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Explaining the Three Levels of Arabic

15th September, 2016 I by Zachary Sheaffer

The three levels of Arabic are Classical, Modern Standard (MSA) and Colloquial. Although all of these levels fall under the blanket of the Arabic language, they are each distinct from one another in many ways.

Page from old arabic book showing arabic script

Classical Arabic

Classical Arabic is the Arabic of the pre-Islamic era. It is incredibly complex and sophisticated in terms of grammar and vocabulary. It is an incredibly beautiful language, peaking in the development of the Qur’an. The Qur’an took the Arabic language to a whole new world; one that native speakers believe will never be reached again.

Modern Standard Arabic

Modern Standard Arabic is essentially formal Arabic and is considered as a simplified version of Classical Arabic. MSA is the level of Arabic that is taught at most colleges and universities. It is also used in news reporting/broadcasting, books, and in formal settings such as political meetings, etc. It is not a conversational language due to its rigid grammar; it is seen as pretentious if used in casual environments. MSA is only used in day-to-day conversation if the speakers cannot understand one another’s colloquial dialects.


Colloquial Arabic is not a written language; rather, colloquial Arabic is solely a spoken language and is used in casual settings. The colloquial dialect varies from country to country. It is great to learn if you are seeking to blend into Arab society. Whether it be hanging out with your friends or asking the price of a product at a market, colloquial Arabic is the recommended way to communicate. As a student of the Arabic language, colloquial Arabic is my favorite variation of the language to study and speak.

What are your thoughts on the three levels of Arabic? Which of the three, Classical, MSA, or Colloquial, is your favorite to study and/or speak? Comment below!


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