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Thoughts on Arabic

I, like many others here, love the Duolingo platform and ease of use. I would love to see it feature Arabic. Arabic is a mystery to me. It's has an estimate 570 million speakers (counting non-native speakers and all dialects). But yet try and find any decent resources to learn it and you come up with almost nothing. What few resources there are cater almost exclusively to those interesting in Islam, which many of us have little interest in. (No offense to those that do of course.)

Then there is the issue of dialects. You've got MSA (my preference because it's standardized, the language of the UN, and IMHO is the future of Arabic on a global scale), then you've got Levantine, Gulf, Egyptian and etc. Arabic — the dialects of the people you are actually trying to communicate with. I've heard arguments for all the above, but that is for another post. I've heard it said that when Duolingo does Arabic (I guess they've hinted at it), they will do MSA. Which may make for weird conversations with a Moroccan, but hey, I'm from the South and some of us can be hard to understand too. ;) Though I've heard MSA compared to speaking like Shakespeare with a modern English speaker.

As far as apps, everyone I try is just not Duolingo. As for podcasts, the only decent learning podcast with any amount of episodes is ArabicPod101, which quickly cranks out language courses in every conceivable language, but I have never found them particularly useful or helpful. (I love the Coffee Break series, but they don't have any substantial course in Arabic.) I also like to listen to native audio podcasts as I learn a language to train my ear, and even that I come up short with Arabic (Hindi too). The best native audio I have found to date is from the MSTDFR network. They cater to geeks like me and have other podcasts catering to other interests. But going back to the dialect issue, MSTDFR is Gulf Arabic.

So what am I going to do? I'm going to use what quality resources I can find and learn whatever dialect or mix of dialects I can and wait patiently for Duolingo to roll out a MSA course.

September 23, 2017



There are decent lists of Arabic resources here and on the 'Learn Arabic' reddit.

"Which may make for weird conversations with a Moroccan, but hey, I'm from the South and some of us can be hard to understand too. ;)"

It'll make for weird conversations with everyone, unless you're working in international politics or the news.

MSA isn't really a language of everyday communication in the Arab world, nor is it the lingua franca which many new learners see it as. Walking into a shop in Cairo, Marrakech or Beirut and speaking in MSA would be like stepping into a New York deli and proclaiming "Forsooth, fine emptor, one wishes to partake in yon vittles!"

It's best to learn MSA alongside a dialect, as you'll need it for quite a few things, but your day-to-day life in any Arab country will be conducted in the local vernacular.

As for actually learning MSA, the best course out there is the one produced by Assimil. Assimil makes the best courses for a great deal of languages, if I'm honest, but you need to be a Francophone to take advantage of most of them.


"Forsooth, fine emptor, one wishes to partake in yon vittles!" I love that.


If MSA is that close to the spoken varieties, I'm actually much more enthusiastic about it. I thought it'd be like stepping into a Paris boulangerie and proclaiming, "Salve! Panem clarum Lutetiae quaero!"


I will check those links out. Thanks for that and the insight.


I wouldn't say it would sound that strange, it will be weird, but clearly understood.


Hi Ryandono!

An Arabic contributor here!


I honestly don't know a decent online place that teaches Arabic. Also I find books and more formal resources to be very daunting, even to a native speaker like me! They're always trying to perfect the language and end up making it too complex for a new speaker.

MSA and dialects go hand in hand but for Duolingo we think MSA will be the way to go. And although I wouldn't personally be involved in a course teaching a dialect, it would be interesting to see how the contributors will create the body that governs how a dialect is written and composed, cause even when we say "Egyptian dialect" we really mean at least 4 or 5 different tongues.

About a possible Arabic course, here's what we know

1- Few months ago Luis (CEO of Duolingo) had an open AMA on reddit where he was once more asked about an Arabic course to which he answered "At some point, yes"

2- Duo staff expressed to the moderators and contributors of the Arabic courses that they're pretty interested in having an Arabic course, and that the main barrier is the limited resources they can allocate to invest in the technical foundation needed to support Arabic as a language. We think the progress made in other non Latin languages like Japanese and Korean is paving the way for Arabic

3- To encourage the staff to start the course, you can up-vote this topic, it's already the 3rd most popular topic in the history of Duo, and Arabic is the 2nd most up-voted language.

4- There's enough active contributors on Duolingo now to start the course the moment Duo gives it the green light ;)

Hope we're both around when that happens!



Done! Thanks for the input. And I agree about the others paving the way, now with Hindi rolling out soon and Chinese finally in the incubator, maybe we will see Arabic there soon too.


Yeah, we're starting to run out of big languages but that's not how they pick up who's next. We're patient nonetheless :)


Thanks so much for this! I certainly share the hope there will be an Arabic course soon! If I understand correctly that you would help with a course teaching MSA but not one teaching your dialect, would you mind sharing why that is?


Because I don't know how to create one :)

To better understand this, you can visit the ethnologue page for the languages of modern Egypt and see how a singular Egyptian Arabic doesn't really exist :)

When courses and books promise to teach "Egyptian Arabic" they really mean the kind of Arabic that would sound natural in Cairo (the capital of Egypt), and although it will be understood in the rest of Egypt, it's not what is spoken in many other cities.

I think you should only learn the dialect of the place you want to visit. If you're visiting Morocco and you already know MSA, learning french next would be more useful than learning the Egyptian dialect in that case.

MSA is the only guarantee that you'll be understood to some level across the Arabic world.


I also think that learning MSA is important, as it will help you gain a good base to learn a dialect, since they all share the same origin.I wouldn't compare it to Shakespearean English though,because as someone who lives in an arabic country I hear it often,fun fact,a lot of animation shows are dubbed in MSA,Adventure time,spongebob,even Anime. Yes, there are differences between dialects, but I think most Arab speakers can understand each other in most cases, for example, I speak Gulf Arabic(Bahrain to be exact)and I can understand most dialects, I have some difficulty with those from North Africa, but still, I can understand them to some point. I heard other speakers of Arabic have some difficulty understanding Gulf Arabic. Either way what dialect you speak doesn't matter, to understand most dialects try to be exposed to them, you should then be able to pick them up, you don't have to learn all of them.

For resources, I think there's Memrise official course teaches MSA, also there's a course by Aljazeera channel. You can find lots of resources and apps for MSA(aimed for kids), but unfortunately they don't have any instructions in English. You can also try looking for a certified teacher on websites like verbling,italki. There are universities in Arab countries that offer courses(for periods from weeks to months)to teach Arabic, that way you can also have immersion in the local dialect.

As for speaking MSA with locals, most educated people learn MSA from kindergarten to the end of high school, So MSA should be understood if you attempt to speak it with someone. I think the reason why they might find it weird is that they consider it formal, so they don't use it in casual conversations. Some older folks might have rusty MSA, or they don't remember it at all.

PS:all local and international news are in MSA, sometimes few articles use the dialect to express opinions on local events or problems.for listening,podcasts aren't popular in Arabic, you can find a wide variety of series, the most common dialect in series are the Syrian(dubbing for Turkish series), the Kuwaiti, and the Egyptian.But other dialects are available too if you google the right thing.the lack of resources in my opinion is that Arabic isn't a popular choice to learn among people.A large amount of learners are non-Arabic speaking Muslims,for religious purposes,so that explains why they're catered for in the resources.

If you have any more questions,feel free to ask!


Thank you for your response. It is helpful and informative. I will look into Memrise and the Al Jazeera suggestions. That's a good perspective on MSA. I am really enjoying trying to train my ear from a Gulf Arabic (Saudi) podcast. It has almost a Germanic sound to my ears. I look forward to learning more. I suppose for now it's a mix of MSA and Gulf.


Are you a native speaker of Gulf Arabic/MSA or have you just learned it well?


I don't know what exactly to call myself,I was born here,so I studied with locals(and also I had a lot of native teachers from preschool) and picked up the local dialect.I had classes in MSA as everyone does,but I still do make mistakes from time to time.


Ahhh, right, that makes sense. Cool :D


If you want to learn Arabic, try the website www.madinaharabic.com, copy and paste it to the address bar and press enter, then you can explore it. It worked pretty well for me, but you don't have to do it, it's just my suggestion. Also, listen to the other users and see which website works best for you.


Thanks. I'll check it out.


Be sure to check out this link: https://www.duolingo.com/comment/15014194

I'd love to learn a little Arabic too because I am very interested in Africa, especially the languages spoken there. Knowing Swahili would make it easier for me because it has a lot of words adopted from Arabic. Other sites don't work for me either (no matter the language), so maybe you'd like to try out the Swahili course to make some words easier for you once Arabic is on Duolingo (which is hopefully soon)?


I wish I could speak Arabic too!!!


Which variety do they use when talking (orally) in international media?


I think that's MSA. I think MSA is used for all things internationally and official. I assume local news would still be conducted in the local dialect.


No, local news are still delivered in MSA.


This really confuses me. When I read about MSA, it seems like it's some archaic form used in writing and spoken by nobody.... but there's a large number of pan-Arabic TV channels and somehow all non-Maghrebine Arabs seem to be able to communicate with each other in Arabic. Do all Arabs understand spoken MSA? Who can speak it?


That I can't answer. Check out Karl's answer. It's very informative.


I know this is confusing, but mainly because when people discuss it they mirror other linguistic phenomena to try to understand it.

Imagine that there're two kinds of English (I'm assuming you're an English speaker). One kind is the one your mom and dad used (and have been using) when you were just learning how to say papa and mama. And the other one is the one you see written on street signs, in comic books, Mickey mouse subtitles, price tags, the ingredients on a chocolate bar, concert tickets, newspapers, the Bible and the Quran, and pretty much any form of printed English. It's also the one you listen to when you're watching a dubbed series, a presidential speech, the Friday khotbah (ceremony) in the mosque and even some pop songs. To you both are kinda the same, kinda slightly different, but as it turns out, they're not, Non English speakers think they are totally different. And scientifically they are.

So it's not like Latin, which you no longer read or hear. MSA is everywhere, when you click "like" in the Arabic-localized version of Facebook, you're clicking on the MSA translation of "like" and not a dialect.

So your question, do all Arabs understand MSA? Not necessarily, it's safe to say that anyone you would meet in an Arabic city would understand MSA. But if you're camping in an Arabian desert to watch the night sky and tried to communicate with the local Bedouins, there's a chance they won't understand you. The Arabic world has many things in common, but I think their linguistic diversity is a mere reflection of how culturally diverse they are. And as we cherish MSA for bringing us closer, we kidna stick to our local culture we learned from our mothers and fathers.

Not sure if this helps or if it confuses you even more. But I think one of the beautiful things people might come across as they learn Arabic is the process of de-contextualizing the Arabic culture as they once knew it, and start learning more about it inside out. To think in a different way just because you're thinking in a different language.

Ryandono -understandingly- said about Islam "which many of us have little interest in" and that might be true, but it's highly probable that those many never really got exposed to it as "is", but as "translated". Languages are liberators when we think of them that way, aren't they? :)


Thank you Amgad. It's a typical case of diglossia. I would really like to communicate with Arabs in their language but somehow it seems like talking in MSA would be less natural than talking with them in French or English. Maybe I should learn Egyptian Arabic instead of MSA?


That's great! Would you learn Arabic if you had a chance


I'm definitely going to try.


I think what u said is reasonable but but like Mr-Eyl said it can be strange some times.

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