Learn to speak Arabic line by line or online

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Learn to speak  Arabic line by line or online

Entire generations of expatriate youngsters have passed out of the schools in the UAE, but only a handful of these can speak, read and write Arabic.


Dhanusha Gokulan

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Published: Mon 16 Jun 2014, 12:24 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 7:07 AM

Indian national Priju Prakash (23) completed most of his school education in the UAE and now works as a logistics coordinator for a Jebel Ali-based firm.

Dina Salih during the launch of her book. - KT photo by Syed Hameeduddin Quadri

Like several expatriates who have spent most of their youth and adult life in the UAE, Prakash is well aware of the norms, values, traditions and quirks of the local culture. However, the only Arabic that Prakash speaks is Marhaba (hello), Assalamualaikum and Sabah Al Khair (good morning).

Entire generations of expatriate youngsters have passed out of the schools in the UAE, but only a handful of these can speak, read and write Arabic. “One of the best ways to learn Arabic is by speaking to native Arabs. Asian and British curriculum schools teach you the script, but very few places take the effort to teach students how to speak,” said Prakash.

Expatriates Qamaruddeen bin Mohammed and Dina Salih are taking matters into their hands and are taking efforts to introduce basic spoken Arabic skills to expatriates and tourists alike.

Dina Salih, the author of Your First Insider (yFi), a scenario-based phrasebook for Emirati Arabic, said: “In 2012, the World Travel and Tourism Council reported that 10 million foreigners visit the UAE annually. A recent study carried by Natwest International showed that 8 per cent of the visitors express their interest throughout their visit to look for a job and make the UAE their new home. Meanwhile, the national population, according to the Statistic Centre, is touching a million ... These are amazing facts carrying worth-researching figures asking for bold actions.”

Arabic is spoken by 420 million speakers around the world (native and non native). So when choosing a second language to learn, it is smart to consider Arabic.

In an interview with Khaleej Times, Salih said: “At the government level, the UAE has launched multiple initiatives to emphasise the Emirati identity due to the huge influx of expats over the past couple of decades. In fact, the UAE Vision 2021 is all around development while promoting national identity and cultural cohesiveness. It is about time to extend our creativity and effort to support the nation’s vision at the individual level with simple yet practical ideas.”


Qamar, an Indian national, has taken to Twitter to spread the use of Arabic. @GoArabic is a Twitter account which is related to sharing the daily based Colloquial Arabic words and phrases/sentences. “We also have a website, www.goarabic.ae, which shares commonly used Arabic (terms and phrases),” said Qamar.

Though Qamar is not a native Arab speaker, he has smartly used the hashtag #GoArabic to upload different useful Arabic phrases and has perfected his Arabic speaking skills in the process.

“I’m still learning and I also have a lot of Emirati Twitter users who correct me if I am wrong,” said Qamar. “I’ve been here all my life and the fact that I did not know some basic phrases really frustrated me. The idea was born shortly after I started using Twitter. There was an incident I faced at a Sharjah local court, when I went for the registration of my sister’s marriage certificate. I knew a little bit of Arabic then, and I made a mistake that sort of embarrassed me in front of the officials. I was really frustrated coming back home and I decided to start a Twitter account that promotes Arabic phrases and in the process, I learnt to speak the language fluently as well,” said Qamar.

Qamar, who sticks strictly to Twitter to upload daily phrases, said: “We want to become a database of phrases ... For example, when you go to a coffee shop, you should know what to say. People can use or tweet to @GoArabic to look for words and phrases that best suit their given situation, instead of starting from scratch. It can be used by any follower who is interested in developing a skill for the language.”

GoArabic introduced another twitter account by the name @WeSpeakArabic, which involves native Arabic speakers. The account is a rotation curation account similar to @WeAreUAE which allows several twitter users to handle the account and tweet what he/she speaks, allowing followers to learn new things every day. This is a first of its kind rotation curation account in the social media world to involve learning a language. All the tweets that are language-related are stored on the website www.goarabic.ae/wespeakarabic, which is currently being recorded and then will be fed to the website and an app under development.


According to Salih, knowing the language opens a lot of closed doors for the people living here. She said: “Home is where you belong, you can’t belong to a place where you don’t understand its language, embrace its culture or share its values. It is true that English is widely and broadly spoken all over the seven emirates and there is no need to stress if you don’t master the Emirati dialect. It is a matter of courtesy, though! You know, ‘When in Rome do as the Romans do’. I promise you that once you show your interest in learning and speaking Emirati, you will see how closed doors get opened.

“While learning any foreign language can be challenging, there are actually a lot of practical benefits to understanding Emirati dialect while you’re here. Many government posts are dedicated to Arabic speakers since the UAE’s official language is Arabic. Once you get the Emirati dialect, you’ll be far ahead of your competitors and you will realise that it wasn’t that difficult after all,” said Salih.


According to Salih, yFi (pronounced like WiFi) is a key language-learning tool for both tourists and expatriates. It is a scenario-based phrase-book, assuming the standard idioms used in the most frequent situations people may come across.

“It is designed to help foreigners (non Arabic speakers) bridge the cultural gap and find their way right from arriving the airport, all through exploring the city and becoming an active resident,” said Salih.


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