ArabicPod101’s video “Do you speak English?”

“Do you speak English?” is a video in ArabicPod101’s “Arabic in 3 Minutes” series. In it, presenter Carole teaches you how to ask someone if they speak your language. Here is the video:

This video is rather easy, but there are still a few things needing some explanation. I’ll take you through all of the Arabic she uses, starting with the introductory phrases at the beginning, before she gets to the phrases about speaking languages.

“Hello, everybody!”

First, Carole introduces herself:

مَرْحَبًا جَمِيعًا. أَنا كارول.
marḥaban jamiiʕan. ’anaa karool.
‘Hello, everybody! I’m Carole.’

The word جميعًا jamiiʕan that she uses here is an adverb meaning ‘all’.

“Do you speak English?”

Before we get to the question Carole introduces next, let’s first look at the verb we’re going to be using, in the three forms we need:

تَتَكَلَّمين تَتَكَلَّم أَتَكَلَّم
more formal: tatakallamiina
more formal: tatakallamu
more formal: ’atakallamu
‘you (fem.)’ ‘you (masc.)’ ‘I speak’

In the more formal pronunciation presented underneath, the -u is the indicative mood ending, which Carole generally pronounces. As for the ending on the ‘you (fem.)’ form, it is -iina in formal Arabic, but informally we can shorten that to just -iin.

Now the actual question:

هَلْ تَتَكَلَّين الإِنْكليزِيّة؟ هَلْ تَتَكَلَّم الإِنْكليزِيّة؟
hal tatakallamiin il-’ingiliiziyya?
more formal: hal tatakallamiina l-’ingiliiziyya?
hal tatakallam il-’ingiliiziyya?
more formal: hal tatakallamu l-’ingiliiziyya?
‘Do you (fem.) speak English?’ ‘Do you (masc.) speak English?’

In the Bite-Size Arabic book, the word for ‘English’ is spelled الأنجليزية with a ج. Both spellings are correct. Pronunciations also vary.

The explanations given in ArabicPod101’s videos are sometimes misleading. Here Carole tells us that the Arabic word هل hal means ‘do’. That is a silly way of explaining it. As explained in Bite-Size Arabic, هل hal is a particle that turns a statement into a yes/no-question. There is no single word in English to translate it.

Now Carole presents a somewhat more sophisticated question:

هَلْ بِإِمْكانِكِ الْتَّكَلُّمُ بِالإِنْكليزِيّة؟
hal bi ’imkaan-ik it-takallum bi l-’ingiliiziyya?
more formal: hal bi ’imkaani-ki t-takallumu bi l-’ingiliiziyya?
hal bi ’imkaan-ak it-takallum bi l-’ingiliiziyya?
more formal: hal bi ’imkaani-ka t-takallumu bi l-’ingiliiziyya?
‘Can you (fem.) speak English?’ ‘Can you (masc.) speak English?’

The phrase بأمكانك bi ’imkaan-ak literally means ‘in your ability’. As for تكلُّم takallum, that is the verbal noun (مصدر maṣdar) of the verb يتكلّم yatakallam ‘to speak’. A verbal noun can be used somewhat like an English infinitive. So, all together the phrase literally means ‘Is it in your ability to speak English?’

As Carole explains, this phrase can either be a question about someone’s ability (akin to ‘Do you know English?’) or a polite request (like ‘Could you please speak English?’). To make this latter interpretation clearer, you can add a ‘please’:

مِنْ فَضْلك
min faḍl-ik
more formal: min faḍli-ki
min faḍl-ak
more formal: min faḍli-ka
‘please (fem.)’ ‘please (masc.)’

How will people respond to these questions? Carole gives four possibilities:

كَلّا لا قَليلًا نَعَم
kallaa laa qaliilan naʕam
‘no’ ‘no’ ‘a little bit’ ‘yes’

The word كلّا kallaa sounds either very classical or very emphatic. It is more usual to use the familiar لا laa for ‘no’.

A full negative answer is this:

لا، أَنا لا أَتَكَلَّم الإِنْكليزِيّة.
laa, ’anaa laa ’atakallam il-’ingiliiziyya.
more formal: laa, ’anaa laa ’atakallamu l-’ingiliiziyya.
‘No, I don’t speak English.’

Carole suggests some other languages you could substitute in these phrases:

الألْمانِيّة الإِسْبانِيّة الإيطالِيّة الُفَرَنْسِيّة
’al-’almaaniyaa ’al-’isbaaniyya ’al-’iiṭaaliyya ’al-faransiyya
‘German’ ‘Spanish’ ‘Italian’ ‘French’

Try out some of these phrases on your Arabic-speaking friends!


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