Hi Gabe, I will be moving on to Arabic soon in the middle of next year. At this current time I'm learning the Arabic script and getting familiar with it at a slow and steady pace through the trainers. I am curious to know what your approach would be in learning an Arabic dialect that doesn't really have is own way of writing for example Moroccan (Darija) Arabic. (Most accounts of this dialect that I have read, say that it mainly spoken and hardly ever written as most newspapers/books are in MSA). I have currently reviewed the available products on the market and they are decent but few. My goal is to reach a conversational level in the Darija, enough to communicate and understand. The learning materials are in the Latin script with only a few of the content in the Arabic script. How would I be able to make flashcards for this dialect? Kind regards, PJ

* Originally posted by Paul.

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7 comments

  • Hi PJ! In your shoes, I'd learn the Arabic script and sounds to get a feel for how the source language works, and then switch over predominantly to Latin letters, if that's how most people use the language!

    Best regards
    -Gabe

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
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  • Hi Paul, I've been learning Algerian Arabic for a while and I have the same problem. A lot of the resources use transliteration, which seems to be a cop out. However, some of the difference between MSA and Maghreb Arabic is precisely in the short vowels which aren't even written most of the time. So you can find yourself writing a word in Arabic script that looks the same in MSA and Algerian, but isn't pronounced the same.
    And then there's the fact that there are umpteen regional (within Algeria) variations in pronunciation and vocabulary and everybody you ask is convinced that they are right and everybody else is wrong.
    I am getting to the point where I don't believe there is such a thing as "Arabic". Having said that, I'm planning to go back to MSA because Derja is so hard to do with FF.
    I'd be curious to hear more about your experiences.

    * Originally posted by SusanEH.
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  • Hi Susan,

    I wanted to learn the North Arabic dialects based on my ancestral roots. However it is very difficult to find up to standard resources. Most people in Morocco can understand MSA, French, or communicate in Berber or the Darija.

    I have always been fascinated with that part of the globe, though the resources for that dialect are small as Egyptian or Levantine dialects are more dominant.

    As of late, I have slowly starting learning the Arabic script daily in bite size pieces with FF trainer. I am still learning Italian for business purposes. I don't like learning two languages at once but learning another script seems to not disturb my progress with Italian. I just want to get familiar with the script then transition to words. I have decide to learn MSA for the first then move on to the Moroccan dialect.

    Here is a youtuber that Gabe has suggest in the past, Maha. She seems to have the right idea in learning Arabic.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NyldgH6pzmc

    Kind Regards

    * Originally posted by Paul.
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  • Hi Paul,
    I have been trying to learn Arabic for years, but it’s hard. I think you need to be very motivated and to know why you are doing it. I currently live in Algeria and since I speak fluent French I use that day to day. Contrary to what you may hear, not everybody speaks French, but it’s pretty useful. The downside is that I don’t “need” to speak Arabic to survive.
    I had already studied MSA when I arrived here, but I was completely discouraged when I tried to use it. There were 2 problems: firstly, I was living in Kabylie, where most people speak Tamazight; secondly, Algerian Arabic is very different from MSA and I now know that lots of people struggle to speak MSA.
    It’s all very well for Maha to say that MSA is a lingua franca that Arabs from different countries use to communicate, but in my experience Arabic speakers (here in Algeria at least) find it a real effort. It reminds me of some Swiss people I used to know. They preferred to speak English with me rather than High German (as opposed to Swiss German). I also speak fluent German! There’s a difference between understanding MSA on the TV news and actually conversing in it.
    That said, I do think it’s a good idea to start with MSA and I am going to give it another go using the FF method. Part of the problem is the way MSA is taught. There is a shortage of good teachers and good materials and it can end up being a bit like learning Latin, which I have also studied and did not enjoy. Compared with English, the methodology and pedagogy is much less developed. I tested this myself by doing a CELTA course a couple of years ago!
    I laboured through a year of MSA here and it really was like Latin. With hindsight, I can see that the textbook was well thought out and gave a good insight into the structure of Arabic, but it was so dull! Every exercise was liberally sprinkled with “traps” to the extent that you scanned each sentence to see how they were trying to trip you up. The topics of the lessons were obscure and no help at all in daily life.
    Our teacher did nothing to bring the subject to life. As an example, she would literally read the textbook aloud to us. No attempt to rephrase or adapt it to her class. She had no sense of humour and we were not encouraged to speak.
    I then joined a Derja class, which was a bit better, but the teacher was also humourless and we weren’t encouraged to speak. Last summer I did a 2 week intensive class using the same materials but with a different (much better!) teacher (I even went back to the beginning because it was the only way to get into this teacher’s class), and finally felt as if I might be able to crack Arabic. The great thing about studying Derja is that I can try to use it day to day. Most of my colleagues are Algerian so I hear them speak Derja all day and I can attempt to use it with them. I have a go at the market as well.
    I carried on with a group class, but I haven’t made as much progress as I would like. I know I “ought” to get on with making Anki cards for the 625 words, but I have put off doing it. This is where the MSA/Derja thing and the lack of written resources for Derja comes in.
    OK, part of my problem with the Anki cards is that I find them tedious to make, but I finally realised that I also wasn’t clear about the words I was learning. I got the FF word list, but since Derja is much further from MSA than the Levant dialects I needed to decide which version I was going for. Then there’s the Arabic script vs transliteration question. Algerians, like Maha, are convinced that Derja isn’t a proper language and that there aren’t any rules and you can’t write it down. Having studied it, I am convinced that there are grammatical rules, but there isn’t an agreed written form in either Arabic or Latin script.
    This uncertainty is not good for a beginner. You (I!) want to focus on memorising without wondering whether you’re memorising the right word! Also, it’s harder to do self-study alone in Derja because of the lack of resources. Even if you can find a native speaker it’s hard to get them to help because they have lots of hang ups about their language compared with Fus’ha. Oh yes, that’s another thing. MSA seems to be a construct that’s more familiar to non-native speakers. In my experience, Arabic speakers talk about Fus’ha, which includes both literary Arabic and MSA. In my experience, there’s much more focus with Arabic speakers on getting things grammatically correct than actually communicating. I theorise that we English speakers are used to hearing our language being mangled that we are quite good at deciphering what people are trying to say. When I try to speak Arabic people spend so much time telling me in great detail everything that I have got wrong that usually give up.
    In my experience, the most challenging thing about Arabic is the number of variants. It would be like trying to learn English, but with materials that mixed British/American/Australian, regional variations in pronunciation, slang/dialect. Or wanting to learn Spanish, but being told you have to start with Latin.
    Maybe what I’m saying is that if you want to talk to people in a natural way you need to speak a dialect. But dialects are actually harder IMO than MSA. I would liken Derja to Scouse (I come from Liverpool) and MSA to RP. Which would you recommend to someone starting to learn English?
    So, to sum up and if I were starting again, I would probably follow conventional wisdom and try to get a reasonable level in MSA before moving to a North African dialect. That said, the N African dialects are considerably further from MSA than the other dialects so if you are really only interested in Morocco you might want to jump straight into Darija. I would also put more effort into using the FF method.

    OK, rant over. On another subject, are you using FF for Italian and if so, how’s it going?


    * Originally posted by SusanEH.
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  • The Peace Corps has a decent book for Moroccan darija. I've found that I need to write the words in Arabic script because there are no latin sounds for some of the sounds. When I use the MSA script for darija it reminds me for example, which j to use or which h to use.

    * Originally posted by nancy.lauer1.
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  • The Peace Corps has a decent book for Moroccan darija. It's free and can be downloaded on pdf. I've found that I need to write the words in Arabic script because there are no latin sounds for some of the sounds. When I use the MSA script for darija it reminds me for example, which j to use or which h to use.

    * Originally posted by nancy.lauer1.
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  • There's an actual coursebook for Moroccan Arabic now. Was just published last year. It gives you a good grounding and has a lot of audio and self-study exercises. Published by Routledge

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