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Learning Arabic, a value-add for expats in the UAE
81 per cent of respondents had not taken Arabic courses or instruction of any kind
Despite living in an Arab country, many expats in the UAE admit to a poor command of the Arabic language, and an alarming lack of willingness to try learning it.
But according to experts, Arabic can "open doors" in both professional and personal settings, allowing one to learn the local culture, make new friends and cement business relationships.
A December 2016 poll of over 600 people conducted by Khaleej Times found that 81 per cent of respondents had not taken Arabic courses or instruction of any kind. The same poll found that 38 percent of respondents believed that Arabic is too difficult to be learned properly.
However, experts disagree and note that learning Arabic may well provide personal and professional benefits that far outweigh the challenges of learning the tongue. "The necessity of learning the lingua franca of your host country is an absolute advantage," said Maya Mazloum, learning and development manager at Eton Institute in Dubai.
"Business etiquette in the UAE is based on trust as well as cultural understanding and appreciation.
"While English is the most widely used language in the UAE, having knowledge of Arabic provides professionals with a competitive edge while conducting day-to-day business," she added. "After all, the difficulty of learning a certain language depends on the perspective of the learner and how he or she sees it as an opportunity to improve personally or professionally."
Among the benefits of learning Arabic, Mazloum noted, is that it may make UAE residents more attractive to potential employers who value language abilities.
"Learning Arabic diversifies expats' job prospects, making them more employable over other candidates. It also allows them to advance their career, especially in the UAE's competitive industries like hospitality and retail," she noted.
The benefits, she pointed out, also extend to one's life outside the workplace. "In a personal setting, expats exposed to understanding the Arabic language learn how to empathise as they acquire a much deeper understanding of the people and local culture, establish more genuine and long-term relationships with colleagues and gain personal fulfillment with an added skill," she said.
Mazloum also noted that while the Arabic script may intimidate many expats, for most it isn't as daunting as it may initially seem. "At Eton Institute, we help our students learn the Arabic script by using visuals and telling them stories about the script," she remarked. "Moreover, the Arabic script follows a logical path and once students understand how it works, they never forget it."
"In fact, they will start to enjoy connecting and disconnecting words that are new to them," she added.
Khairat Almazrui, an Emirati Arabic instructor at the Al Ramsa Institute in Dubai - which focuses on the Emirati dialect - said that learning Arabic is a way of showing respect to the UAE and its culture. "You should know some at least, even little words or greetings," she said. "The main reason people learn Arabic is because they want to build relationships with Emiratis, and to show respect to their host country."
Additionally, Almazrui recommended that expats keen on exploring Emirati culture take the time to study the colloquial version of Arabic, spoken by Emiratis on a day-to-day basis. "As an Emirati, if someone speaks to me in modern standard Arabic, it's nice, but if someone speaks to me in Emirati (dialect), I'd want to stay and talk to him or her for one hour," she added. "We love that and appreciate it.
"Unfortunately, we don't really use standard Arabic in daily life. We understand it 100 per cent, but we don't use it except for formal occasions. Nobody speaks like that," she added. "When a foreigner comes here and speaks Emirati Arabic, it may help him or her a lot. It really impresses us."
Learning the language, Almazrui said, has numerous benefits. "So many students learn Arabic for business purposes and use it a lot. It can really help," she said. "I would really advise people to take the time to learn the Arabic language. Any dialect, as long as it's Arabic, but those living in the UAE should really try Emirati.
Among those who have learned the value of speaking Arabic - particularly Emirati Arabic - first-hand is British-American expat Max Stanton. More popularly known as 'Max of Arabia', Stanton has become a well-known social media star in the UAE, with over 547,000 Instagram followers, in which he delivers messages to his followers in nearly flawless Arabic.
Stanton's interest in the Arabic language, he said, began when he lived in Yemen with his parents. "The beginning was definitely in Yemen, but my school had a terrible Arabic programme so that didn't really do much," he noted. "But the little that I learned definitely allowed me to communicate with people I couldn't otherwise and I decided I wanted to learn properly, which was one of the main reasons I chose to study at AUS in Sharjah.
"But it was my friends more than any classes that helped me learn spoken Arabic," he added. "As for reading, that mainly happened through traffic signs, Instagram comments and subtitles at the movies."
Speaking Arabic, Stanton added, has "opened numerous doors."
"The most important one has been allowing me to gain a deeper understanding and respect for the beautiful culture of the UAE and surrounding countries. It also allows me to make deep friendships with people that I wouldn't otherwise be able to understand," he explained. "In many cases, the language barrier can prevent anything more than communicating the basics through sign language, so being understood and understanding means a lot."
Stanton added that "language speaks volumes about those who speak it".
"To me it shows how welcoming and hospitable Arabs are," he said. "If you think about how many ways there are to greet someone or welcome them in Arabic, you would have a hard time counting."
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