The mother tongue spoken in most of the country and the national lingua franca is Egyptian Arabic.
The official language of Egypt is standard Arabic. Although it is not very pronounced, it is taught in schools and therefore understood by almost everyone except for a small minority, mainly uneducated people, Bedouins and desert dwellers. The Standard Arabic is the language that is used in the majority of written and official forms, including TV, print newspapers, official government speeches, education and teaching institutions.
Egyptian Arabic is one of the many regional (mostly incomprehensible) dialects of Arabic. Each country in the Arab world has its own dialect; Egyptian Arabic has the largest number of native speakers and is actually understood to varying degrees by many Arabic speakers, particularly in neighbouring countries, due to the popularity of Egyptian cinema and media in the Middle East.
Most of the educated inhabitants learn English at school. Travellers are unlikely to have difficulty finding someone who speaks English, especially in cities and tourist centres. Although people who attend these schools may have levels of language proficiency that vary according to their education and socio-economic class (the higher the level, the better the proficiency).
In the educated class, people over the age of 40 are generally more likely to speak French, as French was the predominant language of education in the past, before English became dominant.
Other languages such as German, Italian, Spanish and Russian may be spoken by tour guides as many tourists come from Europe speaking these languages.
Following the usual rules of politeness, instead of simply starting a conversation with someone in English, you should ask them: “Do you speak English? So much the better if you can do it in Egyptian Arabic: betetkallem engelīzi? (speaking to a man) or betetkallemi engelīzi ? (addressed to a woman).
In the southern parts of the country, such as Luxor and Aswan, the local language is Sa’idi Arabic and is different from the Egyptian metropolitan Arabic spoken in the north of the country. In the far south, there are also black Africans who speak completely different Nubian languages. But in principle everyone can speak Egyptian Arabic, and in the cities they can often speak Standard Arabic and English as well.
The inhabitants of Siwa and the western deserts of Egypt speak a language called Siwi (a Berber language), which is an unwritten language of their own. They are bilingual in Egyptian Arabic.
Bedouin tribes (mainly Sinai natives) in other parts of Egypt have their own Arabic dialect that ordinary urban Egyptians would not normally understand, but these people will also be bilingual in the Egyptian dialect.
Contrary to what some people believe, no one speaks or understands hieroglyphics (the ancient Egyptian language of the pharaohs), except those who have studied Egyptology or work in the field of archaeology or visit museums.