Language plays a significant role in cross-cultural business communication. An understanding and respectful use of local language nuances can not only facilitate effective communication but also build long-lasting business relationships. This is especially true in Dubai and in the Arabic business world, where language, politeness, and respect are highly valued.
Here are some Arabic expressions and their usage in a business context that can leave a great impression. For more on the Etiquette to adopt while doing business in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, I encourage you to read our related article.
1. Greetings and Basic Politeness
Start your conversation with traditional Arabic greetings. They are always appreciated and make you appear respectful and interested in the culture.
- 'As-salamu alaykum' (السلام عليكم): This phrase translates to "Peace be upon you" and is a common greeting in the Arab world. You can respond to this greeting with 'Wa alaykum as-salam' (و عليكم السلام), meaning "And upon you peace."
- 'Marhaba' (مرحبا): This word means "Hello" or "Welcome" and is a friendly way to greet people.
- 'Shukran' (شكرا): This means "Thank you." Always remember to thank people for their time, help, or services.
- 'Ismi hwa…' (إسمي هو…): This phrase means "My name is…". An essential phrase for introducing yourself.
- 'Ma usmuk?' (ما إسمك؟): This translates to "What’s your name?". Use it to inquire about someone's name.
- 'Kayfa haluk?' (كيف حالك؟): This phrase translates to "How are you?". It's a thoughtful and friendly way to express concern for someone's well-being.
- 'Surertu biliqa’ik' (سررت بلقائك): This means "Nice to meet you". It's a friendly and polite phrase to use after meeting someone for the first time.
- 'Ana bikhayr' (أنا بخير): This phrase means "I’m fine". Use it to reassure someone of your well-being.
2. Conversational Etiquette
Politeness is key in Arabic culture, so being courteous during conversations is essential. Here are some phrases that might be helpful.
- 'La atahadathu alarabya bitalaqa' (لا أتحدث العربية بطلاقة): This phrase means "I don’t speak Arabic fluently". Use this when you want to let others know of your limited Arabic speaking skills.
- 'Hal tojido alinjlizya?' (هل تجيد الإنجليزية؟): This question translates to "Do you speak English?". It's helpful when trying to find a common language to communicate in.
- 'Afwan' (عفوا): This means "You're welcome" or "No problem." Use it to respond when someone thanks you.
- 'Min Fadlak' or 'Min Fadlik' (من فضلك): This means "Please" and can be used when requesting something.
- 'La' (لا): This word means "No" and is used to express disagreement or refusal.
- 'Na’am / Ajal' (نعم / أجل): Both of these words mean "Yes", used to express affirmation or agreement.
- 'Ma’azira' (معذرة): This term translates to "Excuse me", typically used to get someone's attention or to apologize for a minor mistake.
- 'Ana asif' (أنا آسف): This phrase means "I'm sorry", generally used when you wish to express regret or apologize for something.
3. Business Meetings
- 'Hal yumkinna al-luqaa ba'da qalil?' (هل يمكننا اللقاء بعد قليل): This phrase translates to "Can we meet in a bit?" It's a polite way to request a meeting.
- 'Hal yumkinna an natakallama fi al-mawduu'?' (هل يمكننا أن نتكلم في الموضوع?): This phrase means "Can we talk about the topic?" You can use it to initiate a business discussion.
- 'Ma ra’yuka fi hatha?' (ما رأيك في هذا): This phrase translates to "What is your opinion on this?" It’s a respectful way to seek someone's views or feedback.
- 'Maza ya’ani haza?' (ماذا يعني هذا؟): This question translates to "What does that mean?". It's useful when you don't understand a word or phrase.
- 'Ozran a’ala ata’ekhir' (عذرا على التأخير): This phrase translates to "Sorry for the delay". Use this to apologize when you've kept someone waiting.
- 'Ma ra’eyok?' (ما رأيك؟): This question means "What do you think?". It's often used when seeking someone's opinion.
- 'Yabdo jayidan' (يبدو جيدا): This phrase translates to "Sounds good". Use this to express your agreement or satisfaction.
4. Showing Respect and Gratitude
Respect and gratitude are essential values in Arab culture. Therefore, you can use these phrases to express these feelings.
- 'Jazak Allahu Khayran' (جزاك الله خيرا): This phrase means "May God reward you with good." It's a highly respectful way to thank someone.
- 'Na’am, Afham' (نعم، أفهم): This means "Yes, I understand." It's a phrase you can use to indicate that you follow the speaker's point during a conversation.
- 'Eid Sa’id' (عيد سعيد): This phrase means "Happy Eid". It's a common greeting used during Eid celebrations, a significant religious festival in Islam.
- 'Kula a’am wa antum bikhayr' (كل عام وأنتم بخير): This phrase translates to "Happy New Year". It's traditionally used to wish others well at the start of the new year.
- 'Hani’an / Mabruk' (هنيئا / مبروك): Both of these words mean "Congratulations". Use them to express happiness for someone's success or good fortune.
5. Signing Off
Ending a conversation appropriately is as important as starting it right.
'Ma’a as-salama' (مع السلامة): This phrase means "Goodbye" or literally "With peace." Use it at the end of a conversation or a meeting.
'Araka lahikan' (أراك لاحقا): This means "See you soon". A warm way to conclude a meeting or interaction.
Remember that the accurate pronunciation of these phrases is essential to convey the right meaning. It would help if you also considered that Arabic is a high context language, meaning non-verbal cues and context often carry as much, or more, weight than the words themselves. Therefore, it's also essential to have an understanding of the cultural context when using these phrases.
By integrating these Arabic expressions into your business communication, you can better connect with Arabic speaking business partners, create an impression of cultural sensitivity, and ultimately foster more successful business relationships.
If you want to know more about the Dubai business ecosystem, read our related Dubai Guide for Executives.