Learn Arabic

Arabic language around the world

Arabic is the 4th most spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese, English and Spanish. Official sources estimate the number of people speaking Arabic at around 380 million people. Arabic is also one of the six working languages in the United Nations together with Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish.

In addition, it is the language of Islam, the language in which the Holy Quran was originally recited from its revelation in the seventh century AD. Therefore, it is used by more than 1.6 billion Muslims world wide.

Starting from Mauritania on the west side to Oman on the east side, the Arab world consists of twenty two countries bound by the Arabic language. The map below shows the Arab countries highlighted in yellow. The UAE are on the east side between Oman in the south and KSA in the north.

What Arabic language to learn ?

Arabic Diglossia

There are three different types of Arabic languages: Classical Arabic, the Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) and Colloquial “Spoken” Arabic.

  1. Classical Arabic is the language written in century old books as well as in the Qur’an.
  2. MSA is the language of writing, education and administration.
  3. Even though the Arabic language is the unifying factor of the Arab world, we cannot ignore that each country of the Arab world has its own spoken Arabic dialect. And native Arabic speaker’s mother tongue is not MSA but one of these dialects.

MSA is the language taught in schools; therefore people with low level of literacy would not know it in depth as opposed to the spoken language. This phenomenon of gap or bilingualism between a colloquial language and the written language is called “Diglossia”.

5 Colloquial Arabic groups

One of the challenges faced by Arabic schools is that there are multiple colloquial Arabic dialects with none that is predominant. We can categorize these dialects into five major groups as listed here below:

  • Egyptian Arabic, spoken by around 80 million people in Egypt.
  • Maghrebi Arabic, spoken by around 75 million people in the Maghreb region that is Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Western Sahara and Niger.
  • Levantine Arabic, spoken by around 35 million people in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Cyprus and Turkey.
  • Mesopotamian Arabic, spoken by around 29 million people in Iraq, eastern Syria and South-western Iran.
  • Gulf Arabic, spoken by around 3.6 million people predominantly in GCC states of UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.

The Truth about Arabic Language

Arabic is a language that is considered difficult due to the very rich vocabulary, the different alphabet and pronunciation. However, comparatively to English, it is easier in many ways.

Here below a list of facts:

1. Arabic is a Semitic language in the same family as Hebrew and Aramaic.

  • Many words have a trilateral (three letters) root.

e.g. letters k/t/b have a meaning related to writing such as kaatib that means author or writer.

Having said that, this means that in fact the Arabic vocabulary is more succinct than English. English has many synonyms taken from Latin and Greek while Arabic has almost none.

2. Arabic has a highly-developed system of root and pattern.

A pattern is imposed which gives a particular sense to the consonants of the roots, as we saw previously. Hence, in kaatib, the vowels always imply “the person doing the action” of the root (k/t/b = writing).

3. In Arabic, there is almost complete predictability

4. Arabic is consistent. If you know the correct sound of a word you can spell it correctly. Unlike in English where we can have two words with same pronunciation but different spelling and meaning. E.g. seen / scene or bean / been.

5. Arabic has only 2 tenses: past and non-past

6. Arabic has only 3 vowels – a, i and u each in a short and long form.

7. Arabic writing is from left to right and does not have upper case or lower case distinction.

8. Sentence structure in Arabic is marked by simplicity. We can form sentences without verb is / are such as: “The man is strong” would be in Arabic “The man strong”.

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