Learn Arabic in Dubai

Arabic is an important world language, and it’s worth learning the basics

Too many of us live in Dubai without ever learning the local lingo (and no, knowing the words ‘habibi’ and ‘hallas’ doesn’t count). Stastics are fluid, but Arabic is considered to be the fifth most widely spoken language in the world, used by more than 250 million people. It’s an important language to know, and there’s no better time to start than during Ramadan: not only will you learn a new tongue, you’ll also learn a lot about a new culture.

The language follows a different grammatical format to English, making it slightly trickier to learn than most European languages. Mahmoud Yacoub at Dubai language school Eton Institute explains that Arabic uses an interesting root system that can prove difficult for European language speakers to understand. ‘It’s a beautiful language. Similar words share roots – if you know the system, you don’t need to memorise the whole vocab,’ he explains.

For example:
Maqtab: office (or, literally, ‘place of writing and reading’)
Katab: to write
Kaatab: writer
Maqtaba: library

Where to learn

Berlitz Language Centre
This international language school doesn’t have fixed dates; your course will start when enough students have signed up. Classes are taught across a range of styles, but in general they focus on the Levantine dialect. A course of 28 90-minute group lessons (with course material) costs Dhs4,078, while 23 90-minute private lessons cost Dhs8,140. A good option for people wanting an immediate language boost is the Total Immersion Course: in five days you’ll complete a full-level course.
Villa 55, Jumeirah Beach Road (04 344 0034), www.berlitz.ae

Dubai International Art Centre
On September 18, this community art centre is beginning an eight- to 10-week Arabic language course. The teacher, Zainab Al Hilali, is of Iraqi origin and she’ll teach spoken Modern Standard Arabic to a maximum of 10 students. You’ll have a choice of a Sunday evening or Wednesday morning class, depending on your schedule. Dhs850 for DIAC members, Dhs1,050 for non-members.
Villa 27, Street 75b, Jumeirah (04 344 4398)

Eton Institute
This friendly school offers regular free courses (just sign up to the Facebook and Twitter accounts) and is offering a highly subsidised course starting on August 8 – if you’re one of the lucky people to get a place, you’ll receive 30 hours of lessons over four weeks for just Dhs600 (a saving of Dhs750). Otherwise, try the Summer Super Intensive Immersion course, which involves 60 hours over three weeks with daily classes from August 15 until September 2 (costing Dhs2,635), or the 30-hour weekend courses taught over 10 weeks for Dhs1,735.
Dubai Knowledge Village (04 360 2955), www.eton.ac

Prominent dialects

Arabic is split into distinct dialects, many of which are almost like different languages.

Modern Standard Arabic: This is the official modern form of the language as taught in most schools. It derives from classical Arabic and is used in official forums across the Arab world.
Egyptian Arabic: This is the most widely understood of the regional dialects due to the popularity of Egyptian cinema.
Gulf Arabic: Widely known as Khaliji, this is the dialect spoken from Kuwait to Oman (and yes, for those of you who are geographically challenged, that covers the UAE).
Levantine Arabic: This is a group of mini-dialects spoken in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and West Jordan.
Maghreb Arabic: Spoken in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya, this dialect is almost impossible for Gulf, Egyptian or Levantine Arabic speakers to understand. However, many in North Africa will usually be able to understand the Middle Eastern dialects.

Phrases to know

Want to get to grips with the basics? Start here…


How are you?
Kaifa haluk?

I’m from...
Ana min...

My name is...

Where is...?

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