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Moroccan Arabic Basics

Updated on November 27, 2011

Visiting Morocco: The Language

Whenever I travel to a foreign country, I like to learn some of the local language basics, even though it may very well happen that the majority of the people one comes into contact with as a visitor, do speak English. This is absolutely the case in European countries like Holland or Germany –where everyone is at least bilingual- but it is definitely not the case in developing countries where education is quite limited. In this other part of the world, people that live directly or indirectly from the tourist industry may speak some of the universal language (the most important words and phrases of their trade) but usually, it is not enough to carry out a proper or complex conversation. Moroccans who work in the hospitality business or are traders of some kind or another do speak a bit of English, a bit of French, even some Spanish, and try their best to communicate with tourists with a mixture of them all, even blending in some improvised sign language.

All though learning even a few words in Arabic is a very big challenge, I actually like to cooperate in enhancing communication as best I can and even though this language seems to be impossibly difficult, I try my best to do my part and learn the basics of basics. I do this for several reasons, one of them is that the more I engage in their culture –language being a part of it- the more I connect with the whole experience of being in a foreign country and getting to know the people, it makes for a much more rich interaction with the locals and it opens up doors. Whenever you say a word or two in Moroccan Arabic (however mispronounced it might be) you get a smile back. Another reason is that I have a lot of fun trying to speak such different languages, I do sound ridiculously stupid sometimes but I enjoy making myself and my interlocutor laugh.

East meets West in Marrakesh.
East meets West in Marrakesh. | Source

Moroccan Arabic can be tongue tying but I reckon you don't really need to learn that many words for a short visit. I have created a list of the basic words we used the most throughout the one month trip I made with my sister and her then boyfriend, Cesar, to Morocco -of which I have written about in several of my hubs. It includes some greetings and civilities, numbers and a few important questions.

This particular language has very unfamiliar sounds, letter combinations (kh....., tn....., rb...... !!!!%&#$/%&"??????) and intonations; that is precisely what makes it difficult. If you are not one of those brilliant minds that excel at languages, it will take you some time to retain the words and remember them. Please print this basic table of Moroccan Arabic if you feel that carrying it around will make your life easier while travelling through Morocco -that is why I made it for.

For pronunciation, a good tip is to pronounce every word slowly without missing any letter:

  • double consonants in a word are both pronounced;
  • be sure to pronounce both consonants in unfamiliar letter combinations:
    kh (pronounce a strong k followed by a h... as in ham)
    tn (pronounce a strong t followed by the n)

Good luck and have fun!!!!!

Top Basics

Moroccan Arabic 
 ssalamū ‘lekum
“ū” = “oo” as in “good”  
m’a ssalama 
Thank you 
“h” is pronounced as in hi 
“Ī” = “e” as in eager but softer 
Excuse me
 smeh līya
 “Ī” = “e” as in eager but softer
If God wills
“ā” = “a” as in father 

If only you would learn these 8 words, that would be already a big help. Moroccans use them all the time and you will need them plenty. By hearing how they pronounce them you'll learn the top basics much faster than the rest.

Helpful Pronouns

Moroccan Arabic 
 You (feminine)
 You (masculine)
“h” is pronounced as in hi
“ū” = “oo” as in “good”

Important Questions & Transport Nouns

 Moroccan Arabic
What is that? 
Ash dak shī? 
“Ī” = “e” as in eager but softer 
How much? 
“h” is pronounced as in hi 
How far? 
 bshhal b’eid?
“w” as in wet,”q” as a strong k, pronounced as a glottal stop
“Ī” = “e” as in eager but softer

Moroccan Arabic Numbers

0 sifr 
 14 rba’țāsh
30 tlatīn 
1 wahed
15 khamsțāsh 
40 reb’īn 
2 zhūzh
 16 sețțāsh
50 khamsīn 
3 tlata
17 sbe’țāsh
60 settīn
4 reb’a
18 tmențāsh
70 seb’īn
5 khamsa
19 tse’țāsh
80 tmanīn
6 setta
20 ‘ashrīn
90 tes’īn
7 seb’a
21 wahed ū’ashrīn
100 mya
8 tmenya (“y” = yes)
22 tnein ū’ashrīn
200 myatein
9 tes’ūd
300 teltmya
10 ‘ashra
400 rba’mya
11 hdāsh (emphatic d)
1000 alf
12 țnāsh (ț = emphatic t)
2000 alfein

This little Phrasebook here will help you expand your language skills for the journey

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