Egypt is considered a must-see by many travellers, and serves as a popular jumping off point for backpackers embarking on a longer overland tour of Africa.
Many people there speak English, but knowing a few words of some of the languages in Egypt you’re likely to hear can make any trip run more smoothly, and open up unique opportunities off the tourist trail.
What Language Do They Speak in Egypt?
There are several languages in Egypt, and you’re likely to hear a wide variety as you travel. These are some of the most common.
The official language of Egypt is Standard Arabic. Almost everybody in the country speaks it as it’s taught in schools, and used for television, official government speeches, newspapers, etc.
Standard Arabic is the only common language spoken and understood by all the different countries that make up the Arab world (with the exception of Mauritania, Chad, and Western Sahara), so learning a few words can help if you travel beyond Egypt.
Despite Standard Arabic being the official language, the language of Egyptians you’ll meet day-to-day is Egyptian Arabic, a local dialect. Every Arab country has its own dialect, but Egyptian Arabic is the most common variant, spoken as a second language in many parts of northern Africa.
To the untrained ear they will sound the same, and as a visitor learning the differences is largely unnecessary. Stick to Standard Arabic within cities and tourist centres, and you should be fine.
Egypt was a British colony for 70 years, and as a result most educated Egyptians will learn English in school. If you stick to cities and tourist centres, you should comfortably be able to get by on English alone.
If you want to escape Egypt’s well-established tourist trail, you might need to brush up your language skills a little.
Before children were all taught English in school, they were taught French, so many old Egyptians speak it well. There is also an increasing number of French schools in the country, so knowing a few words might get you further than you think.
If you head further south to the likes of Aswan or Luxor, you might hear Sa’idi Arabic, another Arabic dialect variant. Also spoken by some is a Nubian language completely different to Arabic, and those from the western deserts of Egypt speak Berber, an unwritten language only they speak. Still, you should get by on English without a problem.
Of course the locals in Egypt don’t understand hieroglyphics, don’t be ridiculous.
Key phrases in Egypt
Here’s how to say a few handy words and phrases in Egyptian Arabic:
Is salam ‘alaykum
Do you speak English?
Betekkallem ‘engelizi? (to a man), betekkallemi ‘engelizi (to a woman).
My name is…
Where’s the toilet?
Your camel smells very bad
Alnnaqat rayihat sayiyat lilghaya.