In Which Country Should I Study Arabic?
Amman, Jordan’s capital, is a comfortable and easy city to navigate and spend time in, but it is also the most expensive of the options. There are many cafes, restaurants, and places to shop, as well as downtown markets to wander through and several historic sites to visit. There are many trips to take outside Amman and nothing is too far away in this small country. Favorites include Petra, Wadi Rum, the Dead Sea, and hiking in the many wadis (valleys).
Students should be prepared to hear a lot of English spoken in some parts of Amman and many Jordanians speak English quite well. Tourists are also common. This can be frustrating for Arabic students, but if you are persistent you will find many opportunities to practice with friendly locals, such as at Ahlan’s weekly language exchange.
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Egypt has long been a favorite destination for those interested in the Middle East. Known as “Mother of the World,” there is no shortage of history and culture here. Egypt is also a very cheap option; with just one Euro, you could take the tram 25 times! Egypt is nonetheless a huge country, with constant traffic and dense crowds that can be overwhelming for some. The Egyptian people are also very friendly and some will be extremely excited to see foreigners. This can be fun and, at times, a drag (for those who prefer a walk home in peace and quiet).
The Egyptian dialect can take some getting used to, as the pronunciation of some letters is quite different from MSA, but learning Egyptian will be very helpful. Egyptian is the language of much of Arabic cinema, television, and music, which means most Arabs are very familiar with it and will easily understand when it is spoken.
Alexandria, in the north along the Mediterranean coast, is the quieter of the two options in Egypt. Once a bustling commercial hub and home to many foreigners, the city changed significantly in the 1950s and most of the foreigners left. Nonetheless, there are many cultural and historic sites to see and French, Greek, and Italian influence is apparent, even in some vocabulary in the local dialect. Alexandria is known for its world-famous library, catacombs, and its citadel near the port. Students in Alexandria will see very few foreigners and tourists but the population is somewhat mixed, so a foreigner is not as easily detected as in Cairo, unless of course you’re walking around with a camera and an old-style desert khaki shirt, allowing for a very immersive experience, with less English spoken. This does also mean that there are fewer western-style cafes, restaurants, and other amenities.
Cairo is the largest city in the Middle East and is not for the faint of heart. It is a bustling and chaotic place that takes some getting used to, but those who do usually love it (and some others choose to escape north to study with Ahlan Alexandria. You can find nearly anything in Cairo, from restaurants and nightlife to winding markets and ancient mosques. There are certainly tourists and foreigners (although not like in the past, before the revolution), but the city is so big, you might not even notice them.
Traveling around Egypt is a must and the options include Luxor and Aswan; oases in the desert; and beach resorts along the red sea.
Morocco is Ahlan World’s newest destination, offering a gateway to the Western edge of the Arab world and its vibrant culture. Morocco is a large, safe, and beautiful country with a bit of everything, from deserts and mountains to beaches and ancient cities. While not as cheap as Egypt, the cost of living in Morocco is much less than Jordan.
The Moroccan dialect is very different from Modern Standard Arabic and also from the dialects found in the Levant, the Gulf, and Egypt. For this reason, it is less useful when traveling around the rest of the Middle East. French also has a strong influence in Morocco and is commonly used with foreigners. This is especially the case in touristy areas. Many students will therefore choose to focus more on their MSA skills, rather than dialect, when in Morocco.
Rabat, located along the Atlantic Ocean, is the capital of Morocco, one its four imperial cities, and home to the countries most prestigious universities. It is less touristy than many of Morocco’s other cities, but still boasts ancient landmarks, museums, a must-see medina, and beaches. There are also many cultural events and festivals that pass through. Rabat makes a great base for travel to Morocco’s many amazing sites and cities, which include Marrakesh, the Sahara Desert, and the blue city of Chefchaouen.
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