English, French and Arabic

Marjorelle gardenMy holiday in Spain and Morocco promised to be exciting, from a linguistic point of view. I was looking forward to practicing my Spanish, which, despite exceptionally resolute resolutions, I hadn’t had time to work on much, and I was going to spend a week in a country where French was used alongside Arabic and Berber.
It started going downhill in the taxi from the airport. I planned to say to the taxi driver “There’s a lot of water everywhere; it must have been raining a lot”, but instead I managed to confuse llorar with llover and said something like “There’s a lot of water everywhere; you must have been crying a lot”. Nevermind. I ploughed on and thoroughly enjoyed using my third language, however badly. Another highlight was being served goat when I thought I had ordered lamb. It was still delicious.
Berber girlThen we crossed over to Morocco and found ourselves in a country which was at the same time very foreign, but strangely familiar from a linguistic point of view. The Moroccans we came across in Tangiers, Fes, Rabat and Marrakech seemed to effortlessly switch between Arabic, French, Spanish and English. I loved spotting so many Arabic words that have crossed into French and English, sometimes directly, through loanwords coming from immigrant populations, particularly in France, and sometimes via Spanish, which was under Muslim rule from 711 to the end of the 16th century. Amongst the familiar words I came across, baraka, which means luck (avoir la baraka = to be lucky), souk (market), of course (mettre le souk = to make a mess) and many more. Wikipedia gives comprehensive lists of English words and of French words of Arabic origin.
Jamaa al Fna square, Marrakech

By |2016-10-18T15:48:53+00:00March 30th, 2010|Language|5 Comments

About the Author:

I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.


  1. Nathalie Reis March 30, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    Thank you Céline for these beautiful photos of Marrakesh, especially the extremely lively and noisy square and as a contrats, the very peaceful and clean jardin Majorelle. I visited Marrakesh 2 years ago and adored the atmosphere, the colours and the language. Thank you for the list of English and French words from Arabic origin. I knew a few, but certainly not all of them!

  2. Jonathan Faydi March 31, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Very nice pictures! By the way I didn’t find “chouïa” in the list of Arabic words in French!

  3. céline March 31, 2010 at 1:17 pm

    @Nathalie: Fes is also incredible – like stepping back in time.
    @Jonathan: I thought that as well! And it’s one of my favourite words.

  4. Tiffany Endres April 7, 2010 at 3:10 am

    Thanks for the link to the English and French words of Arabic origin. I’ll be sharing this link with my students tomorrow morning.

  5. Crystal April 24, 2010 at 11:48 pm

    Gorgeous photos!
    I’m going to Morocco in a few weeks and I’m excited to witness the smooth trilingualism that you describe. I know a fair amount of French and a few phrases in Arabic, though I have heard from a friend who studies Arabic that Moroccan Arabic is a very unique strain. And with the Berber language I have absolutely no experience… so we’ll see what that’s like. 🙂

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