Which dialect of Arabic you should learn?

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There are quite a few dialects of Arabic. The question is: which dialect of Arabic should you learn if you want to communicate with as many Arabic speakers as you can? We will attempt to give a summary of this question.

Origins of Arabic: Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic
There is one original Arabic used in the Qur’an and called Classical Arabic (CA). It is the archaic form that was spoken from around VII to IX centuries. Then there is Modern Standard Arabic (MSA). This language is the same as Classical Arabic except it is adapted in some ways and geared more towards casual speech. For example, it has words that Classical Arabic does not, such as فيلم (film) because obviously they did not have films a thousand years ago when Classical Arabic was spoken. The forms of Classical Arabic are said to be more poetic and “old”, a rough analogy between CA versus MSA would be Shakespearean English and Modern English, except the differences are bigger in English than in the two types of Arabic. Arabic speakers sometimes do not even distinguish between the two languages and sometimes do not make the distinction.

Now the thing is: nobody speaks neither Classical Arabic nor Modern Standard Arabic in their standard everyday lives anymore: that would be like encountering somebody in Europe speaking Latin. People do speak Latin in Europe, though, except Latin has transformed into variants which are better known as Italian, Spanish, French, and Romanian. So has Classical Arabic transformed into dialects about the major of which we will now learn.

Before that, here is the nice thing: everybody speaks “their Latin” in the Arab world because they learn it at school. That is to say, children learn Modern Standard Arabic (or Classical Arabic – as it has been said, Arabs often don’t even make the distinction) at school and all educated people throughout the whole Arab world are supposed to learn it. They do learn this language because the Qur’an was written in it. That means that though, chances are, you could not communicate with Italians and French using the original Latin language, you can with Arabs

Current dialects of Arabic
So when we know what people don’t speak in their everyday lives, let’s look at what they do speak. Here the reality is that there are many dialects and sub-dialects and trying to explain and compare them all in a blog post wouldn’t do them any justice. That’s why we are just going to list the main large groups of Arabic dialects.

Levantine Arabic

The Levantine Arabic is the Arabic spoken in the Levant region, thus in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine and Jordan – The Levantine dialect is easily understood in the Middle East region. During the past century, many people from this region have left home and sailed overseas looking for prosperity and better life conditions. In recent years, the emigration wave has reached the point that more Lebanese and Palestinian are living abroad than in their countries. Lebanon, despite its small area and population, has become very well known in the world. There is hardly any city that does not have a Lebanese restaurant or a small Lebanese community. The Lebanese and Syrian cuisines are the most popular of all Middle Eastern cuisines. Lingo House DMCC teaches the Lebanese dialect with a glance on the Levant region’s culture and customs. In Lingo House DMCC, our intention is not to discourage anyone from learning the beautiful Modern Standard Arabic Language. We are simply offering a survival package to those interested only in learning the Spoken Arabic which constitutes Arabs’ everyday spoken language.

Egyptian Arabic
This form of Arabic is spoken in Egypt, of course. Mostly understood in the Arab world. This is because of the Arabic movies, songs, shows, etc. are produced in Egyptian Arabic and also a lot of Arab speakers get to see Egyptian TV (and now presumably see the Internet) thus chances are people might be used to the Egyptian dialect and understand it.

Maghrebi Arabic
Maghrebi is a dialect of Arabic spoken in Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Tunisia. This Arabic could be characterized by that it has followed a lot of Western words due to its close contact with Western countries.

Gulf Arabic
Gulf Arabic is a dialect spoken in Persian Gulf countries such as United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman.

The others
Apart from that, there are other dialects such as Iraqi Arabic, Yemeni Arabic, and Sudanese Arabic.

So… which dialect you should learn?
If your goal is to use Arabic academically (or religiously) then by all means stick with MSA, as it’s the better choice for you. But if you plan to make friends, buy things and haggle, travel, attempt to blend in and not get ripped off, watch a lot of TV such as comedy or soap operas, and even work in most jobs, then it would be a waste of time to learn MSA first. All Arabs would indeed understand MSA, but you’d have to seriously and unrealistically restrict your interactions if you wanted a reply in MSA.

Let us say that again because it bears repeating: Most people in Arabic speaking countries do NOT speak Modern Standard Arabic. They ONLY speak dialect.