Why do some expatriates learn Arabic quickly?


Al-Hayat newspaper

Some expatriate workers have been living in the country for 30 years, yet they do not know Arabic and can barely understand it. Others can speak a little. There are, however, some expatriates who are able to blow you away when they speak Arabic as they speak like native speakers. I met a Filipino man like that at a gas station in Riyadh.

This man has been in the Kingdom for six years but speaks Arabic in a Bedouin dialect. He was very impressive. When you visit the gas station, he will welcome you with common Bedouin phrases of welcome. You would never think that these words were being uttered by a non-Arab. For a moment, you would think you were speaking to a young Saudi man.

I asked him how he learned to speak the Bedouin dialect so well. He said he worked as a camel herder for a Bedouin in the desert for two years. His sponsor would each day spend several hours talking with him about different things. Within two years, he had mastered the dialect. I should note here that the Filipino worker did not mingle with other people when in the desert. He would only meet with his sponsor. His story made me think about those expatriate workers who spend decades in the Kingdom but never learn Arabic or pick up the local dialect.

In fact, a large number of expatriate workers who live here still face difficulties in learning Arabic and tend to use English in their daily lives, like when they go to the supermarket or visit malls. Why have some expatriates faced difficulties in learning Arabic while this Filipino worker was able to pick up a difficult Bedouin dialect within two years?

To answer this question, let us take a look at an old Arab tradition that existed over 1,400 years ago when parents would send their children into the desert to live with a Bedouin family who would help the children improve their language skills. That was how this Filipino learned the Bedouin dialect.

We should also be blamed for not championing our language properly and for not showing pride in it. We have failed to instill our language into the minds of others. We should ask ourselves how young Saudi men and women who go to study abroad learn foreign languages within a year or two.

In Britain, people speak English with pride. A foreigner who visits the UK to learn English will easily learn it. We should do the same. We should speak Arabic instead of English in the Kingdom and we should introduce Arabic to the English, the French, the Germans and the people of other nationalities. We should make sure that foreigners who come to the Kingdom learn Arabic and are able to read and write it by the time they leave the Kingdom to return to their home countries.