The Arabic language is spoken in more than 20 countries, from Egypt to Morocco and throughout the Arabian peninsula. Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) is the official language throughout the Arab world, and its written form is relatively consistent across national boundaries. MSA is used in official documents, in educational settings, and for communication between Arabs of different nationalities. However, the spoken forms of Arabic vary widely, and each Arab country has its own dialect. Dialects are spoken in most informal settings, such as at home, with friends, or while shopping. Of all the spoken dialects, Egyptian Arabic is the most widely understood, due primarily to Egypt's role as the major producer of movies and TV programs in the Arab world.
The Arabic language belongs to the Semitic family of languages, and, like Hebrew, is written from right to left. It is also the language of Islam, one of the world's major religions, and has a literary tradition that dates back to the days of Mohammed in the 7th century. In fact, the spread of Islam transformed the regions of Northern Africa and the Middle East into Arabic-speaking areas within a century of its founding. In later centuries, the Arabic language was spoken in parts of Asia and Europe following additional Arab conquests.
Today, words of Arabic origin can be found in some European languages such as Italian and Spanish, due to periods of Arab reign in those countries. English words of Arabic origin include algebra, alcohol, mosque, tariff, alcove, magazine, elixir, sultan and cotton.
Learning Modern Standard Arabic can be a challenge. The sound system is completely different from Germanic and Romance languages. Arabic pronunciation includes a variety of distinctive guttural sounds that are formed in a different way than most sounds in European languages. Arabic grammar, however, is relatively straightforward. There are only two verb tenses, and verbs are regular in conjugation. There are cases for nouns, but only three: nominative, genitive, and accusative. These simpler aspects of the language compensate for some of the difficulties non-native speakers may experience when learning Arabic pronunciation and reading.