Hello, I’m joining Caitlyn and Chris representing Team Fatima Zahra, the little-known (but very cool) Moroccan cousin of Maha and Nisreen…okay, so obviously al-Kitaab never gave us a Moroccan version of our favourite crowd-phobic Egyptian. And that’s probably because students of Arabic are usually warned off Moroccan, even/especially by other Arabs.

The most common responses I got when telling people I was studying Arabic in Morocco were “You’re learning French,” “come back to Jordan when you want to learn real Arabic”, and “you’re learning African” (…okay).

And yes, Moroccan Arabic (darija) has some pretty crazy mangled French and Spanish words in its vocabulary. For example, the word for sneakers is sberdila, coming from the French éspadrille. The word for a baguette is komeera, coming from the Spanish comer (to eat). The grammar is also a bit different, and some words come from the Amazigh (Berber) languages of Morocco. It’s also true that most Arabs outside the maghreb don’t understand darija.

But don’t write it off. Morocco is the second-largest country in the Arab league, and you will be able to chat to Algerians and Tunisians too. You will feel like a cool spy when you leave your friends from Jordan bewildered. And its top exports are hash and Saad Lmajarred songs, two things I’m sure you will all agree make learning Arabic much more enjoyable. It’s also a relatively stable and fun country to visit to learn Arabic.

So, here are some first basic points about Moroccan Arabic.


In my first darija class they wrote in vowelled Arabic and it was just sukoons on sukoons. This is why darija can sound a bit weird at the beginning. There are some long letters but often there will just be a very short helping vowel. So “I went”, مْشيت, is pronounced mshit (I don’t bother to write the long vowels as ii or aa because there aren’t really short and long in darija, more like semi- and full vowels.)

The same goes for the article, which is usually just l- rather than al-, and prepositions. My favourite thing about living in Fes was that I got to say “ana sakina ffes” which was fun to say and looks ridiculous written down.


In Levantine present tense verbs are prefixed with ba-, bt- by-, but in Moroccan it’s ka:

Kankteb (note also the n- before first person present)                  كَنْكتَب

Katkteb, katketbi (male/female)                                              كَتكْتَب, كَتْكَتبي

Kaykteb                                                                                                   كَيكْتَب                              

Kanketebu (also here the first person plural ending)                      كنكَتبو      

Katketbu                                                                                                  كَتكَتبو 

Kayktebu                                                                                                 كيَكتَبو          


Past tense verbs aren’t that different to other dialects but one key thing to note here is the ending for “you” is –ti whether you’re speaking to a man or a woman: شفتي, shefti (you saw).

Ktebt                                                                                                    كتبت

Ktebti                                                                                                   كتبتي

Kteb                                                                                                       كتب

Ketebat                                                                                                 كتبت

Ktebna                                                                                                   كتبنا

Ktebtu                                                                                                    كتبتو

Ketebu                                                                                                     كتبو

There is/are

Not fii as in other dialects but كاين, كاينة, كاينين  kayn, kayna, kaynin – like the ism fa3el of كان.


In Morocco, forget whatever you know about non-human plurals or plurals up to 11 or whatever (clearly I have already!). If something is plural, it is plural, the verb is plural, everything is plural. Sometimes adjectives might be feminine singular, as in other dialects. So if you wanted to say “the chairs were in the garden”, you would say الكراسة كانو فالجاردة l-kerasa kanu fel-jarda (another helpful French word there).

Top four useful words

I don’t want to overwhelm anybody too much with this crash course in Moroccan, so finally here are some words which really distinguish Moroccan from other dialects:

Bzaf – means ktir, stretch out the a if you really want to emphasise what you’re saying. E.g. how much do I love Moroccan Arabic? Bzaaaaaaaaaf.

Safi – use instead of khallas. The title of a brilliantly terrible Moroccan pop song, and used all the time.

Za3ma – used sometimes instead of ya3ni

Mzyane – means good, just like kwais in Egyptian Arabic

If your brain is exploding but you’re keen to learn more Moroccan Arabic, there are actually quite a few useful resources online including the Armchair Arabist blog. I’ll be putting up shorter posts about specific words and phrases and almost certainly some translations of Saad Lmajarred. And everything will be mzyane bzaaaaaf!

When I first moved to Egypt I used to be able to tell whether I was having a good Arabic day or not judging by the nationality people guessed I was: Syrian/Lebanese meant I had thrown a Shami word or two into the conversation, but was generally doing okay; Moroccan meant that my speech was mostly unintelligible but still coding as Arabic; and American meant that I should probably take a nap before trying to use real words again. The spectrum of compliments I’ve received on my Arabic ability over the years has also been quite broad, ranging from delight to suspicion to spontaneous marriage proposals.

But my favorite type of confidence-boost is the conversation I had with a tired Mogamma employee while renewing my visa yesterday:

الاصل ايه؟

(What’s your original nationality?)



بس الاصل

(No, your original nationality)

امريكية امريكية يعني

(I’m American American)

طب انتي بتتكلمي عربي حلو كدا ليه

(Okay, but why do you speak such good Arabic?)

This is one of the great self-confidence related benefits of mastering Arabic as a foreigner, although it is certainly a double-edged sword: after a certain point, people assume that you must be half-Arab, because the number of foreigners–and I use this word mainly in reference to white foreigners–who can actually speak fluent, colloquial Arabic is so, so little. And this, to me, is quite sad.

The Mogamma, an ancient Egyptian temple built to please the bureaucracy gods.

The Mogamma, an ancient Egyptian temple built to please the bureaucracy gods.

Of course, there are reasons why this happens: the majority of Egyptians do speak some English, and if most of your Egyptian buddies received their schooling under the American or British systems, you can reasonably get by living in Egypt with only around 50 words in Arabic (“One Stella please” “Turn left” “Your mother’s privates” and so on). Learning any variety of Arabic is also a very objectively strenuous task, and even if you become skilled in speaking MSA to some extent, you essentially have to start from scratch in order to become capable of speaking like a normal human being in colloquial Arabic. If you pick up and move to another Arabic-speaking country after mastering one dialect, the process repeats. The whole thing is quite daunting.

But still–it is unsettling that people who speak English much better than I speak Arabic receive so little praise for their hard work. Here, I am also thinking about people who learned English out of necessity–people who had no racial or passport privilege to fall back on when words failed them in their new country of residence, and who were denied even occasional affirmations of their efforts and improving abilities. I chose to learn a language that Arabs themselves are often told is second to English (Exhibit A: AUC students who don’t have Arabic keyboard functions installed on their laptops). For that, my efforts are rewarded far more than those of the rest of the world who struggled to master my native language because speaking English is widely considered a pre-requisite for being a valuable human being.

Although receiving periodic praise, surprise, and sometimes absolute bewilderment at my whiteness juxtaposed with my colloquial Arabic ability is very much a satisfying experience, I am constantly aware that race, power, and privilege are all hopelessly entangled in the process of learning a foreign language and living in someone else’s country. No matter how fluent I become–no matter how many swears I know or how many times I nearly convince someone I’m from Mansoura–I’ll always be a white person navigating Arabic. And that journey will always be a political one.