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Arabic language profile
Home > Languages > Arabic

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The term 'Arabic' covers two families of languages. One is mainly written (Litterary or Modern Standard Arabic), and the other encompasses a number of spoken Arabic dialects. Anything written, including newspaper, books and the Internet, will be in Modern Standard Arabic. Radio and Television, such as Al-Jazeera, use the same language in order to be understood all over the Arab world. But to speak with Arabs on the street, you will have to learn one of the many 'Colloquial Arabic' dialects.

Other topics on this page: Introduction ¦ Usefulness ¦ Chic factor ¦ Countries ¦ Speakers ¦ Travel ¦ Variations ¦ Culture ¦ Difficulties ¦ Pronunciation ¦ Grammar ¦ Vocabulary ¦ Spelling ¦ Ressources ¦


There is no question that culturally Arabic is an extremely important language. However, it is not as useful as one may assume at first. The first problem is that if you wish to converse on the street, you will either have to learn one of the many colloquial dialects, which are only spoken in a few countries. Thus the large number of countries where 'Arabic' is spoken is actually misleading, since it is written but not actually spoken. Second, if you wish to do business, most Arabic businessmen will speak either English or French (in the Maghreb). The business advantage of speaking Arabic is probably not as strong as being a Muslim. Thus the reader would be advised to limit his ambitions as to the use of Arabic and not assume he'll be able, from the study of one language, to address each and every Arab in their mother tongue.

Chic factorSpeaking Arabic is very chic, especially if you are able to speak one of the Arabic dialects. I think it can also be anti-chic in some circles, where anything Arabic or even Muslim is considered as barbaric and deeply suspicious.
CountriesArabic, across its various dialects, is one of the most popular languages on earth with no less than 25 countries where it is spoken : Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Algery, Tunisia, Morroco, Kuwait, Syria, Oman, Lybia, Lebanon, Sudan, Qatar, Bahrein, Iraq, Jordan, Palestine, Comoros, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Israel, Mauritania and Yemen.

However, as explained on this page, you cannot assume that learning one 'Arabic' will enable you to converse with the man on the street in all of these countries.


Moroccan Arabic is spoken by about 20,000,000 speakers in Morocco and in immigrant communities in Western Europe.

Algerian Arabic has 22,000,000 speakers in Algeria.

Tunisian Arabic has 9,000,000 speakers in Tunisia.

Lybian Arabic is spoken by 4,500,000 speakers mainly in Lybia but also in Egypt.

Egyptian Arabic is spoken by 84,000,000 Egyptians and understood abroad thanks to Egyptian movies.

North Levantine Arabic is spoken by about 15,000,000 Syrians and Lebaneses, whereas South Levantine is used by an additional 6,000,000 Jordanians, Palestinians and Israelis.

North Mesopotamian Arabic is spoken by 6,300,000 speakers mostly in Iraq but also in Syria and Turkey.

The Hijazi dialect is spoken by 6,000,000 people in Saudi Arabia and the Nadji dialect is a spoken by a further 10,000,000 speakers mainly in Saudi Arabia.

TravelThe Arab world is vast and diverse, with many attractive landscapes of sea, mountains, oasis and deserts. Some countries are worldly and modern such a Lebanon, other are highly conservative and cut off like Sudan. You can visit very religious countries like Saudi Arabia or relax in secular countries like Tunisia. A knowledge of a local dialect will greatly enhance your travel.

You can learn several Arabic languages:

  • Modern Standard Arabic is the most popular with foreign students. This is a modernized version of the litterrary Arabic. It is used throughout the Arabic world for newspapers and television. The trouble is that nobody speaks it outside of books and medias. People speak in colloquial Arabic. Educated Arabs will know it, but you'd probably end up speaking English or French with them.
  • Litterary Arabic is the language used in the Quoran, the holy book of Muslims. This language is not spoken as it sounds a bit as Old English "Thou Art in a Shoppe". It is the most difficult of the three brands of Arabic to be learned. Unless you are a Muslim or a scholar, you will probably never study littterary Arabic.
  • Colloquial Arabic is the spoken language. It changes from country to country, although for example you can learn the Levantine dialect understood in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine. These dialects are almost exclusively spoken, people using Modern Standard Arabic when writing.

Going from Litterary to Standard Arabic is not very difficult, and acquiring a colloquial dialect thereafter is mainly a problem of vocabulary learning.

There are many Arabic dialects ('Colloquial Arabic') spoken across the Arab world. Although the media uses the same Modern Standard Arabic everywhere, most Arabs will either speak in their own dialect or use French or Arabic. Dialects are slightly different from city to city and change from one country to another. You can, however, learn 'standard' dialects :

  • Gulf dialect is the closest to Classical or Modern Standard Arabic.
  • Levantine dialect is spoken in Jordan, Palestine, Syria and Lebanon
  • The Egyptian dialect is the most spoken Arabic dialect and widely understood outside Egypt thanks to the popularity of Egyptian movies
  • North African dialect spoken in the Maghreb (Tunisia, Algery and Morrocco)

The differences between those Arabic dialects are similar to the differences between Romance languages. This means they are very close to each other and by knowing one you can learn another easily. It is actually a better strategy to learn one Arabic dialect rather than trying to speak Modern Standard Arabic with people. Although most people nowadays understand Modern Standard Arabic, only a minority can actually converse in it and those who can just don't do it. They'd rather speak their own dialect, French or English than Standard Arabic.


There are many ways you can practice Arabic in a rewarding way, even from home.

Arabic Music - plenty of popular songs in Arabic, modern and traditional. Try Raï, a type of music sung in the Maghreb by singers such as Khaled or Cheb Mami.

Arab newspapers

Arab TV many people now have access to either Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya. If you receive satellite TV, you can get many more Arab channels. They all speak in Modern Standard Arabic and this is actually the only way to listen to this language.

Arab litterature

Other topics on this page: Introduction ¦ Usefulness ¦ Chic factor ¦ Countries ¦ Speakers ¦ Travel ¦ Variations ¦ Culture ¦ Difficulties ¦ Pronunciation ¦ Grammar ¦ Vocabulary ¦ Spelling ¦ Ressources ¦
 Back to top ¦ Languages Profiles
DifficultyI rate this language as for Modern Standard Arabic, due to the difficult alphabetic writing system, complex vocabulary and difficult grammar.
PronunciationArabic is a difficult language to pronounce, with many, many unique consonants that will put in motion parts of your mouth you did not know you had. Achieving a correct pronunciation is not easy, and speaking with no accent very difficult.
GrammarArabic uses a logical but difficult grammatical system, especially in Litterary Arabic.
VocabularyThe Arabic vocabulary is very large and is the biggest obstacle the student must overcome when learning the language.
SpellingArabic uses an alphabet that you can learn in couple weeks. But the alphabet is only half the story, since most texts do not write vowels. You need to figure out the vowels by yourself based on your knowledge of vocabulary and understanding of the phrase.
Other topics on this page: Introduction ¦ Usefulness ¦ Chic factor ¦ Countries ¦ Speakers ¦ Travel ¦ Variations ¦ Culture ¦ Difficulties ¦ Pronunciation ¦ Grammar ¦ Vocabulary ¦ Spelling ¦ Ressources ¦
 Back to top ¦ Languages Profiles
Other topics on this page: Introduction ¦ Usefulness ¦ Chic factor ¦ Countries ¦ Speakers ¦ Travel ¦ Variations ¦ Culture ¦ Difficulties ¦ Pronunciation ¦ Grammar ¦ Vocabulary ¦ Spelling ¦ Ressources ¦
 Back to top ¦ Languages Profiles

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