Languages in Egypt

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Languages in Egypt

The official language of Egypt is Standard Arabic. It is taught in schools and thus spoken by nearly everyone, with the exception of a small minority, mainly uneducated individuals, bedouins, and desert dwellers. Standard Arabic is the Arabic used in official forms such as television, newspapers, government speeches, and teaching and educational institutions. It is the only common form that is understood by all the different countries of the Arab world (except Western Sahara, Mauritania and Chad).

However, the native language in most of the country and the national lingua franca is Egyptian Arabic, one of the numerous (mostly mutually unintelligible) local dialects of Arabic. Although each country in the Arab world has its own dialect(s), Egyptian Arabic has the highest number of native speakers and is in fact also known as a second language by many Arabs especially in the neighbouring countries, due to the popularity of Egyptian cinema and media in the Middle East.

As Egypt was a British colony until 1952, most educated locals learn English at school. Travellers are unlikely to encounter difficulties finding someone who speaks English, especially in the cities and tourist centres. In fact, English and French are taught as second languages in all public Egyptian schools, although people who go to these schools might be able to speak the language with varying degrees, depending on their education and socio-economic class (the higher having more language skills).

Among the educated class, older people over 40 will generally be more fluent in French, as French was the dominant language of education in the past before English became dominant. This however, is becoming more exceptional as there are more young people going to French schools than before, so there are a number of young people who speak French as well besides English. There are also a few German schools where students are taught everything in German and following the German curriculum as well.

The most other common languages are Italian, Spanish, and Russian due to the high number of tourists who come from Europe speaking these languages.

Following usual rules of politeness, instead of simply starting a conversation with someone in English, ask "Do you speak English?". All the better if you can do it in Egyptian Arabic: betekkallem ’engelīzi? (addressing a male) or betekkallemi ’engelīzi? (addressing a female).

In the southern parts of the country, such as Luxor and Aswan, the local language is called Sa'idi Arabic, and is different from the standard Egyptian Arabic spoken in the north of the country. There are also people Black Africans in the far south speaking the totally different Nubian language. However, basically all people can speak Egyptian Arabic and in the cities also often standard Arabic and English.

Bedouins of Siwa and the western deserts of Egypt speak a language called Berber, also called Siwi, which is an unwritten language unique to them that only they can speak. These people are bilingual in Egyptian Arabic.

The bedouin tribes of other areas of Egypt have their own dialect of Arabic, which would not be normally understood by the ordinary urban Egyptian, but again these people will be bilingual in the Egyptian dialect.

Contrary to the belief of some people, nobody speaks or understands Heiroglyphics (the ancient Egyptian language of the pharaohs ) except those who studied Egyptology or work in the field of archeology or give museum tour guides.

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