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What languages are spoken in Morocco?


Morocco is a country widely popular for tourists. In fact, you will notice a lot of different languages in Morocco because not only are many locals multilingual, but you can also find tourists from all over the world. The interesting thing about Morocco is that it has a great legacy, 9 Unesco World Heritage sites to visit, and also wonderful beaches. It really has all the features you need and so much more, with results being downright impressive every time.


What languages were spoken in Morocco during ancient and medieval times?

If we study from a historical standpoint, we will notice that the most common languages during that time were Punic, Amazigh, and Phoenician. One of the Mauretanian kings, more specifically Juba II was known for composing in Latin and Greek. There was also a significant presence of African Romance spoken here, and it was mostly present during the Arab Conquest.


Arabic was one of the languages in Morocco that were extremely important. It initially arrived in the region thanks to the Maghreb Muslim conquest. The first piece of known Moroccan literature was in Arabic, around the conquest of Al-Andalus. While the Arabic religion spread really fast, for some reason the language itself was not as popular. You could find people that spoke Arabic mostly in the urban regions, although the rural areas still were focused on the Amazigh languages.


One thing to note is that as soon as Morocco acquired independence after engine its French Protectorate back in 1956, it started an Arabization process. Tamazight languages were mostly marginalized by society, even until the early 2000s. But recently it’s the Berber culture that started to gain more strength, to the point where Tamazight languages got a lot more exposure. That’s why at least at this point, the Berber and Arabic languages are the official languages in Morocco.


What is Darija? What about other Arabic Variants?

Darija is also a very common language spoken in Morocco, but what a lot of people don’t know is that this is a dialect. It’s a classic Arabic variant that has many words in common with French, Arabic, and Spanish. That alone makes it very different and unique in its own right.


One of the reasons why Darija exists is the fact that Morocco was colonized by the French from 1912 and up to 1956, and that’s how the dialect was born in the first place. The combination of the languages presented above is mostly related to the location of Moroccans. If they are in the north at the border with Spain, many of them are indeed speaking Spanish. In fact, Sebta and Melilla are still a part of Spain and some Berbers continue to speak the Arabic variant as a local language too. There were around 18.8 million Arabic speakers in 1995, which was roughly 65% of the population. While things changed a bit, this is a testament to just how much people speak the Arabic language.


The dialect use here is very similar to what you can find in Algeria, Tunisia, Mauritania, or Libya. That being said, you will notice a few differences when it comes to rural and urban dialects. It depends on the settlement history. Arabs were bringing specific power centers in ports and cities, so the other places were mostly speaking the Berber languages.


There are multiple types of Arabic spoken when it comes to languages of Morocco. Classical Arabic is found in religious debates, literary and cultural situations. On the other hand, you will encounter standard Arabic in schools, mosques, and administrative offices.


Moroccan Arabic is only spoken on the street and in homes. The difference with this one is that you won’t see it in writing. That makes it extremely different and one of those languages that you will rarely know unless you actually go there. There’s also the Hassani Arabic. This one is used by roughly 0.7% of the population, especially those in the South. But there are people in larger cities like Rabat or Casablanca that actually speak this as well.


You can also find Judeo-Moroccan Arabic. There are around 9000 people speaking this in the entire country, and most of that is usually confined to specific locations in the country. It’s also important to note that the Moroccan Sign Language is also spoken in Morocco, more specifically in the city of Oujda. So yes, there’s even a language for deaf people. It’s not known how many women speak Moroccan Sign Language, because they just use this indoors.



French

Although you may find some locals can speak English, this is clearly not a common language spoken in Morocco. French on the other hand is widely regarded as the unofficial second language in the country. There’s a reason for that, Spain and France had Morocco under control during the early 20th century. Granted, Morocco is independent since 1956, but you can still find a plethora of people speaking French.


One thing to note about French is that it’s widely used in business, governmental tasks, and diplomacy. It’s more of a high-level of language rather than something you find on the street. In fact, Arabic still remains the main language on Morocco streets, with French being more of a language for intellectuals.


To support that, you will notice that many primary schools teach French and many universities in Morocco teach in French to begin with. Like many other languages in Morocco, French is not really that popular in remote locations and villages. However, people in cities speak it frequently. It’s one of the reasons why you will encounter street signs in French as well as French-speaking taxi drivers or French restaurant menus.


English

English is widely regarded as an international language. So when you talk about languages in Morocco, you would obviously expect it to be very popular. And yes, in recent years there was a resurgence of English speakers. The reason is simple, a lot of people are speaking in Morocco due to tourism since most tourists speak this language.


It’s particularly popular in restaurants, hotels, museums, and tourist companies. Since English is used by most travelers, most of the tourist locations will have English speaking locals. Merchants in Marrakesh or Fez are speaking English too, especially because they negotiate so they have to know tourist languages.


Even if it seems that English is widely spread, that’s not always the case. Many restaurants don’t have menus in English. Taxi drivers won’t speak English, even in the larger cities. This is not a very common language, despite being widely spread in some of these locations. However, English is prevalent especially in the education world, since many schools are teaching English nowadays.


Spanish

Spanish is another one of the most common languages in Morocco. However, this is most popular in the northern region near the border with Spain such as Tangier, Chefchaouen. In fact, Spain was the protectorate for both the South and Northern parts of the country. You will be happy to notice this is not just a Spanish dialect, they actually speak regular Spanish, which is very interesting.


You will particularly find Spanish-speaking communities in Sidi Ifni, Tetouan, and Tangier. It’s important to note that you will feel right at home in these regions if you know some Spanish. You can use it to ask for directions, handle transactions, or reservations.


Tarifit

Tarifit is a less popular dialect of the Berber language. Despite the fact that it’s not as common as other types of Berber language in Morocco, more than 1.5 million people speak it in Morocco. That’s what really makes it stand out, and you do need to think about it as much as you can. One of the main advantages brought by Tarifit is that once you know it, you can get along and talk with a lot of people all over the country. After all, more than a million people speak it, so you can usually find people that speak this language and connect with them.


German

This might surprise you, but there are a few places where you will get by if you know some German. These are mostly hotels and museums. Other than that, German is not that popular in Morocco, for a very good reason. The people that speak German are former immigrants and there’s not a large community speaking this language. But you will find them few and far in between.



There’s a huge emphasis on being multilingual

As you can see, the languages in Morocco are an assortment of riches. It’s easy to see why there are a lot of different communities here and there were also a plethora of influences throughout the years. European languages were implemented here mostly due to the Spanish and French reigns during the 20th century. On top of that, the closeness to Europe is another reason why people in Morocco continue to speak these languages. That’s especially true for French, which continues to be the official and intellectual language throughout most of the country.


That being said, kids learn to read and write in Standard Arabic. However, they do lean Darija solely for speaking. Yet you will find many cities and universities in particular where the most common language is French. What about Berber languages though? These languages are used mostly when it comes to informal situations. Small shops and homes tend to use Berber languages, something that has been happening for many centuries.


How can these languages co-exist?

It’s hard for a country to have so many languages, as it might end up making communication difficult. The interesting thing about Morocco is the fact that it managed to maintain this combination of languages for a very long time. There are prestige languages, but there are also more common languages and some lost languages too. This clearly shows the diversity of these people in Morocco. Despite that, these Moroccan languages interact with one another due to trades, being spoken in the same society, and so on.


Whether we like it or not, each language has its own distinct features and uses. That’s why it’s clear none of these major languages will go away. You will still have governmental and official stuff in French, while Berber and Arabic languages will remain on the streets. It’s great to see children being multilingual, it brings in tremendous benefits for their development while also offering tremendous opportunities.


For Morocco Tourists

There are many languages in Morocco, and that’s the thing that makes them stand out. As a result, if you want to visit Morocco, and want to connect with or talk with the locals, it will be nice to brush up a few languages like Arabic or French, etc. So you will feel more fun to interact with local Moroccans, to shop, to negotiate, even to live there for a little while. You will appreciate more about their rich cultures and customs.


If you do not speak Moroccan languages, No worries! As a Morocco-based travel agency, the team of Sakara Sky Tours speaks your languages. One of the strengths of our agency is the multi-language service. We offer tours with 9 languages: English, Spanish, Italian, French, Russian, German, Arabic, Berber, and Chinese. We are dedicated to making your travel to Morocco easy, exciting, fun, and unforgettable!


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