Monday, September 20, 2010

Don’t Speak Arabic? Neither does (most) anyone else….unfortunately

Afraid to move to Dubai because you don’t think you speak Arabic? Don’t be. Unfortunately, English is the most popular language here. It is used in business and with approximately 80% of the population all from different backgrounds, a common ground must be found. That common ground is the language of international commerce, English.

I came here very enthusiastic to learn Arabic. One of the first things I did was find a good Arabic language school. The only problem was that outside of the classroom, there was never an opportunity to practice. For example, most of the taxi drivers here are from India, Pakistan or other countries that don’t use Arabic. Once I did start working again, all of my colleagues were from elsewhere so I had no opportunity to practice it in the office. After about a year and a half of lessons, I decided it would never progress as my Turkish did in Istanbul, so I dropped out.

Quite frankly, the only time I have ever used Arabic in my six years of living here was once when my husband and I were lost in a remote area of the UAE and needed directions. Despite my earlier struggles in class to give directions from the Arabic school to my home that was a mere five minutes away, much to my delight, I was able to ask where to go and understood the directions.

I find this a very sad thing and after speaking with some locals, it is a double edged sword it seems. They are proud of their country and proud of Dubai for being such an international hub, but they are loosing a lot of their culture and tradition in the process – and this includes language.

For example, a local friend’s children are learning Arabic in school from a Moroccan teacher. There is no issue with the woman being Moroccan, but the dialects are so different that the children are learning a very different language from what their parents and grandparents speak. As many locals seek higher education in English for their children here, they may never learn proper Arabic in any dialect. It is slowly becoming a lost language for them and in my opinion, this is sad.

So my advice if you want to learn Arabic. It’s a beautiful language – both written and spoken. Go for it. However, you’ll be challenged to find a lot of practice in your daily life to speak it. It is nice to know the formalities and greetings, but there is nothing within that context that you will not be able to pick up from a language reference book.

Everyone in the service industry here is usually from the Philippines, India or other Near and Far Eastern countries and they are all speaking English. If you are really a linguist and want to learn something exotic that you can master here – go for Tagalog or Urdu!

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