What languages are spoken in Morocco?

by Fay
Published: Last Updated on
Morocco-darija-language-Moroccan-arabic

People often ask, what language is spoken in Morocco. Some people think that Moroccans speak French. Others think that only Arabic is spoken in Morocco. These assumptions are only partly true. The reality is that Morocco is a widely diverse linguistic society where there are several language influences.

This article will discuss the major languages spoken in Morocco and also include some langauge-learning tips and helpful phases to help you get by on your next visit to Morocco. The languages spoken in Morocco are Darija (Moroccan Arabic, Standard Arabic, French, Amazighiya (Berber languages), Spanish and English.

The history of language in Morocco, 3000 B. C. –

language-in-Morocco

Due to its strategic geographical location, Morocco has been ruled by several world powers over the ages. However, the oldest records reveal that the Amazigh or Berbers were the oldest and earliest inhabitants of Morocco. Their history goes as far back as 3000 BCE. Whether there were other ethnic groups in Morocco at this time is not known but the only surviving ethnic group today are the Amazigh.

As time went by, the North-west tip of Africa was invaded and occupied by the Phonecians (800 BCE), the Romans (500 CE) and the Byzantine Empire (600 CE). The extent to which these incursions have influenced the langauge environment of Morocco needs to be investigated further.

The Muslim conquest of North Africa reached Morocco in the 7th century CE. This was the beginning of a major religious, cultural and linguistic transformation which would result in Arabic becoming the deminant linguistic force in the region.

Amazighiya- The Berber language in Morocco

berber-language-in-Morocco-in-Atlas
  • Origins: The berber langauge in Morocco dates back to 3000 BCE
  • Official status: Amazighiya is recognised as an official language in Morocco (even though it is really a family of languages)

The Amazigh family of languages are very interesting historically and linguistically, because they are among the oldest languages in Africa. Today, the Amazigh have spread accross North Africa, even as far as Egypt. Still, their stronghold is the Northwest corridor of The Atlas Mountains in Morocco. The largest number of Native Amazigh in the world are still alive and well here.

The different Amazigh Languages in Morocco

There are thre main dialects of Amazigh in Morocco, Rif or Tarifit, Tachelhit and Tamazight. Tarifit is spokenn in the North, around the region of the Rif Maountains. Tamazight is spoken in central the Atlas region. Tachelhit is spoken in the Sous region. The Amazigh langauges were originally written using the Tifinagh alphabet, but have become commonly written using the Arabic and more recently the latin scripts.

Is it essential for travelers to know a few Tachelhit or Tamazight phrases?

While these languages are still widely spoken in Morocco, they are limited to the rural populations and informal sectors of society. The vast majority of Moroccans, both Amazigh and Arab, are fluent in Darija, or Moroccan Arabic. therefore, it is of little travel benefit to expend extra time and energy learning the Amazigh langauges solely for the purpose of communication during travel.

Standard Arabic in Morocco

For all intents and purposes, Standard Arabic is the official langauge of Morocco. It is the language of basic and higher education, the courts, religous ceremonies and business. It is granted the highest official status in Morocco, according to the constitution. Therefore, it is the default langauge used in all formal domains.

Can you learn Standard Arabic in Morocco?

Yes, you can totally learn Standard Arabic in Morocco. In fact, going to study standard Arabic in Morocco may be a great ‘2 for the price of 1’ deal. Take a course in standard Arabic in Morocco and you will, in so doing, be able to learn Moroccan Darija for free.

While Morocco is not as well-known for being a center of learning as it is for being a tourist attraction, there are Arabic learning programs available for language learners. Therefore, since standard Arabic is the language of education in Morocco, it is just as good a place as any other to learn Arabic, not to mention the amazing food.

Moroccan Arabic – Darija

Moroccan Arabic is different from other language varieties of Arabic for several reasons. Firstly, most Arabic speaking countries are historically monolingual countries, meaning that everyone speaks Arabic and has done so for centuries. Morocco, on the other hand, is characterized as a multicultural, multilingual environment, probably the most diverse environment to be found in the greater Arabic speaking region.

The land of Morocco has been ruled and occupied by different African, Arab, and European people. Therefore, Moroccan Arabic or Derija also bears traces of the Amazigh languages, Latin, French, and Spanish.

What is Darija language and where is it spoken

The word Darija in Arabic means common and known and is used to describe the variety of Arabic, in a general sense, that is spoken in Morocco today. Darija is also the name used for other language varieties in the region like Algerian Arabic. However, in this article the term Darija is used specifically for the Moroccan Darija.

Darija can be regarded as the most used language of Morocco. Since Darija is not a written language, its grammar and structure are not clearly uniform throughout the country. In addition, Darija has little to no official language status in Morocco, despite it being the mother-tongue and lingua franca of the majority of Moroccan people. Thus, what we loosely refer to as Darija is the combination of mutually intelligible languages or varieties that extend across the length and breadth of Morocco.

The Darija spoken in different regions is characterized by subtle differences in pronunciation and structure. One of the commonly known varieties of Darija in Morocco are the mainstream dialect which dominates major cities such as Casablanca and Rabat. We also find other regional dialects like the ones spoken in Tangier and the one spoken in the Saraha region called Hassania.

How hard is it to learn Moroccan Darija?

As a non-Arab native English speaker, I find Moroccan Arabic, henceforth Darija, more challenging than Standard Arabic or other common varieties of Arabic. I will even go a step further and say that it is the most difficult, in my opinion. This is understandable considering that Morocco is the furthest Arabic speaking country from the Arabian peninsula.

How long does it take to learn Moroccan Darija?

There is no simple answer to this question. The relative ease of learning a particular language depends on the similarities with your own language, how important the language is for you, and, how much you immerse yourself in the language environment.

One problem that learning Darija poses is that it is almost exclusively a spoken language. Darija is not used in education, the courts, government, or religion. Standard Arabic is the default language for these sectors. So, in order to best learn Darija, one needs to be listening and speaking Darija.

Why should you learn Darija?

We have, thus far, established that Darija is neither the most commonly spoken dialect of Arabic nor the easiest to learn. So why then, should you learn Darija? I have come up with 4 reasons that you should learn Moroccan Darija.

  • If you already speak Arabic, French or Spanish then you have already gained a foothold into Darija. You can easily build on your already acquired language skills and with a little effort be able to learn a whole new, unique language.
  • If you are a student of Linguistics, a related discipline, or merely interested in language in general, Moroccan Darija is an amazing example of language change and development over time. By learning the magnificently rich attributes of Moroccan Darija you will be able to deepen your understanding of language in general.
  • If you intend to travel to Morocco extensively you will benefit immensely from learning Darija. It is the only language that is known across Morocco with no exception. It is also the language that the people of Morocco proudly and affectionately consider their own.
  • Last but not least, if you wish to learn a variety of Arabic that is so wildly unique and distinct from any other form of Arabic, for no other reason than to stand out or show-off among other Arabic speakers or the whole world, go ahead and learn Moroccan Darija.

Start with these useful Moroccan Darija phrases

#1 Introductions

My name is Chris Smiti Chris
How are you? Kif dayer?
I’m fine_ Ana labass
I’m from America Ana men Amrika
Please Afak
Thank you Chokran

#2 Shopping

How much is this? Chhal hada?
It is very expensive Ghali bezaf
This is big Hada Kbir
This is small Hada Sghir

#3 Directions

Where is the market? Fin souq?
I’m going to the market A nmchi l Souq

Moroccan Darija learning resources

#1 Books

Given that Moroccan Darija is not the most spoken or learned language by foreigners, there aren’t that many resources available, Therefore, you should try to get your hands on as many books, and guides that you can. Go to your local bookstore or see what’s available online. The idea is to use whatever Darija material is available. But if you want a book recommendation, we suggest the Peace Corps Darija Textbook. You can find a pdf version online.

#2 Online tutors

There are several online learning platforms that you can use to find native Darija speakers like iTalki and Preply. These sites are good because they offer different tutors at different price ranges and have flexible learning option.

#3 Youtube

If you are on a tight budget or not ready to pay for tuition then Youtube is a great source of free language lessons. There are several channels offering free Moroccan Darija lessons. My favorite one to learn the Moroccan language is Learn with Tayeb channel.

#4 Instagram

Unfortunately, there aren’t any good and updated Instagram pages about leanring Moroccan arabic (Darija). But keep an eye on Instagram about upcoming ones.

#5 Online books and websites

Lastly, check for facebook groups, pages or helpful websites that offer valuable learning resources. Learn Arabic, Darija is a great Facebook group that provides support and help to foreigners who want to learn Moroccan Arabic.


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