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Recipe for Morocco: One cup English, French, Arabic, Spanish, and Berber - Blend on "high" for 500 Years

Arabic Alphabet

Our friend Khalid gives us a brief lesson Click here to listen.

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"Leave me seul ici," says Ali's young son sometimes. Or sometimes he says, I want some l'eau." Ali, who Jasmine met in Bamako, is teaching his sons to speak multiple languages, and sometimes they get French and English mixed up. Personally, I became tremendously confused today in Ozoud, where Jasmine and I are visiting the waterfalls, because people all around us were speaking Arabic, French, Spanish, English, and some of the Berber dialects.
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Learning Arabic
Here in Morocco, the official language is Drama, Moroccan Arabic. For example, a good phrase to know is shukran, which means "thank you." (shukran gazilan = thank you very much). However, it's not uncommon for us to hear "Hey, how are you?" or "Bonjour!" Comment ca va?" or even "Hola! Como estas?" Because of all the different influences here, as well as tourism, one hears and reads many languages.
Vocabulary Box

Pronunciation - How a word or phrase is said

Varying - different

Comprehend - to understand

Assuming - To guess or imagine what something might be like

Mastered - The ability to do something very well

Khalid, a friend of Ali's whose family we're staying with in a small town in Beni Mellal province, ninety minutes from Ozoud, wrote out the Arabic alphabet for me. Khalid and his sister, Bouchra, had fun trying to communicate with me, because they speak Arabic and Berber (the Berbers were the original settlers of Morocco, and were powerful traders along the Trans-Saharan route before the Arab armies arrived in the 7th century). We had a little phrasebook of Egyptian Arabic, but the pronunciation is different here. I even had difficulty telling Bouchra about Egypt, because she pronounces the country's name as "Masr". Most of the Arab world understands Egyptian Arabic because of all the Egyptian soap operas and television programs, so we had varying levels of success until the older brother Abdulrani arrived and spoke to us in French.

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The Berber family we stayed with
Conversational Arabic sounds like cats purring. If you make deep, guttural noises and then say"gorsthkhalalman," you could pretend like you're speaking Arabic. But don't make a mistake, like I did. Ali corrected me when I pronounced his cousin's name, Kamar, "Ka-mar-a" because that means donkey (It's not a very nice word to call a person). I recorded a pronunciation of the alphabet, and it sounds really different from when American children learn their "A-B-Cs". Khalid wrote out the Arabic alphabet for me, and spelled out my name with the letters for mim, alif, nun, kha. In Arabic, one also denotes vowel sounds with little "squigglies" above and below the main letters. Arabic is the official language of 23 different countries., including Morocco, but each country has different pronunciations and accents; however, everyone understands written Arabic. There are two kinds of written Arabic, and they're pretty similar to each other: Classical Arabic and Modern Standard Written Arabic. Classical Arabic comes from the Koran. In fact, if you go back to our stay in Mali, students in the madrassa were reading and writing Classical Arabic.

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Monica and Bouchra
Modern Standard Written Arabic is what you see on street signs, newspapers, magazines, and most books. I really enjoyed learning Arabic, and I think I'd like to spend some time trying to comprehend this fascinating language. The Arab world has always been a mystery to me; I remember seeing Lawrence of Arabia and Aladdin and assuming it was all one large desert place, which it's NOT. The reason why there are so many different languages in Morocco has to do with its history. Arabic comes from when the Arabians came and conquered North Africa and Spain, in the 8th century. The different Berber dialects have been passed down from the original inhabitants, who in the 9th century revolted against the Arabs and even created their own empire with there own capital, Fes. We'll be visiting Fes, which is the most complete medieval city in the Arab world, next week. After succeeding waves of control by the Almoravids, the Almohads, the Merenids, the Saadians, and the Alawites; the French arrived and established a protectorate in 1912, which is why French is also so widely spoken. At the time, the north of Morocco, near Tangiers, was under Spanish control, and even now some Moroccans also speak Spanish.
Some Arabic phrases

es salaem "alekum - "Peace upon you" or "Hello"

wa "alekum es salaem - "And hello to you"

sa"ida - "Greetings"

sabaH el kher - "Good morning"

sabaH el nur - "Good morning to you, too"

misae' el kher - "Good evening"

misae' el nur - "Good evening to you, too"

Regardless of what language you communicate with, it's always neat to learn a few phrases of another language. If you're studying a different language right now and don't think it's worth it, think again. You'll be better prepared to trek the world having mastered an extra language, or two. Take your pick, there are so many: English, Spanish, French, Arabic, German, Italian, Portuguese, Hebrew, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese Chinese, or Russian; the list goes on and on…can you name more? As a group, we were able to name 108 different languages. Best wishes to you, and insha'allah (if God wills it) you'll tune in to our next dipatches.


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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