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When it comes to learning the Arabic language should I learn Modern Standard Arabic or an Arabic dialect?

I’ve heard from some people and have even read online that you shouldn’t learn Modern Standard Arabic or that learning Modern Standard Arabic isn’t necessary since it’s only a literary language and it’s not even used by any Arab country as a native language. Is this true? I want to learn Arabic and what do you advise?

23rd June 2016

To answer your question, you should absolutely study Modern Standard Arabic in my opinion because it’s the foundation of the Arabic language itself and then learn an Arabic dialect if you decide to do so. You don’t even have to study a dialect since there aren’t really any material or books out there to help you to learn one and besides I don’t even know how you would even begin to teach a dialect! It will be very painful to my ears to hear someone trying to teach a dialect since most of the words and phrases would be grammatically wrong, misspelt or modified because of the way it’s pronounced differently in a dialect.

It’s true that people do not speak Modern Standard Arabic in Arabic speaking countries, but it’s not enough to justify asking a beginner or learner to study a dialect instead of Modern Standard Arabic, it’s like asking someone to learn slang instead of proper English! I totally disagree if anyone says otherwise and if that person(s) is from Egypt then that’s not a surprise! I’m going to be honest here, Egyptians have this superiority complex when it comes to the language where they believe that their dialect is the closest to Modern Standard Arabic which is somewhat true and it’s due to their domination of the movie industry, just like Hollywood to the world which makes it easier for Arabs to understand Egyptian dialect because their ears have got used to it, and they also expect you to adapt to their own dialect.

Ultimately your approach to learning and what you want to achieve is the deciding factor that determines your path and for anyone who likes to do things properly and efficiently, you would agree with me that you would want to start learning Modern Standard Arabic and then pick up a dialect later. On the other hand, there are people who would only plan to visit or live in a certain Arabic country and if their only purpose is to learn how to speak Arabic to people then yes you may only need to learn that particular Arabian country’s dialect and this would be enough.

There is a problem with this dare I say relaxed attitude and I can tell you this from experience and chances are these people will never try to learn Modern Standard Arabic because they can already speak the ‘chosen’ Arabic language and that’s enough for them. The sad part is they will have also been in touch with that Arabic culture for years and yet they can’t write nor read Arabic in some cases. Anyway, let’s not forget that any Arabic dialect would not exist without Modern Standard Arabic, so why would you start from the top? Just like an architect designing a building he will start from the bottom obviously to set out and reinforce a strong foundation and work his way up, and not the other way around.

I have friends who speak English quite well and get by just fine, but they have difficulties reading and writing English not to mention the grammatical errors they make and tragically they’re not even aware of it. It’s all because they have picked up the language from the ‘street’. Conversely, you will have a newcomer who’s actually studying the language formally and this person has excellent reading and writing skills, but cannot understand the street slang. This problem will only be short lived because if this person stays or immerses in that country’s environment long enough then she or he will pick up the street language with the added bonus of having a good command of the proper language. This is the proper way that it should be done I believe.

Just like we’ve explained in our video lesson with Modern Standard Arabic you’ll be able to communicate with most if not all Arabs, and they will adapt to your speaking pattern to communicate with you and not the other way round and besides what’s the solution? To learn every single dialect of every Arab country? I can understand if you’re going to one country only, but I would still advise against learning a dialect.

My final note, if you have a passion for languages, can already speak an Arabic dialect or you’re a polyglot (someone who can speaks a few languages) and has the learning experience then the transition from a dialect to Modern Standard Arabic will not be an issue if you’re highly motivated to learn how to speak and write the best form of Arabic.

This blog or article was written by Samir Nadir.

Co-Founder of Path to Arabic. I have a huge passion for Arabic language learning, the Arabic culture, and simplifying language learning for millions of people around the world. I also love music, martial arts and fitness too.

 

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