Hala! If you’re looking for a stable, safe, and thriving country in the Middle East to immerse yourself in the Arabic language, look no further than the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Join the approximately 7.8 million foreigners who have already discovered the oasis of the seven emirates. The UAE is a country of superlatives; it is home to the world’s tallest building, largest shopping mall, and fastest roller coaster, and so naturally, it is the best place for you to learn a language. Really, Odrob el haddid wa howa hami (hit the iron while it’s hot)! What are you waiting for?!
The UAE prides itself in a strong education system and actively works to foster its universities, which creates a pull for young, educated, and driven people to join their adventures in whatever UAE location they choose. Language programs in the UAE continue to develop as it is a relatively new nation, but they already offer diverse learning environments from university study to language schools to private tutoring.
Dubai. Since taking the world stage with its booming economy, Dubai is by far the most popular destination for language study in the UAE, and equally for tourism. The city is truly a global crossroads, with people, foods, cultures, and languages all meeting and intersecting in the desert. Once you’ve hit up the flashy sights of downtown Dubai, the city’s other districts are there to bring you back down to Earth. Use your language skills to discuss the 20 art installations on Alserkal Avenue or chat with a barista at one of the new, local cafés in the quieter area of Jumeirah Lake Towers (JLT); whatever your style, you’ll be sure to dig language schools in Dubai!
Sharjah. Just north of Dubai, those who seek a more traditional Middle Eastern experience can find just that in the emirate of Sharjah. In 2014, UNESCO reaffirmed Sharjah’s standing as a Capital of Islamic Culture, which has preserved an authentic religious context for the Arabic language. While Sharjah oozes history compared to the UAE’s more modern cities, language learners will find company amidst the student communities of the beautiful American University of Sharjah. With a huge diversity of students on campus, you’ll be sure to hear a mix of both Arabic and English with accents from around the world.
Abu Dhabi. Slowly emerging out of Dubai’s dominating shadow, Abu-Dhabi makes for a prime location to mix up your textbook and local Arabic in the UAE’s capital city. It won’t take long to uncover the city’s vibrant flair as the city streets fill at night with the chatter of locals and the smell of shisha. Maybe you’ll discuss the art seen at the Abu-Dhabi Louvre or history witnessed at the Emirates Palace or Grand Mosque. With so much culture to consume, look out for language programs in Abu Dhabi that offer excursions and activities to supplement your classroom time. Within no time, you’ll sound like a native with the ability to discuss and describe the array of activity in Abu-Dhabi.
Language Programs in the UAE
The one and only official language of the UAE is, you guessed it, Arabic, meaning that the majority of language programs cater to learning the world’s fifth most widely spoken language. However, with the diversity of expats and tourists flocking to the country, the UAE has also become a hotspot for learning English in the Middle East or even practicing other foreign languages. With these goals in mind, your best bet will be to stick to Dubai or Abu-Dhabi, where the highest concentrations of expats and language schools are located. Otherwise, Arabic learners have free reign to explore the emirates and engage with its local Arabic-speaking population.
Where you choose to study Arabic in the UAE will largely influence the number of options both in and outside of the classroom. The highest concentrations of language programs in the UAE are concentrated in Dubai and Abu-Dhabi, with the full gamut of options from homestays and private tutoring to group lessons at language schools and universities. The large, global universities in the UAE provide great opportunities to get involved in language exchanges and other clubs on campus. Whatever you choose will largely depend on your learning style and the level of immersion in the largely outnumbered local culture of the UAE that you prefer.
Costs & Affordability
Maybe you’ve already been saving your dirham for betting on the UAE’s famous camel races, but if not, it pays to have some savings when packing up for language courses in the UAE. With the UAE’s small size and concentrated cities, about 50 percent of all expenses are estimated to go toward rent. The price of basic food items, meanwhile, vary widely based on their availability in the region and their prevalence in Middle Eastern cuisine. For example, Western staples, such as milk, apples, and lettuce are more expensive. You can sidestep these more costly items, however, by selecting a language program in the UAE that includes housing and meals. A homestay is a great way to immerse both in the language as well as the normal way of life in the UAE.
Although the cost of living in the UAE is on average about 10 percent lower than living in the U.S., the country’s opulent reputation is not for nothing. Before you book your BMX desert bike tour or buckle up to snowboard in the Dubai Mall, plan a budget that won’t bankrupt you with the UAE’s larger than life lifestyle. Applying for scholarships for your language studies in the UAE is a super kashka or cool way to make sure your bank account doesn’t take the heat.
Accommodations & Visas
Sweltering, humid heat and the far-reaching soundtrack of the call to prayer will likely be the biggest aspects of UAE life to consider when it comes to finding comfortable housing. Luckily, air conditioning is ubiquitous, and pending your proximity to a mosque, you’ll still be able to get your beauty sleep. Language programs in the UAE correspond with various types of gender-segregated housing: dormitory, apartment, homestay, and even hotel! If securing your own apartment, be prepared to either pay full rent for your lease up front or negotiate your heart out.
Amenities in the UAE are generally standard, plus the addition of the popular, prevalent UAE toilet hose (Insha’Allah you’ll be a pro soon enough). As a plus, you’ll be fine to wet your whistle as you make those hard guttural sounds and glottal stops with safe tap water in the big cities, albeit with an interesting aftertaste.
The type of visa needed to attend language courses in the UAE will depend on the amount of time you will be practicing your Arabic. For up to one month, tourists from many countries are eligible to stay in the UAE on a tourist visa. For those who seek more long-term, intensive language studies in the UAE, a student visa is the way to go. The big trick is to show evidence of a sponsor, but when attending a language school or university, you won’t have trouble getting required documentation. The GoAbroad Embassy Directory should be your first stop to determine the basic visa requirements for your language program in the UAE. Then, with the list of correct items, financial documentation, and a squeaky-clean medical exam, a visa to your Arabic adventure in the UAE should be maafi mushki or no problem.
Benefits & Challenges
Youth. It’s no wonder that the UAE is full of fun activities and a booming economy, with approximately 75 percent of its population between the ages of 15 to 55 and a ratio of expats to nationals of about 5:1. As a result, you’ll be sure to be calling plenty of friends habibi in no time as you explore this vibrant gateway to the Middle Eastern region. A young culture means the UAE is a perfect place to mingle, meet people, and practice those language skills!
Culture Shock. Ok, yes, there is the camel in the room. Despite the UAE’s modern and relatively liberal attitude, learning Arabic in an Islamic country comes with a fair dose of culture shock. With a modest dress code, laws against homosexuality, rules about public displays of affection, and limits to alcohol consumption, the laws of the UAE land will affect your everyday behavior and require some adjustment. While this may require some thought at first, your Arabic abilities will be all the better for your immersion.
The UAE is a highly accessible country to both study Arabic and explore the complicated Middle Eastern region. With its authentic mix of modern and ancient, you’ll be constantly intrigued and entertained as you apply your Arabic to the exciting opportunities of this dynamic country!