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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Online animations to help expats learn Emirati Arabic dialect

A British filmmaker and Emirati IT programmer have teamed up to offer educational material on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Students at Zayed University write in their native Arabic for a story on preserving the Emirati dialect. Delores Johnson / The National
Students at Zayed University write in their native Arabic for a story on preserving the Emirati dialect. Delores Johnson / The National

DUBAI // A British filmmaker and an Emirati IT programmer have joined forces to help expatriates learn Emirati dialect.

UK-born Aqeel Ahmed is opening a branch of his film-making company Ahmco in the UAE next year and wanted to learn the dialect himself. After finding few resources to help him, he set up a free, educational YouTube channel with the help of Fatima Al Humairi, from Sharjah.

He said: “It didn’t feel right for me to move to the country and not know a single word of their native language. So I went to some bookstores in Dubai with the intention of getting some resources to take back with me to learn Emirati Arabic.

“I was shocked to find nothing but two tiny pocket phrasebooks in a sea of every other dialect of the Arabic language.”

Ms Al Humairi, 31, is key to the YouTube animation series, which will eventually have an episode uploaded every two weeks, in addition to posts on social media helping with issues such as vocabulary and pronunciation.

Ms Al Humairi said the project was a “noble cause” and she was proud to be able to help.

“We haven’t gone into the cultural part yet, focusing to begin with on the linguistic side, but we will and it’s very important,” she said.

For her, the project was “fun”. “I really enjoy it. Every week we record new material,” she said of playing the voice of the animated Emirati character. “All my friends and family want to be characters now.”

Although it will be aimed at beginners, Mr Ahmed said Arabic speakers could “pick up a few colloquialisms” and that the project was already doing well, attracting more than 800 followers on Instagram within the first 10 weeks.

“People are so hungry to learn the Emirati dialect but there hasn’t been many resources out there, especially on an international level,” he said.

“I believe that by learning and embracing each others’ cultures and languages, we can break down walls and create bridges; in this case, between expats and the Emiratis.”

Filipino expatriate Desiree Tojino has lived in Dubai for 10 years. She said: “It will give us a better understanding of the Emirati culture.”

Ms Tojino, an executive secretary who works with many Emiratis, took Arabic lessons three years ago but has since not been able to keep them up. “Learning the language will bridge the gap between expats and locals,” she said.

British expatriate John Roper, who works in digital marketing, has been in the UAE for three years. “I’m always keen on learning Arabic but, living in the UAE, I was really keen on learning the Emirati dialect,” he said.

“The great thing about having this on Instagram is that it gives me more time to learn new words and phrases.”

The project has gone even beyond the UAE. Ukrainian Diana Rudenko, 28, who studied Arabic language and Islamic culture from 2005 to 2008 at the Kiev Centre of Islamic Culture, said she still had an interest in the language. “For me, it’s quite challenging to switch to Emirati dialect but it will definitely help me to communicate with people during my upcoming trip to Dubai,” Ms Rudenko said.

Through the handle @EmiratiArabic, people can see posts and videos on the dialect on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Visit www.youtube.com/EmiratiArabic to view the animated videos.

mswan@thenational.ae

Updated: October 19, 2015 04:00 AM

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