Can I Volunteer in Morocco Without Speaking French or Arabic?

by Jennifer Bangoura

You want to explore all that the Middle East has to offer, but you also feel drawn to North Africa. You want to spend meaningful time in a country that feels completely different from home, but also has many of the amenities (in larger cities) that you’re familiar with. You want to explore a new culture - and be able to visit Europe soon afterwards. There’s one country that checks every box on your list of volunteer abroad hopes and dreams - Morocco. What’s holding you back from volunteering in magical Morocco? You don’t speak French or Arabic and you think that will prevent you from being an effective volunteer.

Adobe fortress in Morocco.

Morocco is a rich country, and language barriers shouldn’t keep you from volunteering there!

So, can you volunteer in Morocco without speaking French or Arabic? Short answer: Yes. Long answer: Yes, and here’s how!

We won’t lie to you, volunteering in Morocco with little to no understanding of French or Arabic won’t be easy, but it’s certainly not impossible. Put your worries about language aside because we have pulled together some tips for overcoming linguistic obstacles so you can have a successful volunteer experience in Morocco. With the right combination of patience and perseverance you will be ready to volunteer in Morocco in no time.

There’s An App For That

Some volunteer opportunities in Morocco, like environmental projects or sports coaching, may require more manual dexterity than linguistic ability. However, even if you don’t need French or Arabic to be a successful volunteer in Morocco, having a few phrases to use in your daily interactions will only foster a richer volunteer experience.

With language and travel apps at the tips of your fingers, there is no excuse for not downloading one to help you learn basic French or Arabic ASAP. Set a daily alarm on your phone and spend 10 to 15 minutes each day learning basic greetings, questions, and responses. If you have one month before you leave and you learn a new phrase each day, you will be equipped with over 30 phrases once you step off the plane in Rabat or Casablanca for your volunteer work in Morocco! You’ll also be able to reference these apps and phrasebooks in-country to help you out and find that one perfect word to communicate exactly what you mean. 

Find A Host Family

Family and food are cornerstones of Moroccan culture, and you won’t experience either if you spend your entire volunteer experience alone in your apartment after volunteering all day at an orphanage or teaching English in a local school. Whether you are volunteering in Morocco for a few weeks or embarking on a long-term volunteer abroad experience, make it a priority to connect with a local family. You will not only have the opportunity to practice your newly learned French and Arabic phrases with real people, you will also get a glimpse (and often times more than that!) into what day-to-day life in Morocco is really like.

Don’t just buy Moroccan rugs in a market to take back home; make the time to actually sit on a real one in a real Moroccan home. And when the tagine-seller convinces you to buy an authentic piece of Moroccan pottery to make your own couscous at home, make sure you’ve made the time to learn from a Moroccan how to make an authentic tagine yourself. 

Family in Morocco

Living with a host family is a good way to improve language skills

Take An Intensive Moroccan Arabic Course

We all learn languages in different ways. Some people learn best in informal settings and on the go from daily interactions. Others learn best when they have a strong foundation in grammar and rules of the language. If you’re planning on teaching in Morocco, you already know how many different ways there are to teach a language, so use some of the same tactics you share with your students to learn French or Arabic yourself.

When you arrive in Morocco, ask your volunteer peers about their own language learning experience. You can request they share their recommendations for a reputable school or private tutor so you can improve your basic (or non-existent!) French and/or Arabic to get to a level where it’s easier to verbally communicate with your new Moroccan friends and colleagues, rather than solely relying on body language and dramatic gesturing to make your point!

Introduce Yourself To Your Neighbor

Whether you’re volunteering in Casablanca, Rabat, Marrakech, or anywhere in between, make the time each day to greet someone new and practice the phrases you learned from one of your language apps or intensive language courses. Practice makes perfect and that phrase is truest when it comes to language learning and mastery. No matter how many times you repeat in your head “How much is the bread?” or “When will the train be here?”, your accent or ability to ask the question when it’s appropriate will only improve if you practice saying it out loud. If you have a host family, connect with someone in the family to take turns practicing questions in your native language and theirs, too. It will be a win-win situation, especially when the time comes for you to make a sandwich or to catch the train on time!

Gamify Your Language Learning

As a volunteer in Morocco you could be working with students both young and old in community centers, or with people from other countries if you choose a refugee relief project, in which case they might not even speak French or Arabic themselves. No matter what your peers and coworkers will likely be able to help you out. Don’t worry, we aren’t encouraging you to spend even more time on your phone to learn French or Arabic in order to improve your volunteer experience in Morocco.

When we say gamify here, we mean leaving your phone behind and playing a game with other humans, namely your new Moroccan friends! Spend time with your host family pointing to different objects and asking what it’s name is in French or Arabic (make sure you learn how to say “what is the name of” before playing this game!). You will not only make them laugh as you stumble through pronunciations, you will also gain a new vocabulary after the 20th time of trying to say “ant” or “bread” when you finally get it right!

Man riding a motorcycle through Moroccan desert.

Make it a point to meet your neighbors and interact with people on a daily basis.

Be Comfortable Making Mistakes

Ask anyone who speaks another language whether they felt they could comprehend or speak a language better, and we can (almost) guarantee they will say they initially understood more than they could say. The only way to bolster both your ability to understand the words coming out of someone else’s mouth, and then responding coherently (not just staring with an open mouth) is to get out there and practice. Don’t just make mistakes, embrace them! 

This motto of being comfortable making mistakes will serve you well not only as you attempt to communicate with others in French and Arabic, but also as you test the waters during your volunteer experience. What’s critical is to own your mistakes, recognize when you make them, and make an effort to correct them the next time around. Keep a little notebook with errors you repeatedly make to remind yourself of the correct way to pronounce a word, or note when it’s appropriate to say certain phrases. 

Remember that when volunteering abroad, especially in Morocco, speaking is not the only way you can communicate with your new colleagues, friends, and host family. Take the time to learn about the culture where you will be volunteering to adapt your body language and nonverbal communication styles to your new (temporary) home. 

If all that’s holding you back from a volunteer work experience in Morocco is your inability to communicate in French and Arabic, then pack your bags; you’re going to Morocco! With some creative language learning and cultural awareness, you will be equipped with the skills you need in no time to thrive as a volunteer in Morocco. When someone asks if you can volunteer in Morocco without speaking French or Arabic, remember that the answer is definitely yes, you can!