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Learning MSA versus a dialect

I read that Modern Standard Arabic isn't really used conversationally. Part of my own personal goals is to be able to communicate with native speakers.

For those of you who already speak Arabic or are learning I was wondering what your opinions are. Should I start learning a dialect along side MSA? Is there is any downside to learning MSA first and then a dialect?


June 26, 2019



I believe MSA is a good start for new learners as it will provide you with a general overview of how Arabic works and then you can decide which dialect you would like to learn and learn it


You should start with MSA unless you’re only interested in speaking with locals in a specific region. Colloquial Arabic varies pretty dramatically from region to region, but MSA is standard across the Arab world. Plus, importantly, it is easier to go from MSA to colloquial than the other way around. I also wouldn’t suggest starting colloquial until you have a pretty good grasp of MSA, as it can get confusing, and (speaking from experience), once you start colloquial, it makes MSA feel really boring and it demotivates you, which is bad when there are so few resources for colloquial arabic so your options are MSA or nothing.


You made the point that I couldn't explain.


It depends on what you want. I wish to learn to read Arabic to (hopefully, ultimately) be able to follow international news.

You want to speak, so in your case it's probably better to pick a country & stick with that dialect, maybe.

Langfocus' video on Arabic.


Most Arabs do understand MSA but they don't speak it.

Here's an article by a person who says you shouldn't learn MSA before a dialect. It's pretty interesting. Link: https://www.talkinarabic.com/learn-modern-standard-arabic-or-a-dialect/


I don't agree with what is written in that page. And do not expect that you will understand other dialects if you just learned one. The fact that Arabs do not use standard Arabic as a lingua franca between different dialects doesn't mean knowing one dialect is sufficient to understand the others, the whole post is fallacious. If some Arabs understand each other relatively well, it is because they are Arabs. And if you are planning to learn colloquial Arabic i.e dialects, do not expect to find any resources that you could rely on, no grammar, no universal writing system... The only way you start conversing, is to learn formal Arabic, then immersing yourself in Arabs. Then you would learn dialects little by little. As for the guy who wrote the post in the link you provided, he didn't even mention any learning resource of a dialect that he suggests learning. He himself does not bring any effort to learn to understand other people's dialects and that is the case of many Egyptians (I don't mean to be offending but this is a fact and he confessed that about himself), they do not make efforts to understand other Arabic dialects, and expect others to understand them while they only speak theirs. The weird thing, is that he suggests to foreigners, for the sake of being understood, to learn a dialect that he might never understand himself. Learning a dialect that is only familiar to one country while leaving the formal language that is understood all over the Arabic world is not going to help so much.


Thanks! yeah, I came across this article too. It seems most suggest learning a dialect first if you want to be able to hold conversations, but I was curious to what people here have to say.


I'd say the same thing. Learn a dialect first before MSA. I, personally, would like to learn Egyptian Arabic[gonna order my sharwarma there ;p].


Always start with MSA, but! If you want to learn how to speak with a dialect I love the app (Duolingo please don't bump me for mentioning a competitor) Mango Languages. Its designed more to teach you how to speak and has courses in Levantine Arabic.


They write: First of all, MSA is not a conversational language. There's not a single human being on the face of this planet who speaks it as a native language or uses it in day-to-day affairs.

This isn’t right. I know native speakers :)

And i know that so much arabs want to talk in MSA in their life but the people don’t accept..


I feel like MSA can be a trap. Too often, educators use "conversational MSA" as a crutch since it is standardized. However, you quickly learn this is not the Arabic living today and may be baffled why so few of the words you encounter in conversation are actually in the dictionary.

I recommend dialect first for communication. Dialect also comes with its own challenges, such as the lack of standardization (people take a lot of liberty with their spelling), and sometimes it's easy to get hung up on whether something is "strictly [insert] dialect" and so forth.

MSA is still important for literary purposes and you will find there is a lot of overlap in structure, so you don't necessarily lose anything by choosing one or the other first. There are good resources for each, as well as some that teach registers side-by-side.

I personally prefer dialect, but still try to at least be aware of structural and vocabulary differences between that and MSA as I go.


I'd learn a dialect first. MSA is based on Classical/Koranic Arabic, and the grammar is harder. I'd give the same advise for someone to learn a Romance language before tackling Latin, learn German before Icelandic or Old Norse, or learn Modern Greek before New Testament/Koine or Classical/Attic Greek.

With that said, with MSA you'll be able to understand the news in spoken and written form, but speaking it in everyday life would be like speaking Shakespearean/King James English on the street in London or New York.


Shakespear English is not used today, is it? And kids' shows, cartoons etc. are in MSA, as well as some tv programs, like religious ones or so, also documentaries are in MSA. Also if you want to read Arabic books, be sure there is not a single one written in dialect.


I know lots are disagreeing with me but the vast majority of Arabic dialects are derived from the Standard Arabic. If you learn the roots (الجذور) and weights (الأوزان) then you can start to understand other dialects.

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