x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Advice for the Emirati who can't speak Arabic

Weekend advice columnist Ali Al Saloom offers advice on living and working in the UAE.

Dear Ali: I am an Emirati yet I can't speak fluent Arabic. My mother was Indian so I grew up in India and I went to university in the US. I try my best to converse in Arabic but unfortunately I end up being laughed at. Can you offer any advice? AA, Dubai

Dear AA: Please don't feel bad. Your experiences growing up in India and studying abroad are invaluable. You have experienced other beautiful cultures, something locals have not. So keep your chin up.

Besides, being Emirati is not just about speaking fluent Khaleeji Arabic. It is about being proud of our Arab traditions and respecting our culture. We should be laughing at those who turn their backs on their heritage, not on those who try to embrace it.

You have already hit on the best way to improve your Arabic - keep speaking it. I understand how you might feel, but in a city the size of Dubai there must be someone who would love to talk to you. You don't even have to talk right away. Even if you just listen, you will begin t o develop an ear for the dialect, and you will discover how important body language is for communication.

Cafes are great places to start new friendships. People are bound to be watching football or taking about the news, which gives you an easy way to start. In your spare time, watch Emirati TV shows. Buy Arabic books or CDs to master the basics, if you are at that stage.

Be proud of your efforts. Unfortunately, plenty of young Emiratis don't even speak Arabic at home. I'm afraid our first language could soon be English - or Hindi. Bollywood films are favourites among Emiratis!


Dear Ali: The term Emirati means someone who is from the UAE, right? But before the country was unified, what were these people called? MT, San Antonio, TX, USA

Dear MT: That's right, an Emirati is a person from the United Arab Emirates. The people of the Emirates are descendants of those who lived here long before the country was unified. Back then, you would have clearly noticed the five different cultures and peoples that inhabited the UAE: the mountain people; oasis people; coastal people; nomadic shepherds and settled Bedouins; and the island people. These five groups used to live within their own communities and tribes and rarely intermarried. With time, however, this changed and the UAE's different groups began to mingle and open up to people from different backgrounds, including those from Persia, India, the Arab world, and of course, the Gulf, which has, in the end, given us our unique identity. In general, most of our ancestors belonged to one of our groups: nomadic shepherds who traversed the Empty Quarter or inhabitants of the Arabian Gulf coast. All these people are considered Arab, even though some mixed with ethnic Persians or Indians.

Eventually, what is now the UAE became seven divided sheikhdoms, and people were known by the sheikhdom in which they lived. Thanks to unification under the guidance of the late Sheikh Zayed, we are now all Emiratis.


Dear Ali: Where can I find modern, stylish, black-and-white prints of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid and Sheikh Khalifa? JT, Dubai

Dear JT: Finding our leaders' pictures in the country is not difficult since these men are beloved to us and almost every mall will have a store that carries their images.

However, I would first advise that if you're looking for standard pictures with titles at a favourable price, it will be the photography studio shops where you obtain your passport pictures. These shops have pictures of our leaders, either framed or unframed.


Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow @AskAli on Twitter, and visit www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.