All what you need to know about languages in Morocco
If you already speak Arabic, you may be wondering what is the best way to communicate with the local population when you travel to Morocco. Like with any population, Moroccans tend to appreciate visitors who try to speak their language, but, in Morocco, Arabic is not the only option you have.
English is emerging, especially in big cities.
If you are on a tourist trail, English speakers abound. Museums, tourist businesses, hotels (medium and high-end), and tourist restaurants all tend to have staff who are sufficiently proficient in English to at least discuss their services and rates. Similarly, many shopkeepers in the medinas of Fez and Marrakech know enough English to get your attention and negotiate a sale. Even so, few restaurants seem to offer menus in English, no matter where you are. And most taxi drivers, even in the big cities, speak very little (if any) English.
That said, English is becoming increasingly popular among educated young people. It is one of the languages introduced in public primary schools, and it is on the rise in private schools.
As you begin to move away from major cities and tourist attractions, English quickly becomes less common. If you plan to travel independently or explore less traveled areas of the country, basic phrases in a more common language are useful.
French is the second non-official language of Morocco.
Spain and France have colonized Morocco in the early 1900s, and even Morocco gained independence in 1956, French is still widely spoken by Moroccans of all ages in much of the country.
Franch is the language of government, diplomacy, and business. Primary schools introduce French to pupils in third grade, increasing its use every year in secondary schools and using it as the language of instruction for scientific subjects. Universities adopt French as their first language of instruction.
Although less popular in villages and remote areas, cities of varying sizes have French-speaking taxi drivers, restaurants with French menus, and sometimes even French signs.
Even if you have only taken a year or two of French courses at school, you may find it worthwhile to refresh your basic knowledge, just enough to master a few words and easily refer to a French phrasebook. And speakers of other Romance languages can find it easier to become familiar with a bit of French than to learn a bit of Arabic.
Spanish can be useful in the north.
Spanish language is quite popular in the north of Morocco and can be a useful communication means for making reservations, understanding directions, and navigating transactions. It is especially useful if you choose to cross one of the land borders to get to Ceuta or Melilla, two autonomous Spanish cities on the northern coast of Morocco.
Berber is the indigenous language.
Berbers are an indigenous population that lives mainly in the Rif mountains and parts of the Atlas mountains. In Morocco, there are three main regional dialects of Berber. Although Arabic is widely spoken among the population, many Moroccan guides provide a few phrases in Berber for those who choose to travel to the more remote Berber areas.
And of course, there’s no harm in trying out a few Berber words when you’re in these areas – even if it’s just to say thank you. After all, almost everyone appreciates that visitors try their hand at the local language. A simple effort often leads to a warm welcome, and friendly conversation.
Classical Arabic differs from Moroccan Arabic.
The official language of Morocco is Classical Arabic, which is the standard Arabic spoken by much of the Middle East. However, Morocco’s unique Arabic dialect is the one spoken by the population.
If you choose to learn basic Arabic in preparation for your trip, make sure you learn Moroccan Arabic in particular. If Moroccans understand standard Arabic, it may not help you to understand Moroccans.
Although learning some Arabic may help you communicate more easily throughout the country, it is not absolutely essential to enjoy your visit. If you can speak a little French, if you are good at animated gestures, if you plan to stay in big cities or important tourist spots, or if you have other arrangements to help you get around (for example, traveling with a guide or a group of tourists), then you will do well with a few simple words that just show that you are willing to try.