Learning Arabic in Dubai?

Two months ago, I decided to end 3 years of procrastination, and took it upon myself to start learning my fifth language: Arabic. My greatest challenge was to select a learning path. After days of googling, emailing and reading blogs, I finally decided: 1) to go to the  Eton Institute in TECOM’s Knowledge Village, 2) to undertake the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, CEFR, path. With this in mind, I used three main criteria for selecting the school, as follows:

  1. Classroom Settings, Distance Learning & MOOC
  2. FuSHa, Certification & CEFR
  3. Investment & Commitment

1. Classroom Setting, Distance Learning & MOOC-ing

I am not particularly disciplined when it comes to studying. Hear me right, I am a good student, a diligent one; the type who completes her homework and tends to do well in exams. Case in point, my last grade for my starter level in Arabic was a perfect 50/50, which I finished half an hour before the rest of the class. Okay, it was a very easy test and I was well-prepared, taking even this absolute beginners class very seriously.

What I mean by not being ‘disciplined’ is that I need to go to a classroom environment with an instructor/teacher and mingle with other fellow students. I also like homework and I am oddly fond of exams [because it forces you to review]. Besides my strange taste for tests, I objectively believe that when it comes to languages classroom settings are the best. I believe I have some kind of authority on this subject, as Arabic will be my fifth language.

One of the major benefits of a classroom setting is that they allow interaction, which is much-needed. In Dubai going to class makes it even more interesting because your fellow classmates come from different parts of the world. In my previous class, we were 9 students with 9 different origins. Including the instructor we had representatives from 10 countries: Australia, Canada, England, France, Japan, Portugal, Spain, Syria, Ukraine and the United States.

Aside from building a highly desired skill efficiently, going back to school collateral benefits include offsetting expat loneliness constructively. In other words, I find sitting in a classroom fun, easier and more efficient than self-paced distance learning. I am also currently registered at the CNED, a French distance learning institution, until December to complete my CEFR level 1 & 2 in Arabic, which I have not really started. I will get around it eventually but success in a remote or virtual environment requires being really driven.

2. FuSHa, Certification & CEFR

One of the recurrent issues that bloggers write about is whether we should choose Modern Standard Arabic also called الفصحى (Al-fuSHaa) over a vernacular and  more regional form such as Egyptian, which has become increasingly represented in popular culture through TV series and shows. My husband also known as MiNyHubby mentioned a similar occurrence with American versus British English. Even in Dubai, we have friends who chose Egyptian over MSA. There is also a third form which is Classical Arabic, the purest form of Arabic used in the Holy Qur’an.

In my case, I did not really struggle over this issue, and I would probably have a different discourse if I was living in Egypt or in Lebanon. It was a no-brainer since I live in a region, the GCC, in a country, the UAE, and in a city, Dubai where different dialects are spoken. Rumour is nobody speaks it but everybody understands MSA regardless of where they come from, so I opted for an MSA course (plus finding learning material in MSA is easier).

I think I mentioned it earlier – or at least, I implied it – but I prefer structured teaching over organic learning. So I narrowed my research to universities and well-known professional institutions. One of the easy ways to select a school in general is when they come with a strong reputation. It may not always be the best but it is the surest option.

In this case, I did not choose universities because they were not offering evening or weekend classes. I also like it when the successful completion of a course comes with an accreditation. In general, I recommend this to my employees as well because it saves you from explaining that you learned a skill and that you are proficient at it. So I narrowed my research even further, to institutions that offered internationally recognised certification.

Institutions following the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages probably offer good standards to students who want to learn languages. Besides the fact that I am European, I could not find any other certification reference that would translate internationally for Arabic. So I decided to follow the CEFR path. For now, I have scheduled to pass my full A1 level within the next few months.

3. Investment & Commitment

As I said earlier, no university at the time offered classes which I could attend so my choice became self-evident. Practical considerations when choosing a course and a venue can be summarised in three words: time, money and location. In terms of money, most courses oscillate between AED 1,000 and AED 1,500 for 30 hours. The top ones have very similar offerings.Each sub-level at Eton is offered at AED 1,550. A full course leading to a C2 certification [full proficiency and fluency] would require an investment of AED 20k to 25k over two to three years.

Personally, investment in terms of money was an important yet a secondary consideration. Time was definitely the biggest consideration. One of the other factors that impacted my choice is the location. From one good school to another, I suggest you select the school that is the closest to your workplace or your house. I selected the Eton institute because it was close to home as was Berlitz in JLT, both only require a 10-minute drive to get to class but Eton is located in Knowledge village, which always seem to attract a group of interesting professionals.

Although the courses at Eton are well-designed for professionals with a demanding job, it still involves that you devote some time to your studies. My class commitment is two hours two evenings a week. If you are well-organised, it is really an easy commitment. You could also go for the 3-hour Saturday morning format, which MiNy Hubby poopooed on the basis of it eating into his weekend morning lie-in. Whichever formula you select, at level A1.0, you will need less than an hour of personal studies per week outside the classroom to pass.


The previous class taught me enough to allow me to introduce myself and to greet properly. I resumed my A1.1 class yesterday. It started by reading full paragraphs of text and some basic translations after a short review of the previous level. It looks likely that I will need more than an hour per week of study. By the way and just in case you are interested, there is a AED 350 discount on all language courses if you register now.

As it stands, I am currently focused on getting my A1 accreditation, which should allow me to converse simply with extremely considerate Arabic-speaking people. I got MiNyHubby enrolled in the next intensive arabic 3-week session, which they are offering for starters. He starts next week and the goal is that we get certified together. I feel blessed in that MinyHubby and I share the same definition of intimacy, a sense of connectedness which involves physical and spiritual togetherness. Wanting to do everything together makes our personal goals easier to activate, maintain and achieve.

Image courtesy of iStock

 

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