Most people know that people speak Arabic in Libya but did you know other languages were also spoken there? And the big expat question: Can you survive in Libya if you don’t speak Arabic at all, or very little?
Linguistic Situation in Libya:
In Libya most people (95%) speak Arabic, Libyan Arabic to be more precise, which is slightly different from the Arabic spoken in the other Arab countries and also from the classical Arabic (Fus-ha). It means that if you already know Arabic as spoken somewhere else or classical Arabic, you’ll be just fine, people will understand you and you them but you’ll need to get used to some new words or new ways of using them that’s all.
As some cities/area belong to Berber people Berber languages are also used in Libya. This is completely different from the Arabic language so your knowledge of Arabic won’t help you there. However those areas are limited to a few cities and that shouldn’t be a problem at all. You’ll usually see the Berber flag when you drive through Berber cities so look it up when you travel around.
I think this website is pretty good and has got all the info on the languages of Libya follow this Wikipedia link:
Can you survive if you don’t speak Arabic?
The answer is: Yes and No.
As an English teacher, you can do very well within your work environment as most people will speak English if they are used to hire expats, English and some French and Italian can be understood as well in some places and you can always rely on the international ‘pointing and gesturing’. Libyan are very friendly and helpful and you will always find a collegue to help you out. Even at the doctor’s i have always managed with some English.
However it can be difficult if you don’t have any notion of Arabic, on the road for instance, as all the signs are exclusively in Arabic (no double language like in Tunisia for instance). You’ll need Arabic to read and sign your contract and deal with paperwork but here again you should find people to help you.
Basically Yes you can survice without the Arabic but i’d recommend trying to at least learn the alphabet (which is surprisingly easy) and then pick up the language once you get there.
Here is you first lessson with the most important words:
السلأم عليكم – Assalamu alaykum – this is the usual form of greeting (Lit: peace be upon you)
مرحبا – Marhaban – Welcome (you’ll see and hear this a lot)
سكراً – Shokran – Thank you (a good word to know)
بكام – Bikam – How much?