also a Semitic language and read from right to left.

One of the fears you will have is that you will say “Shukran” to an Israeli soldier and “Todah” to a Palestinian shop keeper. They will usually forgive the confusion and welcome you saying “thank you” to them.




Hello or Welcome

marhabah  or ahlen wa sahlen












min fadlik (woman)
min fadlak (man)


Thank You



You're Welcome


bevak-a-shah (also means please)





shy or chai  



Restroom (a bathroom is for bathing) - Many people recognize the British word “loo” and American “toilet”

White letters on a red octagonal sign in any language mean STOP

My name is…(a hand on your chest with your spoken name is a signal that is easy to remember)

I am an American – Ana Americanyee (woman); Ana Americani (man) in Arabic

I am not ____ -- Ana mish ___ (whatever you want to emphasize that you are not) in Arabic

Some words are so common they are understood across the languages. Come on, hurry up! - yella, yella

You know (pause in conversation) - yahnee

No Problem - Mish Mushkala

Inshallah” is used by everybody to indicate hope and it means “if God wills it”, even by atheists.