A few days ago, my mother and I attended Cityscape, a property convention held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre. Before entering the exhibition halls, we had to fill out a registration form handed to us by event organisers.
Having gone to an American school, then a British university, I barely pay attention to small details such as the fact that the form we had to fill out was available only in English, although the majority of people at the event were Emiratis.
My mother gazed at the form for a few seconds before asking the person issuing the form why there were no Arabic-language forms available, or at least a form that used both languages. After all, many people here do not speak English very well and might have a hard time filling out the form, which required many details.
The person replied that the business world communicates mainly in English and they have to go with the flow. My mother became furious and complained to me that small details such as these should not be overlooked and that Arabic should be prioritised in all businesses, especially when it comes to printing forms and brochures and hiring customer-service employees.
An Emirati friend of mine works at a government organisation, and all the employees she deals with are Emiratis or otherwise of Arab descent, but they communicate with each other in English. I always ask her why they do this and she says: "The business world and developed companies all communicate in English. Arabic is so old school." Comments like this always get on my nerves.
Although I strongly believe that communicating in English is vital for UAE companies as they deal with international organisations, I also believe that Arabic is just as important and should not be undermined. There is no better example than Japan. Leading manufacturing companies such as Toyota were founded there, and the people are very proud of their language. They do not let any other language dominate their work. Of course, when they have to use English, they will do so without question.
Neglecting Arabic in the business world will harm business, just as much as communicating in English is a plus. Consider the following scenario:
An Arab customer tries to contact a travel agency's call centre regarding an urgent matter. He presses "1" on the dialing pad to speak to an Arabic-speaking employee. The phone is instead picked up by a foreign language-speaking employee who cannot communicate with the customer or be of help. The customer hangs up the phone, dissatisfied with the service; he may even end his relationship with the company.
This is not unusual, for many Emiratis and other Arabs. I have heard many complaints by family members and friends who ask why they have an option to speak to an Arabic-speaking customer-service representative but then have to deal with an English-speaking one.
The language factor is important when people decide to deal with a company or a service provider because, just as thousands of people were educated in English-speaking schools, thousands of others were not, and they always prefer to use Arabic even if they are fluent in other languages.
That is why I was so glad when I read that Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, had implemented a number of initiatives to promote Arabic and make it the primary language in all government sectors, including service providers. These initiatives also include giving priority to Arabic-speaking media programmes. To aid non-Arabic-speaking residents, an Arabic-language teaching institution will be established at Zayed University as part of a plan to make the UAE a hub for the study of Arabic.
Initiatives such as these need the collaboration of all companies in the country, both public and private. Arabic is not just our language but our national identity and pride.
Manar Al Hinai is an Emirati fashion designer and writer. She can be followed on Twitter: @manar_alhinai