x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

One encounter with the police and a lesson in communication

A student tells of her frustration at not getting point across, while companies see the virtue of having employees learn Arabic to stay ahead.

DUBAI // Encounters with the authorities are not a regular occurrence for Jyoti Mansukhani, one incident was enough to make her realise the barriers thrown up by not being able to speak the language of the land.

"I regretted it when I couldn't explain my point to the police officer because I couldn't speak Arabic," said the 20-year-old student at the Manipal University. "I think if you want to work in the UAE, you need to be able to converse in Arabic."

She had chances to learn the language early on, though she says the level of instruction was less than perfect. Ms Mansukhani went to St Mary's Catholic High School in Dubai and was taught Arabic from Grades 1 to 9. However, the sum total of her memory is words such as ahlan wasahlan (welcome), bortkal (orange) and inta (you).

"We would be quizzed on the same matter in our textbooks, so it was easy to pass tests by memorising."

As a media student, Ms Mansukhani had to take up a course in Arabic again when her university introduced it as a compulsory subject in the programme. Dr Mohammed Firoz, who heads Manipal's media and communications department, said it was important for media students to speak reasonably proficient Arabic if they wanted to work in the Emirates, where many conferences and presentations were held in that language.

"At the end of the course we expect the students to be able to read and write well and be able to understand the proceedings of media conferences and gathering that take place in Arabic," he said.

While English is widely used across the Emirates, Shanae' Reed, who heads the University of Wollongong Centre for Language and Culture, said Arabic helps people to understand the local mores and to broaden their acquaintances. The centre will offer Arabic as a choice from next year.

"Arabic is not necessary in the UAE, but learning it opens up your social circle and exposes people to different local experiences," she said.