Learning Arabic gives expat professionals a competitive edge

Published:  22 Aug at 6 PM
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Despite having long-term careers in Arab countries, the majority of expats admit they’ve either failed to learn enough Arabic to get by or have no interest in learning the language.

One popular English language newspaper, the Khaleej Times, recently conducted a poll on the subject, which revealed 81 per cent of respondents had never made even an attempt to learn Arabic. Some 38 per cent felt the language was far too difficult to attempt to master it. Admittedly, just looking at one written page is enough to scare off all but the very brave, but it’s a fact that learning to express yourself in the local lingo brings many advantages both in and outside your place of business.

Business etiquette across the Arab states is not just based on cultural understanding and appreciation, as trust plays a huge part in everyday transactions. Even although the English language is widely spoken and understood in the UAE, having a basic knowledge of Arabic gives expats a definite competitive edge, especially when applying for a new job in the region. Diversifying one’s job prospects isn’t the only reason to study the language, as career advancement may depend on a certain degree of fluency.

Once out of the office, expats will find that being able to communicate in Arabic can help with cultural adjustments and establishing genuine friendships with locals. Personal fulfilment comes with mastering a language seen by most Westerners as simply too tricky to even attempt. Perhaps even more intimidating than learning to speak is attempting to read and write, but teachers specialising in language tuition reassuringly suggest the script follows a logical path which is easy to remember once it’s understood.

One point which needs to be considered is that modern standard Arabic is rarely used by Emiratis unless they’re in a formal situation. Its colloquial version is the language of everyday life, but expats worried about being understood should realise their standard Arabic will get them by. Going a little further and getting into the Emirati Arabic dialect will open numerous doors and ensure deep, lasting friendships as well as business contacts.
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