To begin with, few people know that there isn’t just one Arabic language. Rather, each country, and often even different regions within the country, has its own dialect. Modern Standard Arabic is still used as the official language- in books, media, TV, governmental publications, etc, but the truth is that few people on the streets speak it. Rather, they stick to their colloquial Arabic. Although all dialects are ultimately derived from MSA, they have also incorporated throughout the years a mixture of foreign words and country-specific expressions which make it sound alien to the unaccustomed ear. Moreover, dialects could be so different from one another and/ or from MSA, that it could sometimes feel like learning a complete different language. So, what should you do? Which Arabic should you learn? Well that completely depends on your purpose…
- MSA – As mentioned before, Modern Standard Arabic is the basis of all dialects. It is the language used in the Quran, media, books, TV and Politics. Most people start their never-ending journey through Arabic from here and there is definitely a good reason for that. When you learn Arabic in Morocco, you’ll be prepared to understand and use MSA, but you have to be prepared to the differences you’ll find in other countries.
MSA is more structured than dialects, has very specific grammar and it is easy to put in a well-organized textbook, which makes it easier to learn outside of the Middle East. If you are planning on using your Arabic for work, or for reading the newspapers, writing or listening to the news, you will find that most materials are published in MSA. It is also the basis of all dialects, which would, at least in theory, make it easier to start on them.
However, it also has its downsides. Thus, much of the vocabulary and grammar is not used in daily life and would mean nothing to the people you are talking to. Although it is widely understood, it is rarely spoken and you might end up spending years studying a language and still feel completely lost when you finally find yourself in the Middle East.
Start with MSA, if you need more organized study plan or you are planning on working with Arabic or use written materials and media sources. However, if you are more of a listener and learn better through speaking and practice, or if you merely want to communicate with people, MSA is a good beginning but you should definitely think about adding a dialect or two to it.
If communication and cultural exploration is your goal, then you will also need to learn a dialect. If you are only interested in a specific country, then your choice is clear- concentrate on their colloquial. If you, however, have an interest in the broader Middle East, things get a bit more difficult…
- Learning one dialect – after building a concrete foundation in MSA, you may consider mastering one of the dialects. Concentrating on only one colloquial is generally a good idea but it has its downsides, as well.
Concentrating on just one of the many Arabic dialects, does give you certain advantages. On one hand, you could claim fluency pretty soon, as dialects are, in general, a bit easier than MSA. On the other, it will also mean that spending certain time in a country is going to greatly improve your cultural understanding and knowledge.
However, that would also mean that your travels are more or less limited to that country. Even if you learn one of the more popular dialects (Egyptian, for example) you will still have problems when visiting other countries. Besides, people are really friendly when you speak their colloquial, even if you only know a word or two. To sum up, concentrating on one dialect is great if you have a specific interest in only one country, but not ideal if you are planning to travel a lot around the Middle East.
- Learning more than one dialect simultaneously – as everything mentioned before, choosing to learn more than one colloquial could be good or bad decision, depending on your situation. It is great, if you are travelling a lot, a few useful expressions in a number of dialects can make wonders. Besides, it is just plain interesting seeing the differences between them, while after all that traveling you would qualify as an expert on the whole region.
Yet, jumping from a dialect to dialect can be quite confusing and, let’s face it, it is unlikely for you to become fluent (remember that semester of French you took at uni? Me neither). If you are not careful, it can all be just a waste of time and resources.
So, learning more than one dialect at the same time is great for all these passionate travelers but it could have a devastating effect on your Arabic, if you don’t take it seriously.
That’s all for this week, folks! I hope you found this useful and you are a bit closer to deciding what you want to do with your Arabic. Follow us on Facebook and don’t ever miss out on great advices about learning Arabic and living in the Middle East.