It’s safe to say that the Kurdistan region takes up a fairly large chunk of the Middle East and as such is a melting pot for many different languages, and Iraqi Kurdistan is no different. Let’s take a closer look at what languages are spoken in Kurdistan, and if it’s possible to communicate in English as a foreign tourist.
Official Languages of Iraqi Kurdistan
It’s no surprise to say that the official language of Iraqi Kurdistan is Kurdish. The existence of a Kurdish language was first discovered in early 9th century AD (801-900) when Iraqi historian Ibn Wahshiyya discovered two books written about agriculture written in Kurdish during a visit to Damascus, Syria.
These days Kurdish is spoken by an estimated 20–30 million people and is the most widely spoken language in the region. The Kurdish language can be divided into three regional dialects, of which bilingualism would be needed to mutually understand all three.
Northern Kurdish is the most spoken of the Kurdish dialects. It’s spoken by an estimated 15 to 20 million Kurds in Turkey, Syria, Iraq Kurdistan, and parts of Iran.
Central Kurdish is spoken by an estimated 6 to 7 million Kurds in much of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Southern Kurdish is spoken by about 3 million Kurds in the Kermanshah and Ilam provinces of Iran and in the Khanaqin district of eastern Iraq.
The second most used language in Kurdistan would be Arabic. You’ll have no problems finding plenty of people in Kurdistan who will be able to at least speak some basic Arabic.
English Language in Iraq Kurdistan
As an English speaking tourist in a foreign country, it’s always helpful if you can communicate with the locals in a mutually understood language, and in Kurdistan, it’s no different. Although Kurdish is the official language plenty of people in the bigger cities of Kurdistan such as Erbil and Sulaymaniyah will be able to understand basic English – especially the younger generation.
The Kurds are notorious for their hospitality, especially for foreign guests, so the locals will make every effort to make you feel as welcome as possible by communicating in a language you can both understand. However, outside of the main cities, you might find it a struggle to find any English at all.
As with visiting any foreign country, the locals will always appreciate tourists making an effort to try and learn some basic phrases in the local language, so let us take a look at some basic useful phrases in the Kurdish language that will help you impress the locals and help you get around Kurdistan.
Basic Kurdish Phrases
Hello – Merheba I’m from… – Ez tem ji…
Good bye – Bi xatire te Pleased to meet you – Ez kefxwesh bum
Thank you – Spas One beer, please – Yek bira, Je kerema xwe
My name is – Nave min… Cheers! Good Health! – Noshi can be!