Converting a strong Fusha foundation into Algerian Competence


For the 90% of high school and university students who are learning Arabic for some practical yet still general and undefined career purpose, here is a key point: you cannot predict where in the Middle East you will end up applying your language skills.

This is why I discourage most early stage Arabic students (less than 4 years) from trying to make perfecting any single Dialect their core Goal. Why?

Let’s say you work to perfect Egyptian Colloquial, without developing a strong Fusha foundation. I’ve seen this happen many times. It is also not necessarily a bad thing.

Yet with such a single minded focus at such an early stage, you run the risk of becoming a One Trick Pony. And that can be a problem if say, your first Foreign Service assignment is at the Embassy in Mauritania. It won’t be if you follow this big-picture strategy:

(1)  Develop a killer Fusha foundation. Ie an Elite abstract grasp of grammar and command of  vocabulary, through strong instruction and lots of reading.  If you have done this, you know that 99% of the key words are based on some MSA foundation and you quickly make the conversation and figure out the meanings.

(2)  Speak at least 250 hours of any Dialect. It doesn’t matter which one. The key is that you get out and put yourself in random situations where you apply, apply, apply. Make hundreds of mistakes and get good at recognizing the patterns of Colloquial which are fairly similar from country to country. Understand patterns and your big challenge in a new country is making Tweeks, not learning something drastically new and different than what you have studied previously.

Hypothetical Scenario:

Student X has followed the above strategy. They suddenly get assigned to spend 2 years in… Algeria. Here’s how they can make use of 5 of the many excellent Algeria dialogues located in the Gold-Mine Resource I mentioned yesterday, to quickly convert their Core MSA base into local Algerian competence. This can be done in a relatively short amount of time (3-4 weeks maximum) if you’ve done things the right way.


(1) Buying a Train Ticket


TRain ticket bI.png


(1)  This is the first time I have heard ( كاين ) as  “is.” But if you have built up your Fusha base, you should be able to make immediate connotations because the meaning is obvious. For example, if you know what the pejorative term for Israel used by some in Arabic speaking countries is, you put 2 & 2 together, and you should be able to immediately make this link.  “Entity” vs “Is.”

(2)  A train that will ( يقلع  ) at X hour. Also the first  I’ve heard this verb used in this context, but it’s clearly “Fusha” and when I heard it in context it was immediately clear what it meant.


(3)   (شحال  ) as “How” – makes sense – clear mix of the Fusha ( حال  ) – clear enough to figure out from seeing first time on Paper.

(4) When I first listened to the term ( سوايع) for Hours my instinct was that this is a distinct and random “Algerian” word for Hours.  Then when I broke down the Text, it’s clearly not – it’s the same exact letters (ساعة vs  سوايع) .  A thousand years ago, someone in Algeria started saying it this way, versus how they were saying it in places closer to the Arabian peninsula, but now it’s added to the Vocab bank. Never miss the term again during your stay in Algeria.


(6) Said somewhat differently in Algeria but the pattern is the same.

(7) Hadn’t heard it like this in other dialects but the meaning is obvious.

(8) Same thing as #1.  ( كاينة ) as female Is had already been internalized.  Shouldn’t be missed after Day 3 in Algiers.

Describing Past Trips



(1) Accent here was tricky which shows the value of having transcripts with accompanying Audio.  See 0:22. But exact same structure of anything in any other Dialect, only difference is you plug in a different word.  All of these mean the same thing: ( شا شفت  ما شفت vs شفت ايه ) After Day 3 in Algiers, the sound different should be internalized.

(2) I can’t remember hearing that word in Egypt or other Arabic countries, but clearly MSA.

(3) Tiny technical difference between how you would say this in Egypt (+/-  the letter ك)

(4) Same as point two above. Plug in ( شا) instead of ( شو vs  ما  vs ايه  )

(5) 1:13 – pronunciation obviously different.  So the only difference is it’s ( كيف )  with one less letter.  Once you memorize the difference, it’s part of your vocabulary bank.

(6) (خير من ) “Better than” said this way is not something I’d heard before but the meaning is beyond obvious once you see it on paper and hear it.



Directions to the Hospital 


(1) This was certainly the first time I’d heard ( السبيطار  )  used for Hospital. And after 5 or so minutes of searching through Hans Wehr I couldn’t find any kind of Arabic root, making this one of the only words in these dialects that wasn’t an obvious quick conversion from Fusha. Still, no big deal.

Add this term to your list of new vocabulary. Once memorized, it’s memorized.  At the same time, if you ever need to go to a Hospital and forget the Algerian term, everyone will know what I mean if I say ( مستشفى )

(2) Having personally learned ( أحسن /أفضل ), first time seeing it said this way, but meaning should be immediate clear to anyone with a Fusha base.

(4) On paper clear that ( لبغيت )  is a combination of the verb (بغيت ) + abbreviated (لو).  This version of “Want” is widely used in other ARabic dialects, Saudi especially and it’s the exact equivalent of  (عايز/ يريد/بدي ). Complete transferability.
Screen Shot 2016-10-12 at 10.34.02 AM.png
This is the value of seeing spoken on Print. First time hearing this I wouldn’t have put 2 and 2 together and understood that it was abbreviating two words.  After seeing it on paper, I’ve conceptualized the link.

(5) Simple one, ( كفاش ) this is how they say How in Algeria.  Follow the same patterns you’d follow with any other Dialect, just plug in a different word.

(6) “I  (حكمت ) a Train.” First time I’d heard this, but meaning isn’t inconsistent with what I would have guessed.

 Bargaining At A Store

Screen Shot 2016-10-11 at 11.03.08 PM.png

(1) Why just getting out and speaking to people is critical to building your Internal Foundation.  My first instinct when hearing (تفتيش ) is to open my bag for inspection – so the guard can look at my bag. When I see this used slightly differently in Algeria, I still understand exactly what it means. “Guard looking at your bag” vs “I am looking for cloth.”

(2)  Algerian equivalent of ( دي هدي هذه) .  Total regional interchangeability

(5)  ( السومة ) for Price. This one got me curious. I spent 10 minutes trying to see where this was coming from. Two theories. A it’s some Algerian variation of this verb.

Screen Shot 2016-10-12 at 10.42.20 AM.png

Or B, it’s an Algerian colloquial adaptation of (الثمن). In any case, just add ( السومة) to your vocab block and you know what it means when you hear it.

(6) Same structure as if you said ( ولا أيه ) in Egyptian.



Algeria Colloquial is a variation of Fusha, with variations in pronunciations and mildly different spellings, but basically the same patterns as what you would find in other Dialects. With a strong Fusha base, and experience seeing speaking patterns, and good educational tools like this, there is no reason you can’t convert your MSA into local competence in Algeria within a couple of weeks at most.

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