Learn Arabic – Which Arabic Dialect Should I Learn?
You’ve seen us mention the fact that Arabic is one of the fastest-growing languages in the world. It moved up from fifth to fourth place in 2019’s list of most often used languages to learn. For example, there are 422 million speakers in the world. And with that many people, it’s no wonder there are so many dialects.
If you’re looking to study Arabic, trying to decide which dialect to learn can be confusing. As a result, many academic professionals will suggest you learn Modern Standard Arabic. MSA is the Arabic for formal writing and speech. However, these days, many students of Arabic will tell you that if they had the choice to learn the language from scratch again, they would skip MSA and go right into studying an Arabic dialect. So, what were their reasons?
To begin with, MSA is not the version people speak in their everyday lives. As a result, today’s students say it wastes a lot of time learning MSA. Nobody uses it to speak to each other as they go about their daily lives. Furthermore, Arabic dialects and MSA have few differences in between them; for example, spoken Arabic:
You will notice a simpler grammatical structure
People pronounce some letters differently, based on dialect
A few words or expressions are distinct to certain dialects
Has a more casual vocabulary and style
Nonetheless, if you’re looking for the reasons to study Levantine vs. Egyptian Arabic, then read on as we present you with this list of the top 10 Arabic dialects and where you can find them.
The language of (surprise, surprise) Egypt, Egyptian Arabic has over 55 million native speakers. However, many more understand it because of the most popular films and television programs in the Arab world. It is also one of the most often studied of the Arabic dialects. This makes Egypt a great place for Arabic language learners.
Sometimes referred to as khaliji Arabic, there are 36 million speakers of the Gulf Arabic dialect. Most speakers live in the Persian Gulf region such as Kuwait, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, parts of eastern Saudi Arabia, southern Iraq, southern Iran, and northern Oman. However, be careful when learning the Gulf Arabic. There are many dialects within the dialect. You may see that there are vast differences in vocabulary, grammar, and especially accent. This difference grows more abundant the farther away geographically countries are from one another. For example, the Gulf Arabic of Kuwait and the Gulf Arabic of Qatar can be so different that speakers sometimes have trouble understanding each other.
Originally spoken by the Beni Hassan Bedouin tribes, Hassaniya Arabic is spoken by 3 million people. They are mainly in the North African part of the Arab world except Egypt. This means people in Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Western Sahara speak the language. This dialect can be hard for new learners. However, all of the phonemes in Classical Arabic are present, with many new phonemes.
The Levant region is the 100-200 kilometer-wide Eastern Mediterranean coastal strip. Levantine Arabic has over 21 million speakers from Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Lebanon. Many speakers, however, only use Levantine Arabic in their everyday spoken language and use MSA for writing. Interestingly, learning Levantine dialect can be a lesson in the impact of ancient languages on the way we live today.
Over 70 million people speak it across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Western Sahara, and Mauritania. Maghrebi Arabic also carries the name of derja, derija or darija . It means “to rise or advance step by step”. This is what this Maghrebi dialect is doing – slowly evolving and integrating new concepts into the language. Those who study this dialect can see it most noticeably happening with the integration of French and English words in technical fields that are replacing the old French or Italian words with words from Modern Standard Arabic. Through this “out with the old, in with the new” kind of evolution, it’s easy to see that Maghrebi Arabic is, indeed, constantly rising and advancing in the world of Arabic dialects.
Mesopotamian Arabic, also known as Iraqi Arabic, includes speakers from parts of Syria, Iran, southeastern Turkey, and of course, Iraq. The language consists of a mix of Arabic languages native to the Mesopotamian basin and draws from Akkadian, Persian, and Turkish origins. Due to the differences between many speakers of this dialect, phonology can be hard to pin down. The good news is, it follows the 28 consonants of Arabic pretty closely. There can be big differences in the emphatic sounds that different speakers use.
Similar to Egyptian Arabic, Sudanese Arabic is spoken throughout Sudan and has over 17 million native speakers. Notice we said it’s “similar” because Sudanese Arabic has distinctive characteristics that deserve their own dialect. In general, Sudanese Arabic is actually more closely related to Hejazi Arabic in pronunciation (more on Hejazi Arabic later). In fact, when it comes to pronunciation, Sudanese Arabic is often referred to as a pure and archaic interpretation of Arabic. Sudanese Arabic maintained many archaic pronunciations and writing sequences that other dialects have long forgotten. This marks a sea change from Egyptian Arabic, which sticks pretty close to the current modern standard.
Like Sudanese Arabic, Yemeni Arabic is another Arabic dialect that has maintained many classical features. Spoken by over 15 million people in (you guessed it) Yemen southwestern Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Djibouti. Additionally, Yemeni Arabic can be subdivided into many different dialect groups. Moreover, Yemeni is the spoken language of the area, but speakers will use MSA for all written purposes.
Hijazi Arabic is an Arabic dialect spoken by over 14 million people in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. Moreover, this dialect is further divided along city and country lines. There are urban and rural versions of the dialect. The residents of Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina mostly speak the urban version. Further, you can find the rural dialect in the Bedouin tribes of the rural areas.
Of all of the Arabic dialects, Maltese is the more interesting dialect because it is so strikingly different from MSA. It originated in Siculo-Arabic, which is an extinct variety of Arabic. It developed in Sicily long before you could hear it in Malta at the end of the 9th century. Another big difference is that Maltese is written in Latin script not literary Arabic script. Every other dialect on this list is written in Arabic. In fact, the earliest surviving example of Maltese is from the late Middle Ages, making it the only surviving Semitic language written in Latin script.
No matter which Arabic dialect choose to learn, what’s the best way to learn Arabic and start taking advantage all of its benefits today? Why, of course, it’s through Arabic learning apps like the one offered by Kaleela!
Kaleela is an Arabic language app and website designed for those of you who would like to learn Arabic online. Our user-friendly app is downloadable to both iOS and Android mobile devices.Also, it is available in a number of languages.
After downloading the app, you can choose from a variety of Arabic language courses including Modern Standard Arabic (also known as fusha) or dwelve a little deeper into the Arabic dialects by learning Egyptian Arabic, Levantine Arabic and even the Syrian dialect. For those of you learning Arabic for beginners, there are even special courses on the Arabic alphabet and how to write Arabic letters.
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Kaleela – Learn Arabic the Right Way!