From northwest Africa to southwest Asia, Arabic is natively spoken by more than 290 million people and is one of the most useful languages any traveler can learn. With its guttural lyrics and musical qualities, Arabic is a language that requires practice. What better way to study Arabic than with the echos of adhans from domed mosques, the lull of waves from the Red Sea, and the sandy winds of the desert? With intensive Arabic language schools in locations as diverse as Morocco, Israel, and Egypt, there is no shortage of amazing countries you can live in while learning this flowery font.
While most Arabic language schools are located in countries where Arabic is the native language (such as Saudi Arabia), there are also several programs outside the Arab world. Be sure to decide whether or not you’d like to be immersed in Arabic culture as well as language before you choose your Arabic language program abroad.
The most popular country for Arabic language courses is Morocco. Located in north Africa, Morocco is an exotic place to live and study Arabic, with its sweeping coastlines and rugged mountains steeped in history that spans 2500 years. Most Arabic language programs in Morocco include cultural excursions around the city you’re living in, as well as weekend trips to Casablanca and Marrakesh. Since there are many different types of Arabic language programs in Morocco, you can customize your learning experience. Some Arabic language courses last only three to eight weeks and are loosely structured with class in the morning and activities in the afternoon, while others are more intense, with up to 30 hours of class per week.
For those who are more interested in a traditional classroom environment and living in a modern city, the United Arab Emirates is a great place to study Arabic abroad. Most Arabic language schools in the UAE are located in either Abu Dhabi or Dubai, and place students with host families. Some hyper-intense Arabic language courses will have you actually living with your Arabic instructor and their family for the duration of the program, providing an inside look into everyday life and culture. With a zero percent crime rate in Dubai and free petrol when you buy a Snickers bar, what’s not to love in this land of AC-ed glamour?
Mostly located in Alexandria and Cairo, intensive Arabic language programs in Egypt are numerous and varied. Whether you’re looking to live with your instructor and get an intense experience or learn in a more structured classroom at an Arabic language school, you’ll be able to find what you are looking for in Egypt. Most, most importantly, there’s the classroom excursions to Egypt’s many historical sites (the Pyramid of Giza and the Great Sphinx, to name a few). Warning: be sure to research before signing up, as Egyptian Arabic is a bit more colloquial than Modern Standard Arabic.
Arabic Language Programs
Throughout the Arabic-speaking world, there are many different kinds of Arabic language programs to fit whatever preference a student may have. The biggest question will be if you would like to learn in a classroom with a traditional curriculum or if you would prefer to live with locals and have a more immersive learning experience.
Traditional classroom experiences will typically mean studying at a university or Arabic language school in the morning and spending your time out and in the afternoon. Arabic language courses offered by these institutions teach students relevant vocabulary and grammar in the morning and offer opportunities to practice their Arabic skills in the real world in the afternoon. Academically structured Arabic language courses usually include organized excursions outside the city where you’re living, and in general will feel more like a stereotypical study abroad experience.
The other main type of Arabic language programs available abroad are intensive Arabic language courses, which offer living accommodations with Arabic teachers. These are not for the faint-of-heart; apply to these only if you’re all super intense, one-on-one learning environments and weekly doses of 30 structures classroom hours. Intensive Arabic language programs are a lot of work, but are also a great way to get immersed in the local culture and learn the nuances that you might not understand if you were living in a “study abroad bubble” of foreign friends.
Tips for Gaining Arabic Fluency
Learning Arabic abroad is an adventure into the heart and soul of thousands of years of history. And just like an adventure, learning a Arabic requires persistence, a willingness to go outside your comfort zone, and a Go Get ‘Em attitude.
The length of time necessary for learning a foreign language largely depends on the learner; this is particularly true for Arabic, a language that has a unique alphabet, artsy script, and very particular pronunciations. A beginner with little to no experience learning other languages could take three to six months to reach intermediate understanding and basic fluency in Arabic. If you want to become truly fluent in Arabic, we recommend you choose an intensive Arabic language course that has you learning the language for at least six months. You can even spice up the locations, if you start to get bored.
Though learning Arabic is difficult, here are a couple of language learning tips that may help you along the way:
Start to buy the newspaper. There are hundreds of newspapers, in print and online, entirely in Arabic. From local events to global news, going through those will not only keep you in the political loop, but also take you on a visual and grammatic odyssey.
Live with a host family. Especially one that doesn’t speak English or your native tongue. Being fully immersed and forced to learn Arabic will be like injecting adrenaline into your learning abilities and you will find yourself absorbing the language a lot faster. Sharing meals around the dinner table is probably when most of the learning will take place, so don’t turn down the offer for meals (who would do that anyway?)
Use sticky notes. This is especially useful for a visual language, such as Arabic. Learn to assign sounds to strokes and words to items.
Benefits & Challenges
Rated as one of the top five most difficult languages to learn, Arabic can present a couple of challenges to students. The biggest problems arise from the different grammar structure, the unfamiliar sounds, the extra letters in the alphabet, and the fact that there are 12 forms of personal pronouns. But no pain, no gain! After English and French, Arabic is the third most common language to attain official language status around the world, so it is worth fighting through. Learning Arabic abroad also provides students with an inside look into the culture and history of 26 different countries (not to mention one very important religious book), that might not be understood completely otherwise.
Arabic language programs can be an ordeal that you have to fully commit yourself to, but by taking intensive Arabic language courses abroad, you will have the opportunity to gain fluency in a much faster time than most Arabic majors do. In addition, you'll be able to live in cool countries, like Oman or Qatar, and fully immerse yourself in unfamiliar place, which is the definition of a truly once-in-a-lifetime trip.
So do your research, find an Arabic language school in a place for an appropriate amount of time, and immerse yourself in the sands of one of the oldest tongues still spoken by millions of people across three different continents.