|"...قل هو الله أحد, الله الصمد, لم يلد": In Marrkech's Medersa Ben Yousef, a partial verse from surat al-ikhlas (112).|
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First, a note on Moroccan Arabic: no, it's not easy. Arabic students who know only Modern Standard Arabic (العربية الفصحى) will at first find very little that is recognizable in the Moroccan dialect, known locally as darija (الدارجة المغربية). Darija incorporates many words and grammatical constructions from French, Spanish, and multiple Berber dialects. However, having heard for years before I came here
that Moroccan Arabic was incomprehensible gibberish and entirely impossible to learn, I was pleasantly surprised when I arrived. Yes, darija does sound different at first, and some days in my classes I did feel like I was starting Arabic all over again. But in the end I believe the "vast gulf" between Moroccan and Modern Standard Arabic is a bit exaggerated. Ultimately the dialect was easier to unravel than I had expected. (Knowing French and having previous experience with other Arabic dialects certainly helps.)
Learning darija has been fun, and also extremely rewarding. If mastering a few words of the colloquial dialect gained me some admiration from the locals back in Syria and Jordan, it has done so a lot more here. Moroccans know their language is tough—speak it well, with some local idioms thrown in, and you will earn some serious respect.
Finding a good curriculum in darija isn't easy, as most language centers focus their efforts on teaching Modern Standard. Textbooks are spotty and sometimes seem not to match with the language spoken on the streets. (In part, these "inaccuracies" are inevitable—the dialect varies widely from region to region.) Before you contact schools, have an idea whether you want to study the Moroccan dialect, Modern Standard Arabic, or both.
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In most of Morocco's major cities, at least one or two international language centers exist, gearing their services toward foreigners:
- In Fes, I studied at the American Language Institute in Fes (ALIF), perhaps the country's most well known Arabic program, attracting a lot of American, British, Japanese, Australian, French, and other foreign students. The darija curriculum I followed at ALIF was strong—as were most of the teachers—but after three months I had essentially maxed out on ALIF's colloquial course, and could no longer find any written materials to use.
- For me, ALIF's biggest drawback was its high cost. The startup Subul Assalam Centre for the Arabic Language - also in Fes - is far cheaper, though a bit further from town. Like ALIF, Subul Assalam can provide private tutoring, housing help, and other services to students.
- DMG Arabophon also has a center in Fes, as well as in Casablanca, Kenitra, Meknes, Rabat, and Tangier.
- Here in Rabat, the Center for Cross Cultural Learning, located in the medina, and Qalam Wa Lawh, in the suburb of Souissi, are popular options.
- Meknes has the Arab American Language Institute in Morocco, Marrakech has Modern Polytechnic, and Tetouan has Dar Loughat. (I don't know much about these programs.)
- Al Akhawayn University—Morocco's only American-style university—offers a summer program as well as full enrollment and short-term study abroad options at its campus in Ifrane. Unlike the other sites, the university is not located in a city—Ifrane is a small, isolated university town in the Middle Atlas.
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Finally, some additional information for American readers. (Apologies to everyone else, but as an American, I'm just more "plugged in" to the opportunities available to US citizens here in Morocco.)
- Peace Corps volunteer service and Fulbright academic grants both offer Arabic classes to their participants to facilitate their work.
- The American Institute for Maghrib Studies offers grants for all sorts of independent academic ventures.
- For American undergrad or graduate students interested in learning Arabic, one of the best opportunities out there is the State Department's Critical Language Scholarship program - with no strings attached!
- AMIDEAST and the Moroccan American Commission for Educational and Cultural Exchange (MACECE) are also useful resources for Americans looking to study Arabic or any other subject in Morocco.