Modern Standard Arabic Vs Dialects: The Pros & Cons Of Each

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Modern Standard Arabic Vs Dialects: The Pros & Cons Of Each

“Should I learn Modern Standard Arabic or a local dialect?” That’s the question our app users ask us the most here at Kaleela. However, it’s a question that none of us can really give a sure answer to. Truth be told, the reason is because the answer really depends on you and why you’re learning Arabic. Thus, to help you decide, we’re presenting the pros and cons of learning each below:


Modern Standard Arabic


Also known as MSA, classical Arabic or fusha, most people you know who are learning Arabic are probably learning Modern Standard Arabic. The Middle East uses Modern Standard Arabic mostly in their formal writing and speaking. In fact, most teachers of Arabic teach Modern Standard Arabic. That is, if you’re a college student learning Arabic, you’re likely learning Modern Standard Arabic. However, though most people understand Modern Standard Arabic, very few really use it in their daily lives. With that said, in our quest to present you both the good and the bad of learning Modern Standard Arabic or a local dialect, let’s start with the pros of learning Modern Standard Arabic.



Pros of Learning Modern Standard Arabic

  • Regardless of what the dialect the local Arabs speak, their media broadcast, official documents, schoolbooks – pretty much all written materials – are all written in Modern Standard Arabic. This is great if you’re learning Arabic for work or studying Arab literature.  Likewise,  if you like to keep up with current events in the region, then Modern Standard Arabic is for you.

  • If you’re a stickler for structure and rigid grammar rules in your language learning, then you’ll love Modern Standard Arabic. Unlike local dialects, Modern Standard Arabic is very structured and grammatically correct. In the end,  if that’s your thing, then go for it.

  • Those who learn Modern Standard Arabicsay that it is the Arabic language at its purest. Thus, Arabs and non-Arabs who’ve learned the language have a great respect for Modern Standard Arabic. It’s also the language of the Quran, so Modern Standard Arabic opens the door into learning more about Arab culture and Islam.

  • There are more books for learning Modern Standard Arabic than you can shake a stick at. Plus, there are way, way, WAY more books for learning Modern Standard Arabic than there are for learning local Arabic dialects.

  • Last, but certain not least of the pros is, as mentioned before, most people across the whole of the MENA region understand Modern Standard Arabic.  So while Modern Standard Arabic may not always be the most useful, you don’t run the risk of learning something that’s helpful in one country but totally useless in another.

Cons of Learning MSA

  • People will instantly know you’re not a native Arabic speaker if you try to use MSA on the streets. Nevertheless, though they may understand you, they’ll likely answer you in the local dialect. You may also get a few chuckles out of some people. It’s all in fun, however, as they’ll teach you how to say the same thing in the local dialect.

  • Learning MSA is very hard to learn. Again, it’s more structured than dialect and there are more learning resources available, but the grammar can be very, very difficult to get. You’ll also get bored with learning tables and tables of verb conjugations and case endings. This is especially true when you learn that you’re likely never really going to use them except to pass an exam.

  • Even if you find a native Arabic speaking language partner, you’ll still have a hard time finding chances to practice. Again, this is because nobody speaks it in their day-to-day life. Thus, you’ll have a hard time finding anyone unless you happen to know a newscaster or the like.


Dialect

The second question we get asked most is “If I’m going to learn a dialect, what Arabic dialect should I learn?” Again that depends on you and why you’re learning Arabic. Arabic dialects vary a lot from country to country. Additionally, this may even be true from town to town in some countries.

Likewise, many language learners say that the easiest Arabic dialect is the Egyptian dialect. In fact, Egyptian is the most common Arabic dialect. This is a direct result of Egypt having a huge media and entertainment trade throughout the region. Along with Moroccan Arabic, others claim that Iraqi is the hardest Arabic dialect to learn, as they are quite distinct. Does this mean you should learn Egyptian Arabic? Again, this depends on why you personally want to learn Arabic. Here are some pros and cons of learning a dialect to help you out.



Pros of Learning a Dialect

  • Since it’s the language of the street, you’ll be able to use it when talking to the locals. In fact, you’ll use it far more than you would MSA.

  • Because nearly everyone you come across will speak the local dialect, it’s a lot easier to find people and places to practice. (Well, that is, if you live in the country where the dialect you’ve learned is spoken.)

  • Many people say MSA is more difficult to learn then that must mean that learning a dialect is easier, right?  Well, yes, it’s easier to learn than MSA. That’s mostly because they’re more colloquial in nature. As a result dialects are easier to pick up through speaking and listening. Plus, there’s very little grammar to have to remember, unlike MSA. 

Cons of Learning a Dialect

  • You’ll find some dialects totally useless outside of the country they’re spoken in. For instance, the Moroccan dialect (also known as darija) is difficult to understand outside of Morocco. Thus, you take your chances with learning some dialects if you decide to work, study, or live in another part of the region.

  • If you’re into Arabic literature, then a local dialect is probably not going to be useful to you. That’s because it’s likely going to be written in MSA. Likewise, the same applies to local and regional media who usually present the news in MSA.

  • When learning a local dialect, you can pretty much throw the rulebook out the window. However, it may be more difficult to pick up the language without knowing some grammar at least. Moreover, since there are very few resources available for learning most dialects, it’s likely there’s no rulebook to throw out of the window, anyway.





At the end of the day, whether you decide to learn MSA or a local dialect depends entirely on your reasons for learning Arabic in the first place. Whatever you decide, however, be sure that the Kaleela Arabic Learning App is the best way to learn both. Learn more about how you can start learning Arabic today, anytime, anywhere. Go to kaleela.com and download the IOS and Android app to get started now.


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