x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Ask Ali: On learning local Arabic and how to address sensitive teenagers

Ali Alsaloom offers advice on learning the Emirati dialect and how to approach topics in respect to local laws and customs.

Dear Ali: It seems impossible to find a teacher of Emirati Arabic in Abu Dhabi. Those I have found say that they know the local dialect but when I meet them they insist on teaching Egyptian or classical Arabic. What should I do? RG, Abu Dhabi

Dear RG: I'm afraid that it is still difficult to recommend a good Emirati dialect teacher, because they don't exist professionally in the first place. What you might find are a few initiatives by some people who occasionally offer classes but then disappear.

I recommend you continue to focus on learning classical Arabic because it's the dialect you will benefit from the most. As you build your vocabulary you'll be able to pick up more easily the Emirati, Saudi or Qatari dialects bit by bit. If you don't know what "kayfa" means you will find it difficult to observe and understand what "chaif" means in our dialect. "Kayfa" means "how" in classical Arabic, but in the Emirati dialect we say "chaif". For example, in classical Arabic you would say: "Kayfa haluka?" which means "How are you?" (to a male), while in Emirati you would say: "Chaif halek?" So if you learnt only the word "chaif" without knowing its origin it would be more difficult to understand.

I hope one day our Government offers free Emirati Arabic courses to our expat friends. I assure you that it won't be long before a school in the capital launches such a programme.

Dear Ali: In respect to our local laws and customs, how can we educate our pupils on serious social issues that teenagers may have questions about, such as relationships between boys and girls, pregnancy, suicide or depression, and alcohol or drug abuse? Any guidance you can offer would be appreciated. BT, Abu Dhabi

Dear BT: These are important issues to consider sharing with our children in schools. But the cultural sensitivity of the subjects makes it a big deal for school officials to approve without further study on how such teachings can be appropriately implemented. Some of these issues haven't caused much trouble for us in the past because we sent our children to boys- or girls-only schools. However, today's private schools often have a co-ed system and children there face some of these situations.

I remember in school, touchy but nevertheless important subjects were covered by our Islamic teacher and he always gave examples that included quotes from the Holy Quran. Teachings about sexuality didn't feel like sex education - it was more about awareness. Students have been finding out about these things from their friends for generations and they often get the wrong information. But when it was addressed in the right context by an Islamic teacher, it felt proper and authoritative.

I suggest you consider our local customs and values before sharing information about such subjects. It could certainly be taken the wrong way by parents of Emirati and other Arab students. Many Muslim parents would think that sharing such information with their boys and girls could spark their curiosity, and that it could encourage their children to break rules or experiment.

Have you tried approaching officials in our Government? I believe that once the right content is developed in a way that respects our traditions and faith, the Government, represented by the Ministry of Education or Adec, would approve the approach.


Language lesson

Arabic: Rajul aamal

English: Business owner

One of the first questions people ask when they meet someone new is about what they do for a living. If you own your own business and work for yourself you can reply to them in Arabic by saying "Ana rajul aamal". Women may say "Ana sayedat aamal", which means "I'm a businesswoman".