WHICH ARABIC SHOULD I LEARN?
You’ve seen us mention the fact that Arabic is one of the fastest growing languages in the world, moving up from fifth to fourth place in 2019’s list of most often used languages in the world at 422 million speakers. And with that many people with Arabic as their native tongue that starts with Moroccan Arabic in the west to the Gulf Arabic of Dubai in the east, it’s no wonder there are so many dialects in between the two.
It’s also no wonder that, if you’re looking to study Arabic, trying to decide which dialect to learn can be confusing. This is why many academic professionals will suggest you learn Modern Standard Arabic, or MSA – the Arabic dialect that is used in 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. What were their reasons?
To begin with, though Modern Standard Arabic is the written and scholarly standard of all Arabic, as in many languages, that 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 because 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:
- Has a simpler grammatical structure
- Has some differently pronounced letters, which can also differ based on dialect
- Has some words or expressions that are distinct to certain dialects
- Only occurs in written form when a personal or funny touch is desired
- 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.
1 │ EGYPTIAN ARABIC
The language of (surprise, surprise) Egypt, Egyptian Arabic is spoken by over 55 million native speakers. However, it’s understood by many more because the language 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, making Egypt a great place for Arabic language learners.
2 │ GULF ARABIC
Sometimes referred to as khaliji Arabic, there are 36 million speakers of the Gulf Arabic dialect with most speakers living 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, because there are many dialects within the dialect and you may see that there are vast differences in vocabulary, grammar, and especially accent – difference that grow more abundant the farther away geographically countries are from one another. For example, the Gulf Arabic spoken by people in Kuwait and the Gulf Arabic spoken in Qatar can be so different that speakers sometimes have trouble understanding each other.
3 │ HASSANIYA ARABIC
Originally spoken by the Beni Hassan Bedouin tribes, Hassaniya Arabic is spoken by 3 million people 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, as all of the phonemes contained in Classical Arabic are present, but they are joined by many new phonemes.
4 │ LEVANTINE ARABIC
Spoken in the 100-200 kilometer-wide Eastern Mediterranean coastal strip known as the Levant region, 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 the Levantine dialect can be a lesson in the impact of ancient languages on the way we live today.
5 │ MAGHREBI ARABIC
With over 70 million speakers spread across Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Western Sahara, and Mauritania, Maghrebi Arabic is also called derja, derija or darija by those who speak the language. It means “to rise or advance step by step”, which 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.
6 │ MESOPOTAMIAN ARABIC
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 gamut of Arabic languages native to the Mesopotamian basin and draws from Akkadian, Persian, and Turkish in its 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, but there can be big differences in the emphatic sounds that different speakers use.
7 │ SUDANESE ARABIC
Similar to Egyptian Arabic (after all, they are neighbors), 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 because Sudanese Arabic has 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.
8 │ YEMENI ARABIC
Like Sudanese Arabic, Yemeni Arabic is another Arabic dialect that has maintained many classical features that are not used in other parts of the Arabic-speaking world. Spoken by over 15 million people in (you guessed it) Yemen southwestern Saudi Arabia, Somalia, and Djibouti. Additionally, much the same as Mesopotamian Arabic and Maghrebi Arabic, because of the vast array of speakers, Yemeni Arabic can be subdivided into many different dialect groups. Moreover, Yemeni is the spoken language of the area, but like Levantine Arabic, those who speak Yemeni Arabic use MSA for all written purposes.
9 │ HIJAZI ARABIC
Hijazi Arabic is an Arabic dialect spoken by over 14 million people in the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. Moreover, and perhaps even more fascinating, this dialect is further divided along city and country lines, with both urban and rural versions of the dialect. The urban version is spoken most widely in the cities of Jeddah, Mecca, and Medina while the urban dialect is used by Bedouin tribes of the rural areas.
10│ MALTESE ARABIC
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 developed in Sicily long before it was first spoken in Malta at the end of the 9th century. Another big difference is that Maltese is written in Latin script not literary Arabic script like every other dialect on this list. 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 for free. Our user-friendly app is downloadable to both IOS and Android mobile devices and available in a number of languages including English, Spanish, Indonesian, and Chinese – with more to come!
After downloading the app, you can choose from a variety of Arabic language courses including Modern Standard Arabic (also known as fusha) or delve 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.
Kaleela – Learn Arabic the Right Way!