In Saudi Arabia, 'no Arabic, mafi mushkila'

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Author: RENAD GHANEM | ARAB NEWS

Monday 27 December 2010

JEDDAH: A simmering issue that has been in the backburner is slowly seeing the light with many locals wondering why most non-Arab expatriates either do not know Arabic, or speak only a smattering of Arabic words picked up at random, which — although sound gibberish to the purist — does enable them to at least communicate.

There are reasons for the apathy to learning Arabic, despite
many having spent years working in the Kingdom. Reasons cited by the non-Arab
expatriate community include claims of finding the language difficult and an
absence of Arabic schools or institutions. Many, on the other hand, are simply
not keen to learn the language.
As a result, many non-Arabic speaking expatriates rely on
English as their chosen language of communication, something that Saudis find
strange, especially when these expatriates have been living in the Kingdom for
over 10 years.
The major obstacle, according to the non-Arabic speaking
expatriate community, is a lack of institutions that provide short courses in
Arabic that would suit working people. Although some Saudi universities do
teach Arabic to non-Arabic students, most of this teaching is done at
specialist universities that cater to full-time religious students.
There are also some private institutions that teach Arabic.
However, non-Arabic speaking expatriates are either unaware of them, or they do
not enroll because of exorbitant fees. One person who did make an attempt to
join found that the program was poorly thought out and would not have benefited
him.
Arab News contacted 905 phone directory to inquire about
Arabic language institutes. The phone operator told Arab News that there was
nothing in the system and he could only be of assistance if we could provide a
name of an institution to search in his database.
The paper also contacted various English language institutes
to find out if they also teach Arabic. All of them said that they only teach
English and are not planning to run Arabic classes in the future.
In addition, a computer and language institute, when
contacted, also confirmed that they only provide Arabic language classes for
company employees.
A Saudi, who did not wish to be named, said that sponsors
and companies take no effort whatsoever in teaching their non-Arabic speaking
workers Arabic or enrolling them on courses to learn the language. “It would
help if people knew the language as interaction between colleagues would be
better,” he said.
He added that one way this issue could be addressed is to
state, while recruiting from abroad, that knowledge of basic Arabic language is
a must in the contract. “This could then be developed when the expatriate comes
over here, and not leaving them to learn on their own.”
Often, many non-Arabic speakers make an effort to learn the
language on their own or with a bit of help from their Arab friends or
colleagues but they end up speaking broken Arabic. This is especially found
among expatriates who work labor jobs.
Ali Ashkori, an Indonesian who has been living in the
Kingdom for three years and works as a driver, said he worked hard to learn
Arabic by himself. He said he found great difficulty communicating with others,
especially when he goes to grocery stores. His problem is in speaking the
language but, according to him, he partly understands what people say in
Arabic.
Rodolpho, a Filipino salesman in his 30s who works at a mall
in Jeddah, said, “I communicate with people in English as English is a popular
language in the Kingdom. Arabic is very difficult for me. I did not learn it
because my job does not require that I do so and there is no institution that I
can join to learn the language. I only know basic Arabic words that I hear
frequently during work.”
Erfan, an Indian salesman in a Jeddah shop, has been working
in the Kingdom for five years and does not know the language. He said that
besides the absence of an Arabic teaching institute, he finds Arabic difficult
because it is spoken in various dialects. “I only know basic words related to
my work. It is sad that when I see two people speaking in Arabic I can only
understand a word or two but I don’t have any idea what they are talking about.
I wish I could learn but I cannot find anyone to teach me or to talk to me in
Arabic.”
For Erfan, part of the lack of interest to learn the
language is the large community of Indians who live in the Kingdom.
Muhammad Ali, a Turkish private company employee, realized
the importance of the language when police stopped him. He said that he was
trying to communicate to the officer but the conversation was totally futile,
as neither of them could understand the other.
“I was given the violation without knowing why. I had no
interest to complain because I cannot speak Arabic and I cannot communicate
with them.” Ali hopes to see Arabic language institutions opening for people
like him.

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