When I was young, I had a dream to learn a foreign language. It seemed so romantic. I struggled through Spanish for four years in high school and only used it a handful of times when I visited Mexico on vacation. Una cerveza mas por favor!

I was forty before I traveled abroad. What I found in Europe was that most people could speak a handful of languages. The desire to learn another language intensified and I felt stupid around these bi, tri, and multilingual Europeans.

In 2007, I moved to Italy to accomplish two bucket list items, learn another language and live in another country. Who knew that eleven years later I would be on my fourth foreign language? Italian is the second and strongest foreign language I’ve learned. Spanish is weak, but I often have opportunities to speak it in Tangier and often words pop up that I didn’t know I remembered. Speaking Italian to a native Spanish speaker usually works. I’ve learned French and find that while most Moroccans in the country speak it, many in Tangier do not.

I am happy to have learned French and all of the signs in Morocco are in French and Classic Arabic. Rental contracts, bank documents, grocery store products, and all printed materials include French so it has been valuable. However, if I really want to fit in with the Moroccan people, and speak to my husband’s family, I must learn Darija. Darija is a dialect of Arabic and not considered a true language. It is not a written language, only spoken.

It’s not easy to find courses, but finally, I found a private teacher at an organization called WorldUnite. I will see her for an hour two times per week for a while to see how it goes. My husband assures me it’s “easy”. None of the grammar and tenses like in Italian. Nevertheless, I’ve already found that my mouth, tongue, and throat don’t make some of the needed sounds. It’s going to take a lot of practice. Wish me luck.

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  1. I commend you for trying to learn Darija. It will not be easy at all. As you already noticed, several of the needed sounds do not exist in English, so it can be a struggle to learn them. Correct pronounciation is so, so important! I know several well meaning people who make a big effort to learn a foreign language, but their pronounciation and intonation is so off that most native speakers can barely understand them.

    This can happen with other languages of course. I have spoken both English and French my whole life. A couple years ago, an American friend proudly started talking to me in French. I really struggled to understand them, and had to guess what they were saying much of the time, because they were not pronouncing most of the words like any French person would. Not even close.

    Also, in Morocco, Darija varies a lot by region! The way people from Tangier speak is quite different from people in Casablanca or Marrakesh. Tangier Darija is spoken more slowly, more softly, and uses a lot of Spanish-derived words. By contrast, the Darija in Casablanca or Marrakesh is a more rough dialect, spoken more quickly, and uses French-derived words more than Spanish.

    More than 100 words that Tangier people use regularly are either unknown or unused in other Moroccan cities further south. Whenever I travel to Rabat, Casablanca, or Marrakesh, the difference in dialect, vocabulary, and speaking style is readily apparent.

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