The Arabic language is spoken throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East. There are over 420 million people who speak Arabic around the world. It is the sixth most spoken language in the world. The word “Arab” actually translates to “nomad”, which is extremely fitting for someone like me how has been an expat trotting around the globe for a decade. With currently living in the Middle Eastern country Oman, Arabic is the primary language that I hear daily in this region.
Unfortunately, I have only learned a handful of phrases in Arabic such as Shukran (thank you) and Alhamdulillah (‘Praise be to Allah/Gold). It is pretty easy to move about in the Middle East only speaking English, since most study the language starting in primary school. Nevertheless, there are plenty of times that I wished I had a better grasp of the Arabic language rather than a few words here and there.
Arabic is the language used throughout the holy Koran/Quran and is the religious language of all Muslims that study Islam. There are many different dialects of Arabic which are spoken throughout the Middle East. You may even hear different dialects throughout the same country. Here in Oman, I’ve noticed how my students from Muscat have a different dialect than say a student from the South in Salalah. It’s equivalent to those from New York compared to those from Mississippi in the States. However, some dialects of Arabic are so distinct that speakers from different dialect backgrounds can’t understand one another.
Some of the most common dialects of Arabic are as follows: Modern Standard, which is used in writing and formal speech, and is the official language for more than 20 different countries. It is also one of the six languages that the United Nations uses to communicate. Egyptian Arabic is the dialect spoken by over 60 million people in Egypt. I recall my Egyptian coworker in Oman distinctly noting just how difficult it was for some of her students to detect certain Arabic words when she spoke because the Egyptian dialect is so different from Omani Arabic. The grammar and sentence structure of Egyptian Arabic is expressively different from the more common Modern Standard Arabic.
The Sudanese also speak a very distinguishing dialect of Arabic as well. Sudan is home to nearly 20 million Arabic speakers and as such, they have developed their own dialect of Arabic. Dialects amongst a variety of tribes in Sudan can vary considerably from one another. Another popular dialect of Arabic is Maghrebi. The Maghreb is a region in Northwest Africa where Maghrebi is mostly spoken in regions including Algeria and Morocco. Due to the history of European colonization in these areas, there are several words that are used from Romance languages. For example, a host of words that are spoken in Morocco are words borrowed from Spanish. Additionally, the same can be said for words spoken in Algeria, which are influenced by French.
The way that Arabic sounds is distinctly different from English. Arabic words tend to begin with a single consonant and then is followed by a vowel. Phrases using more than two consonants does not happen in the Arabic language. One of the main differences between the English and Arabic language is that Arabic is written from right to left in a cursive format. It includes 28 letters similar to the English alphabet. Nevertheless, Arabic is a part of the “Semitic” group of languages, making it very close to those of Aramaic and Hebrew. It is important to note that while many North African and Middle Eastern countries share being Arabic speaking countries, that they are hugely diverse from one another in their culture, history and politics.
An Arabic word is typically made up of two parts including the root, which consists of three consonants, giving the basic meaning of the word and then secondly the pattern, which include vowels, thus giving the grammatical meaning of the word. Arabic also uses prefixes and suffixes. These tend to act as pronouns, definite articles, subject markers and prepositions.
As an English language teacher living in the Middle East, I highly recommend using technology and apps if you are interested in learning Arabic. One of my favorites is Duolingo. HelloTalk, Memrise and of course Google Translate are also helpful tools to study and to use while you’re globetrotting.