Category Archives: Arabic

Why many Americans want to learn Arabic?

Today, while I was at Starbucks a Saudi student came by and we had a quick chat about what each is doing over the Christams holiday. After he left the smart looking senior American man who was sitting in front of me asked “Arabic or Farsi?” I answered “Arabic.” I waited a moment, hoping for his follow up question but he returned to his laptop instead. I wanted to start a conversation so I asked him “Do you know Arabic?” His answer was quite unexpected. He said “I wish!” and continued to say “It is a talent that brings lots of money these days.” I said “Ya, I have seen many Americans learning Arabic. You know… [I wanted to say after September 11 but I stopped talking].” We both then returned to our laptops.

It is a fact though that after September 11, 2001, many Americans preferred to learn Arabic more than any other language. Universities everywhere in the USA started opening more classes for teaching Arabic. Some universities which never offered Arabic course started new ones. Also, more American students wanted to spend a semester or two in the Middle East than before 2001.

Americans have different reasons for learning Arabic after 2001. Here are a few reasons:

  1. Know your enemy – The impact of the 2001 on Americans was equivalent to the Pearl Harbor attack. Americans were shocked and wanted to know more about their enemy and the people who hate them that much.
  2. Job security – Knowing Arabic is a guarantee for getting a job with the American government.
  3. Good Samaritan – Some Americans felt that the actions of their government do not present their  personal beliefs about Arabs, Muslims or Islam. So, they thought learning Arabic and spending a semester or two in the Middle East would help them learn more about the Arabs’ culture and also show Arabs the good side of American citizens.
  4. Curiosity – Arabic was, since 2001, and maybe still a hot language to learn at least in America.

Do you think there are more reasons for Americans to learn Arabic?

Promoting smoking in Arabia via a song

Recently, a new Arabic video clip appeared in which the male singer declares his passion for smoking. He sings:

My passion is for smoking
It is difficult to quit this habit
And in my blood runs nicotine
And with every moment I even love it more
قلبي مولع بالتدخين
صعبه بطل هالعاده
وبدمي بيجري النيكوتين
وبكل لحظه بحبها زيادة

Outraged? Wait, you heard nothing yet. The song continues:

My heart is fond of cigarettes
One cigarette worth ten women, two children, four chaps and maybe few more
انا قلبي مولع بالدخان
السيجاره بعشر نسوان
وطفلين واربع شبان ويمكن اكثر بزياده

Of course the song never stops here it goes on and on about how the singer finds a woman with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of alcohol in another to be sexy and attractive and how much he is fond of the three of them. Yes, this song is in Arabic. Written, and directed by Arabs as well.

Singing about smoking is one thing but saying a cigarette is worth ten women is something else. I don’t live in Arabia so I am not sure if any radio station or TV channel decided to play this song. I hope someone can let us know via a comment. Also, what was the reaction about this song, especially from the women’s side?

To my astonishment I found that the director of the video clip is a woman. How about that? Talk about self respect. When she read the song first time and came across the line “One cigarette worth ten women” did she say this is the song that will put me in the hall of fame or the hall of shame? Of course she is not the only female in this shameful production. The production manager, the assistant director, the makeup artists and few more are females. See mark 3:17 and forward for the list of hall of shame. Everyone, males and females, participated in this production should feel ashamed and apologizes to the public.

The question is why in the world there is a song about how good smoking is? I would understand if the song was made in the 60s but this is 2012. Was this song  even sponsored by any cigarette company? I am not even talking about the consumption of alcohol and sexy women in swim suits in a video clip. Especially that in Arabia we don’t have parental guide for what is screened on TVs.

Ask Google Translate “Who are the Terrorists?”

If you used Google translate to translate from English to Arabic or vice versa you know how bad the translation is, especially when you translate an entire paragraph or article. Google translate might be good to translate a word or a phrase but for more than that don’t expect much.  It seems Google translator caught Arabs attention these days because of a translation it made when asked to translate the following:

  • Jews are terrorists
  • Americans are terrorists
  • Arabs are terrorists

Google translation in Arabic is:

image[Click on picture]

Now, for not Arabic speakers the Arabic translation is as following:

  • Jews are not terrorists
  • Americans are not terrorists
  • Arabs are terrorists

I got to say that was suspicious at first, where the word “not” came from. So before Arabs boycott Google I tried a test to translate based on religion, nationality, and ethnicity:

image[Click on picture]

As you can see from the picture above, Google added the word “ليسوا” which means “not” when translated Jews/Christians/Muslims are terrorists. The same thing happened when translating “Americans are terrorists” but it didn’t consider French not to be terrorists. The last two lines Google translate added the word “ليسوا” (not) for Syrians but not for Jordanians.

When I tried to reverse the translation for the first picture, the translation was correct. See picture below.

image[Click on picture]

So apparently, there is a bug in Google translate. Google is not trying to take a side with Israel or the Jews against Arabs. Or are they? What would be interesting is to try to translate the same statements from English to another language beside Arabic and see what you get.

Computer language translation is one of those very complicated research area called Natural Language Processing (NLP). One comment I read about the cause of this problem is something called “rules for negations” in some languages. But I don’t know NLP and I don’t know Google translate’s algorithm but I am sure there is no conspiracy theory here.

Update: It seems the translation problem does not exist any more.

Update: This post is mentioned in

وبكى بعضي على بعضي معي

هذا موشح لابن زهر الاشبيلي (1072 ـ 1162م) بإسم “أيها الساقي”. اللحن والكلمات والصوت (فاديا طنب الحاج) سوف تنقلك  الى عالم آخر. فاديا الحاج شكرا لك، أبدعت.ـ



أيها الساقي إليكَ المشتكَى
قد دعوناك وان لم تسمعِ
ونديمٍ همتُ في غُـرّتِهِ
وشربة الراح من راحتِه
كلما استيقظ من سكرَتِهِ
جذبَ الزقَّ اليهِ واتـّكا
وسقاني أربَعـًا في أربَع


أيها الساقي إليكَ المشتكَى
قد دعوناك وان لم تسمعِ
غصنُ بان مالَ من حيثُ استوى
ماتَ من يهواه من فرط الجوى
خَفِق الأحشاء  مرهونُ القوى
كلما فكـر في البين  بكى
ويحه يبكي لمن لم يقـع


أيها الساقي إليكَ المشتكَى
قد دعوناك وان لم تسمعِ

مال لعيني عَشِـيَتْ بالنظر
أنكرَتْ بعدكَ ضوءَ القمر
وإذا ما شئتَ فاسمَعْ خبري
عشيت عينايَ من طول  البكى
وبكى بعضي على بعضي معي


أيها الساقي إليكَ المشتكَى
قد دعوناك وان لم تسمعِ
ليس لي صبـرٌ ولا لي جَلَـدُ
مال قومي عذلوا واجتهدوا
أنكروا شكوايَ ممّا أجـِدُ
مثل حالي حقـُّه أنْ تشـتـكـي
كـمد اليأس  وذُلَّ الطَـمَعِ


أيها الساقي إليكَ المشتكَى
قد دعوناك وان لم تسمعِ
كبـد حرّى ودمع يكـِفُ
يعرفُ الذنبَ ولا يعتـرِفُ
أيـها المعرِضُ عما أصِـفُ
قد نما حُبـِّك عندي وزكا
لا تـقـلْ اني في حبِّك مدَّعِـي