5 Remarkably Simple Ways To Understand Any Levantine Dialect

Do you ever have a hard time understanding the Levantine accents that you come across in immersion? Are you ever watching a TV show and wondering — Is that speaker from Jordan? Oh, wait, Lebanon? No, no, Palestine? Syria? only to be left wondering what you’re actually listening to? 

This article is for you then. 

Let’s talk about 5 remarkably simple words that will help you understand any Levantine Dialect.

Before we hop in, I want to tell you a little bit about me…

Why I Care So Much About This 

I started studying Arabic in university in 2016, and later decided to study abroad in Amman, Jordan. While there, I met my husband. We didn’t start dating immediately, but we continued to stay in touch even after I returned home. Once we got married, I moved to Jordan semi-permanently at the end of Summer 2018. 

When I first arrived in Jordan my Arabic wasn’t very strong, at least not in the Jordanian Dialect. But my experience with Fusha was a good base for learning more of the Jordanian Dialect. During my nearly two years in Jordan, I lived with my husband’s family who didn’t speak any English, and worked for the Red Crescent (Red Cross) where I worked with Arabic speakers who also spoke no English. 

From these two years in Jordan and from being fully immersed in the language, I not only learned the Jordanian dialect but some Syrian dialect as well, because many of my volunteers were Syrian refugees. 

Working with speakers of two different Levantine dialects, is how I realized the true differences between the language that Syrians spoke and the language that Jordanians spoke. Even with all of my experience and time in Jordan, communicating with my Syrian volunteers in Syrian Arabic was a huge learning curve. 

If that was my experience while living and working in an immersive Arabic environment, I can only imagine your experience while you’re immersing at home. 

So here are the 5 simple words to look out for across Levantine dialects.

1. Can

Some of you Jordanian / Palestinian dialect learners may know “bagdar” for “I can” (بقدر – بتقدر – بتقدري – بقدرو – بيقدر – بتقدر – منقدر – بتقدرو)

While Syrians and Lebanese do use “bagdar” they more often can be seen using “feeni”. (فيني – فيك – فيكي – فيهن – فينا – فيكن – فيه – فيها)

For example: Can I ask you something?

بقدر اسالك اشي؟ [J/P]

فيني اسالك شي؟ [S/L]

Additionally, the Syrian and Lebanese conjugations for “they” and “you all” are also different from the Jordanian and Palestinian conjugations. Instead, in Syrian and Lebanese Arabic, you’ll see “kon” for “you all” and “hon” for they. For example: They can/ You all can

بقدرو – بتقدرو [J/P]

فيهن – فيكن [S/L]

2. Please

You might be thinking this one is easy. Please is “law samaht” (لو سمحت) in Jordan and Palestine. But “izi bitreed” (اذا بتريد) is used quite a bit more in Syria and Lebanon. 

During my time in Jordan, I didn’t hear اذا بتريد used once by Jordanians. 

These two expressions for “please” are used mainly when you ask someone to do something for you. For example: Please go!

لو سمحت روح [J/P]

 اذا بتريد روح [S/L]

3. Early

In Jordan and Palestine, you will mainly hear people refer to the word for early as “bakeer” (بكير), while in Lebanon and Syria you will hear the word “badri” (بدري). 

That being said, there still might be times where you will hear people from Jordan/Palestine use بدري and people from Syria/Lebanon use بكير, but for the most part you will hear بكير in Jordan/Palestine and بدري in Syria/ Lebanon. For example: I don’t want to sleep early.

ما بدي انام بكير [J/P]

ما بدي انام بدري [S/L]

4. Boy

In Jordan/Palestine you will hear many referring to a boy as “walad” (ولد) while in Lebanon/Syria you will hear mostly “sabi” (صبي). While you will sometimes hear Lebanese and Syrian movies or TV shows use ولد, in Jordan and Palestine you will never hear صبي.  For example: I have one boy and two girls.

عندي ولد و بنتين [J/P]

 عندي صبي و بنتين [S/L]

5. Still

I use this word CONSTANTLY in my daily conversations in Arabic and so do many Arabic speakers. But like the words before, “still” differs across the Levant. In Jordan/Palestine you will hear lissa (لسا) while in Syria/Lebanon you will hear a lot more use of the word ba3d (بعد). “Ba3d” can also be conjugated depending on who you are talking about. For example: I am still working. 

عم بشتغل لسا [J/P]

 عم بشتغل بعدني [S/L]

Where do you go from here?

There are so many other words to dissect, but these are a great start because you’ll hear them in almost every piece of media you immerse in (whether you realize it already or not). Becoming aware of different Levantine dialects may seem overwhelming right now, but with practice, you’ll slowly begin to master understanding more than one dialect. Start now!

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1 Comment

  1. Nancy Corley

    Lily, this was fun to read. I had studied Arabic briefly in 2000, before a long trip to Egypt and Morocco. I mastered the writing, but barely. And, as we had not planned to stay so long in Jordan, I did not review it. I do recall the different dialects mentioned in my study. But, I never really paid attention as I only needed some basic understanding. This sounds to me very much like the difference between European Portuguese and Brazilian Portuguese.


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