Learning Arabic

What Is Colloquial Arabic?

Arabic is one of the most spoken languages in the world. It first emerged sometime between the first and fourth centuries and is today the national language of 26 states. However, an Arabic speaker cannot necessarily travel to any Arabic-speaking nation and be confident that they will be understood. This is because there are several different forms of Arabic, with words and phrases often varying wildly from category to category. There are two widely used forms of Arabic. These are Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic. Classical Arabic - also referred to as "Quranic Arabic" - is the language in which the Quran is written, read, and recited. It is also the language in which most classic works of Arabic literature were written. Modern Standard Arabic, as its name suggests, is the language in which contemporary Arabic magazines, novels, movies, and textbooks are produced. It facilitates easy communication throughout the Arab world. Or, at least, it does in theory. Unfortunately, many Arabic speakers, particularly those in poorer regions of the Arab world, are not familiar with Modern Standard Arabic. Some are even unable to understand Classical Arabic beyond the confines of the Quran. Instead, they speak Colloquial Arabic exclusively. But what exactly is Colloquial Arabic and why is it so much more difficult to learn than Classical or Modern Standard Arabic? Let's find out.

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The Origins of Colloquial Arabic  

Colloquial Arabic is an umbrella term that encompasses a variety of versions of the Arabic language. Many regions across the Arab world speak their own unique form of Arabic, with colloquialisms and idiosyncrasies one can only understand if they grew up in the area of origin. Interestingly, Colloquial Arabic has existed almost as long as Arabic itself. As mentioned above, the broader Arabic language first came into being sometime between the first and fourth centuries, evolving from an earlier language that has come to be known as "Proto-Semitic". As Arabic expanded across the Arab world, regions were quick to put their own twist on the language. In the 2000 years that have elapsed since Arabic as we know it was first spoken, once small localized variations of the tongue have spawned almost full-fledged languages in their own right. These are the languages which make up Colloquial Arabic.

The Types of Colloquial Arabic

Because almost every region of the Arab world has developed its own strain of Arabic, it is virtually impossible to put a number on the types of Colloquial Arabic in existence. However, experts generally use the most commonly spoken forms of Colloquial Arabic as sub-groups in order to categorize the many additional strains of Arabic which they have spawned. Among the most popular types of Colloquial Arabic are:

●Egyptian Arabic

●Gulf Arabic

●Hassaniya Arabic

●Hejazi Arabic

●Iraqi Arabic

●Levantine Arabic

●Nandi Arabic

●North African Arabic

●Yemeni Arabic

Examples of Differences 

Some strains of Colloquial Arabic are quite similar. However, there can also be major differences between two forms of the language, especially if they originated in regions of the globe that are far removed from each other. Below, we will be highlighting a number of differences between certain forms of Colloquial Arabic in order to drive home just how wide the divisions can be.

Word / Phrase​Egyptian ArabicMoroccan Arabic​Lebanese Arabic
​Excuse Me​la mu-akhza​smeh liya​pardon
​Yes​aywa​iyyeh​eh
​Thank You​shokran​shukran​merci
​I Love You (to a man)​ana bahebak​kan hubek​bhebak
​I Love Your (to a woman)​ana bahebek​kan hubek​bhebik

As you can see, the differences between the various forms of Colloquial Arabic range from one letter to full words and sentences. As you likely noticed, some strains of Colloquial Arabic draw very heavily from other languages, particularly French. This is, of course, the result of the influence of surrounding countries and multiculturalism. Consequently, countries that are situated farthest from the heart of the Arab world tend to have the most unique deviations from Modern Standard and Classical Arabic.

Should I Learn Colloquial Arabic? 

Many people who learn Arabic do so for religious reasons. If you are a recent Muslim convert and are hoping to learn Arabic in order to study the Quran and partake in Friday prayers, then there is no need to pursue an education in Colloquial Arabic. It will be of little use to you outside of interacting with immigrant worshippers at your local mosque. They themselves will likely be more eager to speak to you in English in order to aid their mastering of their new language. For this reason, you should focus your efforts on learning Classical Arabic. Similarly, those who are studying Arabic in school or a similar setting have no real use for Colloquial Arabic. Most formal situations use Modern Standard Arabic, so that's where your attention should lie.

It may sound like we're pretty against the idea of learning Colloquial Arabic. However, we assure you that the reality is very much the opposite. We think learning Colloquial Arabic is a great idea and applaud anybody who devotes their time to doing so. Knowledge of Colloquial Arabic will open up doors for you culturally and socially, allowing you to truly immerse yourself in life when you travel to the origin of your chosen strain. That being said, we do feel it's important to master at least one of the other two primary categories of Arabic before tackling regional dialect. This will greatly simplify your Colloquial Arabic education. 

What Form of Colloquial Arabic Should I Learn? 

Given that there are so many forms of Colloquial Arabic, those who choose to pursue a Colloquial Arabic education have a hard time settling on the specific tongue that is right for them. In order to determine which form of Colloquial Arabic is right for you, give some thought to your reasons for wanting to learn the language in the first place. Perhaps they are, like so many things in this world, romantically motivated. Let's say your boyfriend or girlfriend hails from Iraq. In that case, you should focus on learning Iraqi Arabic. If you are attempting to broaden your career options, however, you should focus on Egyptian Arabic. This is because Egyptian Arabic is the most spoken form of Colloquial Arabic in the world. It is one of the only forms of Colloquial Arabic to be widely spoken outside of its place of origin. It is also quite similar to Modern Standard and Classical Arabic, meaning you won't have much trouble communicating with most Arabic speakers, regardless of where they are from. This will allow you to secure work virtually anywhere in the Arab world. We also suggest Egyptian Arabic to anybody who wants to learn a form of Colloquial Arabic but has no personal or professional aspirations to guide them towards a specific version.  

How To Learn Colloquial Arabic

Learning any form of Colloquial Arabic can be a bit of a challenge. As we mentioned above, you should make an effort to learn either Classical or Modern Standard Arabic before pursuing any strain of Colloquial Arabic. By understanding the essentials of the language in this manner, you will be far better equipped to wrap your head around the twists and slang terms introduced by various regions of the Arab world. But even with fluency in other primary forms of Arabic, developing proficiency in Colloquial Arabic isn't going to be easy. This is largely because of the scarcity of Colloquial Arabic lessons. Most professional Arabic teachers in the Western world focus on Classical or Modern Standard Arabic.

If you want to learn a regional variation of the language, you should look into Arab immigrants in your area. If any hail from the region that fascinates you, we encourage you to initiate contact and request lessons, even if they are informal ones. In our Western culture, this may seem a little forward. This is not the case in Arab culture. Arabs are among the most hospitable people and are markedly more accepting of outsiders than other groups. Native Arabic speakers generally encourage anybody who wishes to learn their language and often help in whatever way they can. If you approach a native Arabic speaker and ask them to share with you the basics of their regional dialect, they will likely delight in doing so.

Of course, you should not rely solely on your Arabic teacher, no matter how obliging they are. There are a number of apps designed to help students master Colloquial Arabic. Most of these work by connecting users to native speakers of the variant tongue they are trying to learn. These apps, while certainly not the be all and end all, can be a valuable tool when it comes to learning Colloquial Arabic.

Finally, if you really want to master the unique language of an Arab-speaking region, you should be sure to visit that region for yourself. Only by visiting the origin of a particular strain of Colloquial Arabic can you fully experience it. There, you will learn the local slang to complement the broader words and phrases of the language. Spend enough time in the area and you will leave not only with a second language, but with a second home.

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