In light of the rarity and unavailability of academic publications on literacy/illiteracy in the Arab world, this study attempts to determine the linguistic needs of illiterate adult women in Egypt in the context of informal adult basic education. The purpose of this study is to understand illiterate adult women’s daily linguistic needs in relation to diglossic de-contextualization in Arabic, the comprehension gap between colloquial and standard Arabic that contributes negatively to the process of reading and writing acquisition in standard Arabic. The present study, based on participatory action research methodology, was conducted in Egypt where 11 adult female literacy classes, five (139 subjects) in Cairo (urban) and six (151 subjects) in Menia (Upper Egypt/Northern Egypt) were group-interviewed. The results of the group interviews clearly define the functional context of adult female illiteracy (i.e. age and immediate linguistic/literacy needs) and enforce a diglossic dichotomy, entailing ‘reading’ and ‘writing’ categories. If considered by literacy authorities, diglossic integration in adult literacy programmes/curricula will certainly help Egyptian illiterate adult women to integrate easily in their environment, the ultimate goal of all involved in the fight against adult illiteracy in the Arab world.