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Faculty of Asian and Middle Eastern Studies



Introduction to Arabic at Cambridge

You will study Arabic as part of a degree in Middle Eastern Studies (MES), giving you access to one of the world's great languages in the context of the culture and history of its region of origin. You will have the option of studying Arabic on its own or in combination with Hebrew, Persian or a modern European language offered by the Faculty of Modern and Medieval Languages. Arabic, Hebrew and Persian are offered from scratch. 

Arabic is spoken by over 313 million people ‘from the Ocean to the Gulf’ as the Arabs say, from Morocco, Mauritania and Western Sahara in the West, to Iraq, the Gulf states and Somalia in the East.

It is the official language in 26 countries, and one of the six official languages of the United Nations. It is also the sacred language of around 1.5 billion Muslims globally.

Knowing Arabic enables you to communicate with people throughout the Middle East and provides access to the the richness and passion of the contemporary Arab world, as well as some of the world's greatest works of literature, science, and history. 

At Cambridge you will learn Arabic in a way that mirrors its use across this varied world:

  • Standard Arabic for reading and writing:
    although nobody speaks Standard Arabic, it is learned across the Arab world and gives access to the thought and literature of the region
  • Egyptian Arabic for speaking:
    Egyptian Arabic is a central dialect with a large number of native speakers and readily understood across the Arab world and a good basis for learning other dialects
  • Other dialects:
    your year abroad will give you the opportunity to learn the local dialect, giving access to the vitality and warmth of everyday life in the region of your choice


Next time you put sugar (سكّر - sukkar) in your coffee (قهوة - qahwa), squeeze lemon (ليمون – līmūn) or lime (ليم - līm) over your tuna (التنّ - al-tunn), add alcohol (الكحل - al-kohl) and syrup (شراب - sharāb) to your julep (جلاب - julāb) cocktail, or reach for the candy (قندي - qandī) jar (جرّة  - jarra), you might be surprised to learn how many of the words you are using come from Arabic. It’s not too far a stretch to realise that hummus (الحمص - alhimas), tahini (طحينة – tahīna) or saffron (زعفران - zaʿfarān) have their roots in Arabic. More unexpected that if your vegetarian option includes spinach (سبناخ - sibnakh), aubergines (البادنجان - al-bādinjān) or artichokes (الخرشوف - al-kharshūf), you’re referencing the glorious world of Middle Eastern language and food.