DUBAI //More than 40 expatriates can now converse in the local dialect after completing an Arabic class organised by an arts group.
"How to Speak Emirati", a 12-week course of two-hour weekly classes, was conducted by Shaima Al Sayed and sponsored by Dubomedy Arts.
The course was the brainchild of Ms Al Sayed, who says expatriates often say they cannot speak to Emiratis and the "problem is that we have a lot of locals who are not comfortable speaking in English".
"So, they don't speak to you and you don't speak Arabic, so that's the wall," she said. "Language becomes the barrier."
The course was designed to teach students how to converse, rather than read or write, in Arabic.
"The idea was to create a personalised class, because the employee is different from the housewife and the teacher," Ms Al Sayed said.
"The environment is different, so would be the words." Ms Al Sayed asked students to send her material they would like to know about in English. Then she replied in Arabish - phonetic pronunciation in Arabic using Latin characters - so her students could read it.
"We use Arabish, chatting style, because it will help them as they want to talk, and not read and write at this stage. They want to communicate," she said.
Ridade Bayik, 27, from Turkey, said the courses were helpful. Using Arabish, she wrote: "Law ana drst aktar, ana brmis Emirati eshal."
Translation: "If I studied more, I would be able to speak Emirati more easily."
Ms Bayik has lived in the UAE for 11 and a half years. He said learning the language of the country he lived in was invaluable.
"I use Arabic socially with friends who are very impressed with what I have achieved so far," she said. "The language gives so much insight into the culture, customs and traditions of the country."
Ms Al Sayed said expatriates often learnt other Arabic dialects but she thought it was important to learn the Emirati dialect.
She said she found expatriate Arabs would often correct the Arabic of others. "For example, one of my students said 'ish-haluk' [How are you?], but one Jordanian told one of my students 'ish-haluk' is wrong and it's 'shlonak'.
"I said, that's Jordanian. That's why I teach them how to say 'Kaif el hal' because it's universal, but specify 'ish-halik' and 'ish-halich' is Emirati."
Sohan D'Souza, 30, from India, said the course was hands-on and focused on conversational Arabic useful in daily situations.
"I think I gained a nominal level of competence and, just as important, a nominal level of comfort," said Mr D'Souza, who has lived in the UAE for 24 years.
The course also proved beneficial to Emiratis, especially those who lived abroad or studied in private schools.
Ali Fikree, 34, an Emirati, said he had only a fair level of Arabic due to a lack of emphasis on the language in the private schools he attended.
Mr Fikree said the course could also help to erase some misconceptions about locals.
"It's always interesting to hear about what other people think about us and it's always fun to try and dispel the myths and folklore," he said. "Personally, I think more expats should try this course out as it can truly bridge the preconceived gap that most expats have about Emiratis."
Ms Al Sayed said the course also allowed students to ask questions about the culture.
"If we keep them in the dark, they create their own opinions and it might be something they don't understand properly about our culture," she said.
"If you don't answer them, foreigners will go back to whatever picture they had and it may be negative."
Ms Al Sayed will be taking part in a cultural festival at Dubai Mall, where she will be available to teach Emirati. The festival ends tomorrow.
Correction: This article was changed on August 4, 2011 to correct the gender of Ridade Bayik.