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Introduction to Levantine (colloquial) Arabic

Levantine (Šāmi) Arabic is the dialect spoken in the Levant, or as it is called in Arabic, “Bilād al-Sham”. This is the territory to the immediate east of the Mediterranean Sea currently divided into the modern nation states of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Israel (as well as the PA Territories).

This type of Arabic is colloquial, meaning it is what what people speak in their everyday lives – in the home, and on the street. It is referred to as “’Amiyya” by its speakers, opposed to Modern Standard Arabic which is called “Fusha”. ‘Amiyya is rarely written down or used in formal circumstances, but is the general medium for communication, music, movies, and TV programs (aside from the news and religious shows which are usually done in Fusha).

Of all the dialects, Levantine is one of the closest to classical Arabic yet it still has significant differences. It is often described as sounding soft, likely the result of removing some of the heavier letters (notably Qaf), and changing the sound of the “ta-marbuta” to a softer “e” sound.

This dialect is widely understood throughout the Arab world, likely due to Lebanese music and Syrian soap operas that are both incredibly popular. If you are planning on communicating effectively with people and immersing yourself in the rich culture of this part of the world, learning Levantine ‘Amiyya is essential.

Since Levantine Arabic is a colloquial language and considered “inferior” to Modern Standard Arabic (which is seen as more refined), it is rarely taught, or even written down. This can make learning it quite difficult, largely due to the lack of educational resources. Damascus Gate  seeks to remedy this by providing learners of all levels with enjoyable and informative lessons. Due to it being largely a spoken language, with significantly different sounds than classical arabic, many instructors think it easier to skip Arabic script and write in latin letters (like English). Our lessons will be provided both in latin characters as well as in Arabic script, allowing you choice in the path you wish to take.

The specific Levantine dialect we teach is that of Jerusalem. It is both widely understood and a good starting point from which to learn other Levantine sub-dialects such as those of Syria and Lebanon.

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