Arabs Say...

Is Modern Standard Arabic Difficult for Arabs?

This is part seven in the series “Arabs Say…” featuring Arabic speakers from around the Arab world who gives their views on their language and how it is used today. Of course, we should keep in mind that these are personal views and do not represent the views of everyone in their countries. Still, we can learn a lot about the overall linguistic situation and some commonalities and regional differences.

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3 Comments

  1. These are great as usual! It’s always interesting to hear the perspectives of heritage speakers.
    I’m curious what native speakers think is the best route for someone who wants to learn Arabic… should a non-native who studies the language learn MSA first, or a dialect? Should they be exposed to dialect(s) at the same time as MSA, or wait until their foundation in MSA is solid before exploring dialects?

    1. You will get so many answers to this question.
      But the first thing I always ask is what are YOU looking for? If you are just going for a short vacation to a particular Arabic country… Do that dialect. If you want to learn the language well over time and don’t know where you will go and don’t have Arabic speaking friends yet… Do the MSA first and maybe introduce a bit of exposure to dialect as you go along. At the point you have a need for dialect… You start to make friends… You have a goal to go to a particular country… Start to study that dialect. You will need it. But you also need the MSA if you want to read and watch some kinds of media. They are complementary and you will end up learning both if you are in for the long term. If you would be going to an Arabic speaking country to study in an institute, learn both simultaneously as you will be out in the street and meeting people. If you are a heritage speaker trying to talk to your family do that dialect, but when you have time and energy add MSA to become more well rounded. Reading can help acquire vocabulary and the transfer between dialect and MSA is not too bad… Especially for more educated sort of discussions. It is the daily life words that tend to be different. So analyse your needs and see which way you want to go. Again, ultimately you want both.

  2. I learned MSA and Quranic in Budapest during my university years 30 years ago, and I loved Arabic so much that I still remember most of the grammar: I’ve forgotten most of the vocabulary, but I still remember grammar, interestingly. I’ve recently started to revive my Arabic knowledge, and I gave a try to Egyptian Colloquial Arabic (ECA) for the sake of variety, and oh my God, Friends, the grammar is at least as complex as MSA if not more complex: phonetic rules (elisions, lengthening) are insanely complex vs MSA, bi-verbs more verb patterns (measures/stems). For a native Arab speaker, of course, MSA grammar is a lot more complex, but for a non-native, colloquial is at least as complex, and because of lack of ECA standards, the situation is even more difficult. The only area where MSA is more complex is dual in verb conjugations, and feminine plurals, that’s all. In my opinion and my experience is that MSA is not more complex than ECA, on the contrary. It’s a lot easier to learn MSA because of the abundance of excellent resources. Just think of the brilliant Hans Wehr Dictionary as an example, or the 15 Lingualism MSA Readers.

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