Lost in translation: is the Arabic language being eroded?

Mark Rix, Chief Executive Catchpole Communications
Mark Rix, Chief Executive Catchpole Communications

Having gained an MBA from The University Of Salford it was naturally exciting for me to be invited to join the University’s United Arab Emirates (UAE) Advisory Board.

The Middle East expansion of the University is a very positive development which presents outstanding opportunities for students from the region to further their education within a world-class institution.

The wider possibilities for public and private sector collaboration with the University are considerable and this is of equal interest.  The long term effects of the University’s investment in this region lies in the positive contribution to the development of a knowledgeable and competitive economy.

“I look forward to the challenge of working with my fellow advisory board members in helping to realise the ambitions of the University of Salford in the UAE and beyond.”

UAE Advisory board group photo

University of Salford UAE Advisory board

Lost in translation: English to Arabic, Arabic to English

In the UAE there is a great deal said and written (in English) about the continual erosion of the Arabic language and its substitution with English. There is also much debate regarding the literacy levels of Arabic children and whether the schools’ curriculum is of a sufficient standard and focus on their native tongue.

I am not qualified to comment on that aspect of the Arabic language and school standards, but suffice to say that, if the focus and teaching of Arabic is inadequate, then it ought to be addressed without delay.

What are the challenges of learning Arabic?

In six years of living in the UAE I have learnt to read and write Arabic and continue to develop my oral skills. In my own experience, this is particularly challenging on two fronts:

1.       The many dialects spoken by the multinational Arab population.

2.      The propensity of Arabs to speak English even when addressed in Arabic.

Among most Emirati and expat Arabs in the UAE I appreciate that the general command of the English language is of a very high standard. However, when it is clear that someone has made an effort to learn their native language and is then prepared to bare themselves (orally) in an attempt to practise and develop their skill, then this should be encouraged. Such enthusiasm can be considerably dampened when there is no effort to engage in Arabic conversation, however limited, on the part of the Arabic speaker.

Lost in translation: To be or not to be. That is the question

7DAYS Team at The 2015 Dubai 92km Charity Cycle Challenge

7DAYS Team at The 2015 Dubai 92km Charity Cycle Challenge

This is not the case in my own company.  There are many of us studying Arabic and at varying levels, yet our Iraqi, Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian brothers and sisters at 7DAYS (The UAE’s most popular daily news brand!)  are all prepared to slow down, listen, encourage and try to move us along in our quest to further integrate with and understand the Arabic culture(s) more deeply.   It is a lot of fun and has a very positive effect on the organisation’s culture and morale.  It is pretty good for business, too.

If this philosophy was extrapolated to the wider society, then surely the Arabic language would benefit in the long term and yet for that positive interaction to multiply, we first need literate Arabic children leaving school with a passion for their language and a willingness to share it in conversation with willing expatriates.  As in other countries, maybe it would be beneficial for all expatriates to have a basic ability in spoken Arabic before a residency visa were issued?

Min shoof. (we’ll see) !!  Min Shoof

Mark Rix

Chief Executive

Catchpole Communications FZE (Publisher of 7DAYS, UAE)

Twitter: @mprixy