Culture vulture

Mum-of-two Rachel Hamilton confesses a love for the local language


What was your motivation for learning Arabic?
To be honest, I would be embarrassed to have lived in an Arabian country for several years without knowing any Arabic, except the most basic words and phrases, which everyone knows like ‘yalla’, ‘habibi’ and ‘inshalla’. What’s the point in coming somewhere new and exciting if you don’t fully experience it? Of course, it’s very easy to live in Dubai and speak only English, but I think it’s impossible to understand a place or its culture without knowing at least a small part of the language.

You’ve been learning Arabic intensively for six weeks now. Has it made a difference?
It’s really made Dubai feel more like home. Just being able to read road signs and pick up a few words of other people’s conversations is a wonderful feeling. I have quite a few Arabic friends and I’d love to be able to talk to them in their own language. At the moment I can sing the alphabet to them, but I’m not sure how thrilled they are about that.

Is the Arabic language difficult to grasp?
It’s always tricky learning a new language, but luckily Mahmoud, our teacher at Eton Institute, is very good at making it seem more ‘fun’ than learning. There are no serious tests yet and we learn in a variety of ways so it’s always interesting. We spent a lot of the beginners’ course becoming familiar with the alphabet and Mahmoud had lots of techniques to help us with this – unfortunately, quite a few of them involved singing!

What do you enjoy most about the experience?
I love Arabic – it’s a fantastic language. And I’ve really enjoyed meeting such a mix of people – English, American, Turkish, Dutch and Romanian. We’ve become good friends and meet up between classes.

What’s your ultimate aim?
It would be great to be able to pick up an Arabic magazine and read it and also reach the stage where I’m able to chat to people in Arabic and they only laugh when I intend them to! I’m hoping that by speaking
their language, I’ll get to know my lovely Arabic friends better. I also want to get to the stage where I can help my children with their Arabic homework, rather than them helping me. They learn Arabic at school and though they’re only six and seven, they speak it better than I do at the moment.

Has it become competitive at home?
We do have competitions to see who can read Arabic words first. At the moment, to my horror, my daughter Jodie usually wins. But that will all change – she only gets five hours of lessons a week, where I’m taking 10. Competitive? Me?

Eton Institute offers three-week (30 hour) intensive classes (two hours each day at various timings) for all levels. They also offer an online resource, including a free placement test you can do online to see how far you’ve progressed. For more info, call 800 272 2492 or visit

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