Which Arabic should you learn?
If you have ever tried learning Arabic, you’ll know it is not an easy language to master. One of the first decisions learners are faced with is which type of Arabic to learn – the dizzying choice can give you flexibility, or confusion! Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or fuṣḥā is said to be the common language between all Arabic speaking countries and most learners are rightly encouraged to learn it. Alongside MSA, many learners choose to learn a dialect as well, in order to improve their oral communication skills.
So if you decide to take the plunge and learn the everyday spoken language or ‘ammiyah in Arabic, which dialect do you go for? There are some 300 million Arabic speakers across the twenty-two Arab countries. The dialectal regions broadly speaking are the Maghreb, Egypt, the Levant, Iraq, and the Gulf. Geographically speaking, the most central regions, Egypt and the Levant, also have the most ‘central’ dialects, when compared to the more peripheral countries of the region. They also benefit from rich cultural and literary traditions that make excellent authentic learning resources. Those are just some of the reasons most learners of Arabic choose one of the central dialects to learn. Of course, people with a special interest in a specific country may choose to learn a dialect of that country, such as Moroccan or Iraqi Arabic. Be sure in all cases to make sure to get the register right as a common pitfall is to learn a casual style of speaking that just won’t do in more formal settings.
In the past fifteen years or so, there has been an explosion in the number of people learning or interested in learning Arabic. The number and variety of resources has grown too. From schools, universities, and evening classes, to online resources, books, and audio, learners are afforded a range of different ways to learn Arabic in a way and at a pace that suits them. But they say the best way to truly learn a language is to immerse yourself in a country that speaks it – so a long summer in Morocco or Tunisia, or an extended stay in Egypt or Jordan, are all completely justified here! Just make sure to insist on speaking Arabic or the obliging hosts may turn to English or even French to make life easier for you.
If you are interested in understanding traditional news media, particularly print media, then Modern Standard Arabic is the way to go. If, however, you include social media in your daily news digest, then you may need to add a little dialect into the mix, as Arabic speakers increasingly use ‘ammiyah to write online – from little sprinklings to full out portions – either exclusively or along with Modern Standard Arabic. Another interesting variation for advanced learners would be what has come to be known as “Arabish” or Arabizi, Franco-Arabic, Roman Arabic, etc. — all referring to Arabic written in Roman script. Hardcore Arabish uses numbers to represent Arabic letters without an equivalent Roman letter, such as ‘3’ for the Arabic ع or ‘2’ for ء (both traditionally represented as an apostrophe such as in ‘ammiyah as seen earlier in this blogpost).
Where there’s a will there’s a way
Anyone with the desire to learn Arabic can do it. Whatever variety or dialect you choose, it is all part of the same broad, rich, diverse, living language. 300 million people are proud to speak it – make it 300 million and 1!
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