Here are some resources we’ve found that are extremely useful for learning Egyptian Arabic for free.
There are a LOT of useless free resources for Egyptian Arabic that are incomplete, out of date or just wrong. We spend a lot of time with teachers and talking to people in Egypt in Arabic so can vouch for the below. They’re also recommended by many teachers in Egypt.
Some of the pages might look outdated in style, but don’t let that put you off! The quality of the content here speaks for itself.
Just a note that you need more than these free resources to learn Egyptian Arabic properly from scratch. If you are learning with no base of any Arabic language, we definitely recommend you use simple teach-yourself textbooks to get started. We give our thoughtful review of what digital textbooks and reference books you should use here. You don’t need to spend a ton — less than $100 will get you an excellent education with resources most people would have given their right arm for just twenty years ago.
People tend to go to Google Translate these days, but it doesn’t work well for a dialect. So we use this free online Egyptian Arabic dictionary, aka “Lisaan Masry”, built courtesy of Mike Green (thank you!). When there’s an Egyptian Arabic word, it shows it, with a pronunciation recording and often an example sentence! It’s super useful.
For example, the word for the adjective ‘open’ (e.g. “the shop is open”) in standard Arabic is مـَفتوح, maftuuH. I learned that word ages ago, and it would be useable, but not the ideal word. In Egyptian Arabic the word is فا َتـِح, faatiH.
So to say “Is this cafe open?” you’d say
- Standard Arabic: هل هذا المقهى مفتوح؟, hal hadha almaqha maftuuH?
- Egyptian Arabic: القهوة دي فاتح؟, al ‘ahwa di faatiH?
You’d get by with the Standard Arabic, but it’d be a little like in English walking up to someone and saying “My dear Sir! Is this beverage consuming establishment in current operation?”. If you want to mix it up with locals in Egypt, use this dictionary.
The mobile app is fast and brings up the example sentences automatically (which the web version doesn’t).
A few things we really enjoy about using Lisaan Masry:
- Every word is organised into categories and subcategories. If you’re looking up expressions or ways to express emotion, it’s fun to click through categories and see all the other words/phrases grouped along with it.
- The audio. It’s complete (for every word!) and natural-sounding.
- Sample sentences. These aren’t complete, but there are some, and they make the dictionary much more useful. (For many more example sentences, see all the content by Lingualism, some of our favourite e-books to buy on Egyptian Arabic.)
One caveat: Don’t let it dismay you that the layout is not great in the mobile app. The fonts will appear small if you have any modern, high-resolution phone. It makes you squint. As a former app maker, I know how hard it is to keep up with technology, so I forgive this. Just remember: Everything works perfectly. You can click on all the links and it’ll take you to the right place. It’s fast. It loads quickly. It has no ads and it’s free. And the information in there is correct!
This person’s super basically designed and not mobile-optimised website, straight out of the late 1990s it seems, is a very rich resource for learning Egyptian Arabic vocabulary and phrases. I can’t remember how I found it, but I love it. I can’t find who authored it to credit them, but it seems they once built it as a labour of love in a former age of web design, and the love shows.
I don’t use the vocabulary lists so much (dictionaries are more effective), but I really like all the lists of expressions, idioms and common phrases. What’s great is that the author included
- Arabic lettering as well as transliteration
- Multiple ways of saying the same thing
- Careful distinctions about when to say different things
The cultural notes are gold. Look at the section on what to say in a situation when someone sneezes: (which, in practise, rarely actually happens… good god)
This is what Muslims in Egypt say when someone sneezes:
* The sneezer says: الحمد لله (il-Hamdu lillāh) – lit. “Praise be to God”
* Someone else: يرحمكم الله (yarHamkum illāh) – lit. “May God have mercy on you (pl.)
* The sneezer replies:يرحمنا ويرحمكم (yarHamna wa-yarHamkum) – lit. “May He have mercy on us and you”.
* Optional addition: ويغفر لنا ولكم (wa-yaġfir lana wa-lakum) – lit “And forgive us and you” an additional expression that some people say.
This level of detail is incredibly useful when trying to navigate the sea of cultural formalities in Egypt.
Matthew Aldrich is the author of a few books on Arabic that we love and recommend. But aside from that, there’s the whole Lingualism website that he and his team have put together that have a great section of resources on Egyptian Arabic.
The part I like best are the Egyptian Arabic Diaries. These are large sections of text in written Egyptian Arabic (something I wasn’t even really sure existed until we came to Egypt, but indeed it does!), with accompanying spoken audio and a full English text translation. It’s so useful to hear someone speaking about their opinions and thoughts in local Arabic with a full translation there. It speaks volumes for the books the Lingualism has published, which also have similar high quality colloquial audio and translations.
Of course Lingualism also sells all their books. This page is about free resources, but those paid resources aren’t expensive.
I found this when looking for songs I could use to learn Arabic (they’re so catchy). The author has put together 15 courses through songs, all of which have vocabulary, lyrics, translation and annotations.
Look at all the description for the first line of one song:
“ما خلاص عايز ايه منى”
The word “3aayiz (عايز)” follows the familiar pattern of (فاعل) from Standard Arabic, thus making it a kind of active participle carrying the meaning of a present tense verb in this case. So “3aayiz (عايز)” means “wanting,” which depending on the context could be “I want,” “you want,” or “he wants.” It takes the place of the standard Arabic verb “أراد,” which does not exist as such in Egyptian Arabic. The word “eh (ايه)” is Egyptian for “what,” taking the place of both “ما” and “ماذا” from Standard Arabic. As you can see the question word “eh” follows the verb “3aayiz” instead of preceding it. This is a particular characteristic of Egyptian Arabic; the question word almost always is found after the verb and usually at the end of the sentence. From context we infer that the phrase “3aayiz eh? (عايز ايه؟)” means “what do you want?” The last word of the sentence “minni (منى)” is the same as Standard Arabic “from me,” but the reader may be confused to see a “ى” in place of the “ي.” This is usually the case at the end of the word in Egyptian Arabic so you just have to get used to it. In all, the first sentence means “it’s over, what do you want from me?” This may seem to be a lot of explaining for just one line of a song, but it’s already illustrated several essential basics of Egyptian Arabic.
Here’s the song, by the way. Listen to how catchy it is!
This course is best if you either have studied MSA before, or if you speak a bit of Egyptian Arabic and want to expand your colloquial vocabulary. Or if you just want to study some modern pop songs.