I’ve been studying Arabic for about 8 months now and ever since I started I have heard many different opinions about how useful or even “reasonable” it would be to study MSA instead of any given dialect.
There are many people out there who keep describing MSA as something similar to “Shakespearean English”. I find that comparison strange (and also completely unfounded) for many reasons. First of all, I’ve never heard any anchorperson speak in Shakespearean English, nor have I read any newspapers in a language that would remind me of the way Shakespeare might have spoken. The same is true of documentaries on TV etc.
I also commonly use MSA when talking to my language partners on skype.
It is quite obvious that people prefer speaking in their local dialects when they are dealing with family members, friends etc. This does not strike me as unusual at all, after all I speak in my dialect as well when I speak to friends, family members, at the local grocery store, with the bus driver etc.
When I’m at work, however, I use standard German.
I’ve decided to study MSA first and then go on and study a couple of dialects (most likely Levantine and Egyptian Arabic).
A couple of months ago I started teaching German to refugees in my hometown. The government offers German courses for refugees, but these courses are either taught in English and/or German. Most of the refugees I work with, however, don’t speak any or only very little German and/or English.
So, I decided to use my still rather limited MSA and I have to say that this works just great. I’ve “students” from Iraq, the Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Libya, Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They ALL understand and SPEAK MSA. Of course, they use a mixture of MSA and their own dialects when they talk to each other but with me they all communicate in MSA and this has never been a problem.
I’ve managed to learn a few words and expressions in various dialects already, because you pick up these things when you keep listening to people.
However, I’m really glad I decided to study MSA first because otherwise I would have never been able to talk to all these people from so many different countries where Arabic is spoken.
It is simply NOT TRUE that MSA is a “dead language” as some people suggest. There are obviously cases where it will be much more beneficial than knowing “just one” specific dialect.
I believe that studying MSA and learning one or a couple of dialects will be very beneficial to anyone interested in the Arabic speaking world.
I’ve made some wonderful friends amongst the refugees I work with. Btw, they all know I don’t believe in God and this has never been a problem. They also understand that my view on life is different from theirs in many ways, but what we all have in common is mutual respect.
Apart from that, I have noticed that my Arabic has also tremendously benefited from the German lessons I give. This is a real win-win-situation for everybody involved. And again, I love the fact that studying MSA allows me to talk to so many native speakers of Arabic and I’ve never had the feeling that they feel awkward or uncomfortable when talking to me in MSA.