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Do You Need To Speak Darija for a Moroccan Life?

do you have to learn darija to live in Morocco

If you heard about Darija, otherwise known as Moroccan Arabic, then there’s a chance that you also heard that it’s considered to be the most difficult Arabic dialect to learn.

Some people would even refuse to call it Arabic because of how much it has been influenced by Berber and European languages (mainly French and Spanish).

The two most official languages in Morocco are Arabic and Moroccan Amazigh/Berber.

However, the Moroccan Darija is the main spoken language. Most Berber families speak Darija, but not all Arab families speak Shelha (Amazigh).

Then you have French, which is primarily used in things like commerce, medicine, as well as education and government.

You’ll find Spanish spoken by many Moroccans in the northern regions, in cities like Tetouan and Tangier. This is due to these regions having historic ties with Spain, and also the common business interactions between them.

Affiliate Disclosure: This blog post contains affiliate links.

Nevertheless, if you’re reading my blog, obviously I’m assuming you speak English and not necessarily versed in French or Spanish. You’re wondering if you can use English to get by, and whether learning Darija is necessary to live in Morocco.

I have good news for you:

No, you don’t have to study and be versed in Arabic or darija to get by in Morocco.

You only need to understand and speak a few phrases for every day interactions that you most likely use at a shop or at a marketplace. And it’s possible to learn the essential vocabulary and phrases in a few days.

Even if you didn’t manage to learn and are now in Morocco, English is becoming more common and many younger generations speak English.

English is now a rapidly emerging language in Morocco

Unlike before, it’s more common to find people speaking English nowadays. According to Moroccan World News, English is expected to become Morocco’s primary foreign language in the next five years.

Insha’Allah this is good news if you plan to tutor in Morocco, as the demand for English is increasing.

English was almost scarce when my mother first came to Morocco in the late 1990s. An acquaintance accompanied her on her first few trips to the souq (market place), but then she quickly mastered the basics to go by herself.

Whatever she couldn’t say in Darija, she communicated in hand gestures and broken fus’ha lol

With a few Darija phrases, you can learn quickly how to buy things from the grocery store and haggle a price in a souq.

Sh’haal haatha?” (How much is this?)

’Ashra draaham.” (10 dirhams)

Bzaaf, khoya.” (Too expensive, bro.)

And if you’re still struggling to communicate with a vendor at the souq, just find a youth nearby and they’ll be more likely happy to help you. Many young people speak English in this day and age due to the influence of the internet and social media, and they’re usually eager to put it to use in real situations.

Can you get by just by knowing Arabic fus’ha?

If you know some Arabic fus’ha (traditional and formal Arabic), you might be wondering if that suffices to communicate with the Moroccan locals who don’t speak English.

On top of Darija, the vast majority of Moroccans also speak fus’ha as they’re taught in school. You might find people who don’t, but generally anyone who went to primary school should have a basic understanding of Arabic fus’ha.

Therefore, it’s possible to hold conversations with them in fus’ha, instead of Darija. However, you might still find some barriers in communication, and this is especially true if your native accent is heavy when you speak Arabic.

I know some people who have a very strong Western accent when they speak Arabic. Sometimes, when we’re having a conversation in English and they suddenly say an Arabic word or phrase I’d get confused and have to ask them to repeat what they’re saying a few times before grasping that it was Arabic, and not an exotic English word (bless them).

Why you should still learn Darija

That being said, I still strongly encourage anyone planning to stay in Morocco for good to learn Darija, and be somewhat confident in speaking it. 

I know I mentioned above that you don’t have to, because you can get by with knowing a few phrases and vocabulary, however some situations can be stressful if you don’t know any Darija.

Plus, you’re planning (insha’Allah) to live there for good. It is good etiquette to learn the language of the people you’re planning to live amongst.

There are many benefits in knowing the language. Let me list some of them:

#1 Be more independent

You’ll encounter situations where not knowing Darija can prove to be stressful. For example, going to a hospital or dealing with the police (not all of them speak English). It’s not very convenient if you have to drag your Moroccan friend or fellow senior expat to go with you every time.

As much as I’m sure they’re happy to help, it’s better to have some kind of independence.

#2 Moroccans really appreciate it

In the UK, you’re discriminated against if you don’t speak English. People will tell you to your face, “You should at least learn English if you’re living here.”

Even if you speak English, and you have a strong native accent, you’ll be looked down upon.

Moroccans are different. They’re generally friendly towards foreigners (of course, there are some rude Moroccans, too). And if they hear you speak Darija, they get super happy and excited. They appreciate it, and it’s heartwarming to see.

#3 Help other Muslim expats

Our beloved Prophet (salla ‘llaahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “The most beloved people to Allah are those who are most beneficial to people.”

By knowing Darija, you can use it to help many of our Muslim brothers and sisters who will be making hijrah after you. You can help them settle in Morocco by teaching them basic Darija, interceding for them and helping in other ways wherever and whenever Moroccan Arabic is needed.

Resources to help you learn Moroccan Arabic

If you have Moroccan friends or relatives that can teach you Darija, then that’s gold. But this is not often available for many people. And sometimes, people are just busy.

Alternatively, you can find tutors online who teach Moroccan Arabic in platforms such as Preply. When you go to the platform, go to ‘find tutors’. Select ‘Arabic’ as the language, and then choose ‘Morocco’ as the location of the tutors. You’ll find many Moroccan tutors who can teach you Moroccan Arabic, and also if you want Arabic fus’ha as well.

Alternatively, you can click my affiliate link which will direct you straight to the page where all the Moroccan tutors are listed.

Learn Darija / Moroccan Arabic on Preply With Moroccan Teachers & Tutors Online

There are also many resources online you can use to learn Darija. One website I just stumbled on:

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Yes, it’s possible to get by in Morocco by knowing little to no Darija, especially that now English is becoming more common. However, knowing how to speak Darija can open up a world of possibilities for those living in Morocco, and can help through stressful situations with ease where English is not spoken yet.

With the resources available, it has never been easier for someone with no background in Darija to learn the language. Whether to enrich your everyday life, benefit from local job opportunities, or simply to enhance conversations with friends and family, having a basic grasp of Darija can open up a lot of doors. 

If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to let me know through the comment section below!

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