Dec. 18 was designated by the United Nations in 2010 as Arabic Language Day, as that was the day in 1973 when the General Assembly approved Arabic as an official U.N. language.

The purpose of the initiative is to increase awareness of and respect for the history and culture of the Arabic language, as well as celebrate its beauty and enormous contributions to the heritage of humanity.

To help do just that, we take a look at some interesting facts that you might not know about the ancient but still-standing-strong language.

1. The Arabic alphabet is not actually an alphabet

One of the qualities that make Arabic unique, and difficult to learn, is that its writing system doesn't follow that of an alphabet, but an abjad. An abjad is a system in which each letter stands for a consonant and not a vowel, which requires the user of the language to provide the vowels using vowel marks.

2. Arabic belongs to the Afroasiatic family and is the most widely spoken Afroasiatic language

In the family tree of languages, Arabic belongs to the Afroasiatic family. The Afroasiatic language family, which is spread across the Middle East and a large part of Africa, consists of six branches, comprising about 300 living languages and dialects and is spoken by more than 350 million native speakers. Arabic is the most widely spoken member of the family.

3. Maltese is descended from Arabic

The Maltese language, the national language of Malta, originated in the 11th century when settlers arrived from the neighboring island Sicily who spoke an Arabic dialect as a result of the Arab conquest of Sicily at the end of the ninth century. Maltese then evolved from Siculo-Arabic, that is why it is linguistically classified as a branch of Arabic. It is the only dialect of Arabic written in the Latin alphabet, and is the only Semitic language that has official status in the European Union.

4. Arabic and Hebrew have a lot in common

Arabic and Hebrew are both Semitic languages that belong to the Central Semitic Languages group, that makes them share many distinctive features including the fact that they're both impure abjads, not alphabets and that they both have a unique negation marker.

5. You need an average of 1.69 years to learn Arabic

The Foreign Service Institute of the U.S. Department of State did a study in 2014 that found Arabic to be one of the most difficult languages to learn in the world for native English speakers.

It requires an average of 1.69 years (88 weeks), or 2,200 class hours, to reach speaking and reading proficiency, as opposed to the 23-24 weeks of study, or 575-600 class hours required for the world's easiest language.

6. Arabic has influences from other languages

Although Arabic is known for its enormous influence on numerous modern languages, it was also influenced by some of its closely related languages. Over the centuries, Arabic borrowed words from Aramaic, Hellenistic Greek, Hebrew and Persian. The Arabic word "madina," meaning city, is an example, as it's of Aramaic or Hebrew origin.

7. Arabic is at least 1,500 years old

Classical Arabic originated in the sixth century, but earlier versions of the language existed, including the Safaitic dialect, an old Arabic dialect used by the pre-Islamic nomadic inhabitants of the Syro-Arabian desert. Some of its inscriptions date back to the first century.

8. Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world

Arabic is the most widely used Semitic language and one of the most widespread languages in the world, despite it being concentrated in the Arab World. In terms of the number of native speakers, Arabic takes the fifth place behind the Mandarin, Spanish, English and Hindi languages, respectively.