Lesson 5: The Arabic Language

Lesson Information

About this Lesson:

Understanding the Arab world and the relationship between the Arab peoples is predicated on understanding the role and function of Arabic language. Arabic language is diglossic, meaning there are two forms of Arabic: formal and informal. Each is used for a specific social purpose. In the Arab World, the formal language, called Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is standardized across the region and used most frequently in writing and in public speeches, news reports, and other formal addresses. Informal speech is divided into regional dialects that can vary significantly from country to country and even within a given country.

Though many other languages are spoken in the Arab World, the Arabic language serves as both a key identifier to membership in the Arab world as well as a metaphor for Arab identity as united and diverse. Arabic’s major dialect groups are: North African, Egyptian, Gulf Arabic, Levantine and Iraqi. Each of these dialect groups contains many subgroups, and has been impacted by geography, history, and even mass media. Earlier in the unit, students study the geography and political borders in the Arab world. In this lesson, they build on that knowledge to explain and understand the pattern of dialect groups.


50 minutes

In this lesson, students will:

  • read a text about Arabic language.
  • map major Arabic dialect groups.
  • write their names in Arabic

Key Terms

  • Modern Standard Arabic (MSA):  Called Fus’ha in Arabic, MSA is the standardized Arabic used in formal writing and speech
  • Diglossia:  The term used for a single language with two forms. In the case of Arabic, there is the Modern Standard Arabic and the dialect.
  • To hear Arabic and learn more about MSA and the dialects, visit Listen to Learn.

Enduring Understandings

  • The Arab world is a large and diverse region containing religious, political, geographic, ethnic, and linguistic differences.

Curriculum Framing Questions

  • What is the Arab world and what defines it (geography, language, culture etc)?

Learning Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • identify major dialects in the Arab World.
  • predict the geography of major dialect groups in the Arab World.

Assessment & Evaluation of Student Learning:

  • Participate in class discussion
  • Correctly write name in Arabic

Curriculum Standards Information

Reading: Informational Texts

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.9-10.7 Analyze various accounts of a subject told in different mediums (e.g., a person’s life story in both print and multimedia), determining which details are emphasized in each account.

History/Social Studies

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.9-10.7 Integrate quantitative or technical analysis (e.g., charts, research data) with qualitative analysis in print or digital text.

Reading: Informational Texts

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a question or solve a problem.

History/Social Studies

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RH.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., visually, quantitatively, as well as in words) in order to address a question or solve a problem.


Materials Needed in Class:

“A Guide to Arabic: Ten Facts about the Arabic Language” from the BBC

Physical Map of the Arab World

Arabic Alphabet Handout

Arabic Language Tool

Implementation Overview:

Click here to download PDF version



Explain to students that there are a variety of dialects of Arabic spoken across the Arab world. Given what they know about Arab geography and history, ask the students what they anticipate about the variety in Arabic dialects across the region.


Distribute “A Guide to Arabic: Ten Facts about the Arabic Language from the BBC. Instruct students to read silently.


Lead a brief discussion to check for reading comprehension, reviewing the diglossic nature of the language


Distribute (or project) a physical map of the Arab world to students and ask:

  • What are some of the factors that might contribute to the development of regional dialects? (colonial influence, geography, indigenous languages/cultures)
  • Where might fault lines to appear on the map of Arabic language? Why?
  • What other (regionally significant) languages might be mixed with localized dialects?

Note for teachers: Influences on regional dialects may include geographical divisions such as rivers and mountains, the inclusion of French or English based on the region’s colonial history and other local languages from Africa or indigenous peoples.


Distribute the Arabic Alphabet Handout, explaining the mechanics of Arabic writing. Instruct students to read the text and use the alphabet chart to write their own names. As students complete their names, you can check the accuracy of their writing by inputting student names in the Arabic Language tool at Firdous.com.

Additional Learning

Listen to Learn: An instructional website comparing Arabic dialects to each other as well as to Modern Standard Arabic.