ARABIC ranks sixth in the world's league
table of languages, with an estimated 225 million native speakers. As the
language of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, it is also widely used throughout
the Muslim world. It belongs to the Semitic group of languages which also
includes Hebrew and Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia.
There are many Arabic dialects. Classical Arabic – the language of the Qur'an –
was originally the dialect of Mecca in what is now Saudi Arabia. An adapted form
of this, known as Modern Standard Arabic, is used in books, newspapers, on
television and radio, in the mosques, and in conversation between educated Arabs
from different countries (for example at international conferences).
Local dialects vary, and a Moroccan might have difficulty understanding an
Iraqi, even though they speak the same language.
PEOPLE learn Arabic for a variety of reasons: for work, for travel, for
religious purposes, because of marriage or friendship with an Arab, or simply as
a hobby. The motivation to some extent determines the most appropriate learning
Whatever your motive, we suggest you try to learn a little Arabic at home before
committing yourself to more serious (and possibly expensive) study of it. At the
very least, this will give you an idea of what’s involved and give you extra
confidence during the early stages of any course you may take later.
The first thing to decide is whether you want to learn standard/classical Arabic
or a colloquial dialect.
Unless your interest is confined to one particular country, the safest option is
to learn a version of the classical language known as Modern Standard Arabic.
This is what is used in books, newspapers, radio and television news programs,
political speeches, etc.
Using standard Arabic in everyday conversation sounds a bit formal to Arab ears,
but at least you can be sure of being understood by educated Arabs anywhere in
the Middle East. It may be more difficult to understand what they say to you,
unless they make the effort to speak more formally than usual. Having learnt
some standard Arabic, however, it is relatively easy to adapt to a local dialect
Among the dialects, Egyptian and Levantine (spoken by Lebanese, Syrians,
Jordanians and Palestinians) are the most widely understood outside their
specific area. Colloquial Moroccan, on the other hand, is of little use outside
If you are planning to learn Arabic because of an interest in Islam, standard
Arabic is preferable to a colloquial dialect. But standard Arabic, on its own,
is unlikely to meet all your needs. A specific course in Qur’anic Arabic would
be more suitable, perhaps in conjunction with standard Arabic.