Arabic Language Dialects.
As with any foreign language, different dialects and variations makes learning it a more complicated task. For most languages differences between dialects are not that significant so learners and native speakers are able to understand each other. However it can be said that Arabic is not one of these languages and there can be cases when speakers of different dialects might not be able to communicate with each other. It is also worthwhile to mention that with Arabic Language there are not only many different dialects, but there is also quite a large difference between written and spoken form of this foreign language. The differences can be found not only in vocabulary, but also in tenses, pronunciation, verbs and syntax. The difference between written form of Arabic (MSA) and one of the dialects can be that large that a new student wouldn’t be able to read and understand a written text completely. On the contrary a learner of MSA who is visiting one of Arabic speaking countries might find it difficult to communicate with local people. Due to this many new learners of Arabic need to figure out whether they will learn MSA (written form of Arabic), one of the dialects of this foreign language or maybe even both.
This dialect of Arabic is spoken in Persian Gulf countries like U.A.E, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait. If we would convert that into numbers, there are about five million speakers of this Arabic dialect and even more people who learned it as a second dialect or language. Since MSA evolved from Gulf region, it is quite commonly said that Gulf is the closest dialect to Modern Standard Arabic. Gulf dialect preserved quite a lot of verb conjugations from MSA, however there are significant differences in other areas. Most learners of Arabic chooses to study Gulf dialect in cases when they are planning to visit this region.
As the name of this dialect suggest Egyptian is a dialect of Arabic that is most commonly spoken in Egypt. If we would convert that into numbers it can be said that about twenty percent of Arabic speakers use Egyptian dialect for communication. Due to such a larger number of speakers this particular dialect is quite commonly referred to as second standard Arabic after MSA. It is also important to mention that popularity of this dialect is highly associated with thriving Egyptian video and music industry. Basically any Arabic speaker who listens to songs, watches TV and films should be able to understand this dialect. This is one of the main reasons why most of new Arabic learners chooses Egyptian Arabic instead of other dialects.
Levantine is a dialect of Arabic that is spoken in countries like Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria. Within dialect itself it can also be divided into Southern Levantine (more similar to Egyptian dialect) or Northern Levantine (more similar to Gulf Arabic). The number of Arabic speakers that uses this particular dialect is close to 20 million people, which makes it one of the five major dialects of this foreign language. Levantine Arabic doesn’t have its written form (some dialects have) so instead MSA is being used for written communication. Since Levantine Arabic is mostly spoken and understood in the region, it is not really worthwhile learning it if you are planning to visit other Arabic country.
North African Dialects.
Another quite commonly distinguished Arabic dialect is North African, although it can be also divided into sub-dialects too. The region in which this dialect is spoken includes countries like Libya, Algeria, Tunisia and also Morocco. Speakers of this dialect tend to cluster consonants together and also much of the vowels are being removed too. One of the main reasons why these dialects are more different from other Arabic dialects is because they were strongly influenced by other languages like French, Berber and etc. These particular dialects tend to have more different vocabulary and language structure so Arabs from other regions might find it a real challenge to communicate with a person speaking one of North African dialects.
MSA (Modern Standard Arabic).
Written Arabic is most commonly distinguished into two parts – Classical and Modern Standard Arabic. Classical Arabic is the language in which Qur’an is written and MSA is official language of most Arabic speaking countries. MSA is also included in UN official languages list. The main differences between MSA and Classical Arabic can be found in vocabulary.
As it was mentioned previously the main issue with learning MSA is that it is actually not a conversational language. It is true that this form of Arabic is being used in politics, school and you can hear it on the media, however it is highly unlikely that you will ever hear it being used in daily affairs. Although educated Arabs understand MSA they simply don’t speak it and instead they use local dialects. For this reason it might be only be worthwhile learning Modern Standard Arabic either for religious or academically purposes.
While in this article I distinguished and described the main dialects of Arabic it is important to mention that there is definitely more of them (~30 spoken dialects). Due to this some resources and authors divide Arabic speech into even smaller dialects. This includes dialects like Iraqi, Hassaniya, Yemeni, Najdi, Hejazi, Sudanese and others.
Which Arabic Dialect You Should Learn?
The answer to this question highly depends on a few things. Since not all Arabic speakers are educated enough to know MSA, learning only this dialect might be not enough. Also as it was mentioned previously MSA is not really a conversational language so it is rarely used for communication. If your goal is to be understood throughout the most Arabic countries one of the best choices can be Egyptian dialect. It has one of the largest number of speakers and it is quite commonly heard on TV and other forms of media, so there is a higher chance that you will be understood. Although if you already know to which region specifically you are planning to travel or live it might be best to learn dialect that is spoken there. Of course, it is also important to consider whether your chosen dialect has sufficient learning resources available. Some smaller Arabic dialects might only have a few studying courses available so it would be difficult to learn and progress your skills without living in the region that this dialect is spoken.