Languages 101: introducing Arabic

An introduction to Arabic: one of the most popular Chatterbox languages and the lingua franca of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond.

What: Arabic is a Middle Eastern language that first emerged in Iron Age northwestern Arabia. Dialects include Egyptian, Maghrebi, Modern Standard Arabic, Algerian, Levantine and more. Arabic has borrowed words from other languages including Greek and Persian in medieval times, and contemporary European languages such as English and French in modern times. Arabic is also the liturgical language of over a billion Muslims around the world.

Where: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Yemen, and in migrant communities around the world.

Who: Arabic and its different dialects are spoken by around 422 million speakers – making it the fifth most widely spoken language in the world. According to the 2011 census, there are approximately 159,000 Arabic speakers in the UK.

How to say hello in Arabic: Salam!  سلام

What to watch: Al Mummia, or The Night of Counting the Years, directed by Shadi Abdel Salam. An Egyptian film portrayed in classical Arabic, this 1969 film explores national identity in a dreamlike fashion. Or how about The Worthy (2016); thrilling Emirati film set in 2033.

Did you know? Baba ghanoush – that smokey moreish dish made from charred aubergine, tahini, and oil – is roughly translated as ‘pampered daddy’. The word bābā literally means ‘father’.

Want to learn Arabic? If you’re starting from scratch, sign up for Chatterbox’s complete tuition service. Either online or in-person, this will help you to develop your skills in speaking, listening, reading, writing, vocabulary, and grammar in the dialect of your choice. If you have a little more experience, build on your existing skills with our one-to-one conversation practice sessions with a native speaker. These will help you develop your Arabic skills and cultural understanding faster than ever before.