I think the most important part of CBT is learning Moroccan Arabic, Darija, and in addition starting to work in the youth and women’s centers in my neighborhood. I am expected to know enough Darija once I receive my permanent placement. It’s a bit daunting. Morocco’s official languages are Darija and Berber. There are three Berber dialects: Tarifit, Tashelhit, and Central Atlas Tamazight. Moroccans also speak French in the south and Spanish in the north, from their colonial past (1912-1956). French is still used in the government and news, and it is obligatory in schools.
In college, I studied Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) or Fusha, which is formal Arabic, for five semesters. The Quran, Islam’s holy book, is written in MSA; government and media use MSA. Fusha is studied in schools and colleges in the Middle East so everyone understands it, but people generally communicate in their dialects. The dialects of MSA are categorized by their region: Maghrebi, Sudanese, Egyptian, Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamian, Levantine, and Andalusian. Darija is part of the Maghrebi (the northwest region of Africa- Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya). Language can be a way of indicating social and economic status. I have already experienced code switching between MSA, Darija, and French. Many people actually approach me thinking I am French; little do they know that I am Spanish! It’s quite a multilingual experience.
I was nervous about learning Darija before I started the Peace Corps, because MSA was overwhelming after the first year. I think it all comes to down to memorizing the words and grammar rules and practicing it often with others. I use it on a daily basis to introduce myself, talk with my host family, purchase something at the store or take a taxi or bus. My aim is to be able to have more complex and interesting conversations with the Moroccans I meet.
I have also found it exciting to find French and Spanish integrated into Darija. For example, cheese is fromage, jam is confiture, and liter is litre. Eraser is goma, week is semana, and shoe is zapato. Darija continues to pick up words from French, Spanish, and Berber because it is not written down. It is a constantly evolving language.