Communications sector: Arab world short of strong bilingual talent

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Communications sector: Arab world short of strong bilingual talent
The unique blend of bilingual proficiency is what students, fresh graduates and communications experts should come to master and incorporate into their professional profiles.

Published: Sat 22 Jul 2017, 3:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 22 Jul 2017, 5:19 PM

According to modern linguistics, our planet is home to approximately 7,000 languages (excluding dialects), out of which 2,000 are on the verge of becoming extinct. While sources indicate varied rankings, Chinese is known to be the most widely spoken language in the world, followed by English, Spanish and Arabic, respectively. Undoubtedly, English remains the universal language.
Across the Arab world, educational curricula generally place more emphasis on teaching foreign languages such as English and French than Arabic, although the latter represents the native and official language. Spoken Arabic is mainly learnt at home.
As one of the top five widely spoken languages in the world, Arabic is slowly losing momentum in the Arab world, where English is taking over as the main business language - except in North Africa where French is more prevalent.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, is one of the biggest advocates of the Arabic language. With a noble intention to prevent it from fading, His Highness has launched numerous initiatives since his accession in 2006, immensely retaining and strengthening the prominence of the Arabic language.
Meanwhile, many Arabs prefer using foreign languages over Arabic, which is the second most difficult language to learn. Sometimes they find it easier to communicate among themselves using English, partly to avoid miscommunications or misunderstandings due to the major differences in Arabic dialects from country to country. Other reasons Arabs often shun their own language and use English to communicate include the intent to avoid revealing their dialects, which usually point to where they come from.
With this in mind, ask Arab graduates to say the English alphabet and they will spell it out perfectly without hesitation. Ask them to recite the Arabic alphabet and they will most probably stumble after the fourth letter. They almost all speak Arabic fluently, but high-quality written communications remains a challenge for many of them due to the level of language complexity and subjectivity of style.
All this have created a tendency in Arabs to rely more on English for both written and verbal communications. Over time, they honed their English skills more finely, especially in written business and official communications. Therefore, a huge percentage of the young and mid-aged generation of Arabs currently in the marketplace lack the level of Arabic proficiency required for proper written communications.
After all, the primary purpose of any language is communications and expression. You may argue that the communications sector in markets such as Dubai can do just fine without strong Arabic talent, knowing that almost everyone is comfortable communicating in English. Nevertheless, the official language of all government departments in the region is Arabic. In addition, the communications sector in the region speaks to a multilingual audience, with one of the most important audiences being Arabic-speaking. With sub-par Arabic communications, message delivery will suffer and brand image will deteriorate among Arabic audience.
In reality, dealing with certain businesses and most government departments in the region requires a good command of the local language, as written Arabic often precedes the English version of the same communications. Unlike translating from English, writing original Arabic content from scratch requires a high level of expertise and accuracy. Working with government officials requires talented Arabic professionals, given that the vast majority of government spokespeople and public-facing personnel are Arabic-speaking. Furthermore, such Arabic-driven businesses and official bodies stipulate that in case of discrepancy between Arabic and non-Arabic text of any form of communications, the Arabic version shall prevail. Therefore, the availability of strong bilingual talent in the region is essential to the evolvement of the communications sector and the preservation of the Arabic language.
A communications professional is not likely to forge a good relationship with the Arabic press if they were not able to communicate clearly and professionally in verbal and written Arabic. On top of that, understanding local cultures, avoiding miscommunications caused by inaccurate translation and managing sentiments represent some of the most important culturally-sensitive, language-related areas that require professionals who not only communicate in and write high-quality Arabic, but who also think in Arabic.
With the rise of globalisation and connectivity, it is not unusual for English to prevail as the most commonly-used language on the internet. The Arabic language however remains the official language in this part of the world, online and offline. With that in mind, Arabic-speaking communications professionals should hone both languages equally as nurturing bilingual skills is fundamental to their market success and the long-term prospects of the overall communications sector in the region.
The unique blend of bilingual proficiency is what students, fresh graduates and fellow communications experts working in the region should come to master and incorporate into their professional profiles.
Always remember, being a scarce commodity in today's cluttered marketplace is certainly rewarding. If you already have an Arabic education or background, all it takes is some patience and practice in the form of reading and writing. As poet Karen Demaree puts it, "Near the end is not the time to give up, but the time to push forward. What reward lies within halfway accomplishing something - only the regret of not finishing."
The writer is a bilingual communications expert. Views expressed by him are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy.

By Bahaa Hamadi

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