It’s estimated there are about 200 nationalities living and working in the UAE, which means an awful lot of languages to get your tongue around. Arabic classes are the obvious choice for expats wanting to add to their linguistic repertoire, but there are dozens more courses available. European Day of Languages on Wednesday September 26 is a good time to start if you’re in need of some focus – or an excuse to start learning a new tongue.
Held every year since 2001, the day is celebrated throughout the continent, where 800 million Europeans are encouraged to learn more languages regardless of their age. In Dubai, The Eton Institute is seizing this as an opportunity to hold a free open day, and there’s more than just talking going on. As well as learning to speak a variety of languages, visitors will also have the chance to taste authentic dishes from different countries, listen to traditional music and see cultural dress and artefacts. The aim is to give guests a taster of the culture that’s attached to the tongue they might like to learn, before they sign up for the complete course, Eton doesn’t just offer European languages. There are more than 100 options on its syllabus: according to the institute’s Mahina Bukhari Shah, one of the most unusual is Luo (pronounced ‘dholuo’), a language spoken in Kenya and Tanzania. Eton’s most heavily subscribed courses are extremely varied, a fact attributed to Dubai’s multicultural society.
‘The ten most popular languages we teach are English, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Chinese, Japanese and Turkish,’ she explains, noting that because the UAE is also a meeting ground for European and Asian business, a lot of students are executives looking to advance both professionally and socially. Asked whether she thinks it would be as useful to learn languages such as Urdu and Filipino, given how large a portion of the population speaks these as a mother tongue, Mahina agrees. ‘It would be a huge advantage! Even though the majority of people in this community can speak some English, it’s always more comfortable and easier to explain your point in your native language.
In fact, due to demand, we’re just finishing putting together phrase books for both languages.’
Of course, with so many nationalities present in Dubai, there are more ways than one to learn a language. In the past we’ve seen ‘speak dating’ events, where attendees with an interest in each others’ languages meet to exchange conversational tips, although whether these events will return is not yet known. There is also a similar group registered with Meetup.com, the website dedicated to community social groups, called Dubai Language Exchange. With more than 380 members, it describes itself as a free social forum to exchange languages, cultures, make new friends and a place to have a good laugh in the process. The same website is also the organisational hub for Dubai Arabic Language Club, a free group run by Arabic tutor Mostafa Elabbady.
Your own reasons for learning a language may not be for business, or even to interact with other residents. The fact we live in a very multi-cultural society means people often find themselves marrying someone of another nationality. ‘The adults I teach are men and women from all over the world,’ explains Maria Shapiro Higton, a Danish language teacher based in the city. ‘But the one thing they all have in common is that they want to learn Danish because there partner is from Denmark, and they might one day move there.’
Some people in the city are fortunate enough to find themselves with a lot of free time day-to-day, Maria suggests, particularly in the case of expat families with only one parent working – it gives the other time to take up lessons. And what better way to spend your time, than to work towards better integrating with the community? Still, if it’s inspiration you’re after, the Eton Institute’s celebration of European Day of Languages is not a bad place to start.
European Day of Languages open day takes place on Wednesday September 26, 4pm-7pm. Entry is free. Eton Institute, Dubai Knowledge Village (800 3866).
Here are three new phrases to use today.
Where can I get a coffee round here? ‘ayna yumkinuni lHuSul xala Kahwa huna?’
How long have you lived in Dubai?‘Gaano ka na katagal sa Dubai?’
There’s lots of traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road today... ‘Aaj bohat traffic hai Sheikh Zayed Road pey...’