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or expats and Qataris alike, the choice is not so simple. English is the lingua franca. It snakes from the tongues of movie stars; fills the echoing spaces of Villaggio Mall and boldly confronts students on the pages of shiny textbooks. If you know English, you can travel the world. But then there’s Arabic. It’s cultural – an innate part of Arab identity with important social and religious significance. How can one not be bewitched by the bold and delicate fluidness of the letter kaaf? So how does a business navigate dual communication? In a recent study by the International Quality & Productivity Centre (IQPC) 51 percent of marketers in the Middle East say their biggest challenge was marketing in Arabic. Accommodating two languages often results in higher costs. To market effectively, businesses must see double – create two sets of press releases and two sets of advertisements. Hiring and training becomes a more extensive process. “Attracting and retaining top quality talent who can operate in both English and Arabic is essential for success in this market. At Hill & Knowlton (H&K), we have invested heavily in hiring staff with this critical mix of skills. Our internship programme sees university students – both Qatari and non-Qataris – who are able to effectively leverage their bilingualism to the benefit of our clients,” says Nader Abou-Guendia, Account Executive, H&K. 48

Qatar Today JUly 10

By Asha Toulmin

Arabic earns trust

Bilingualism has always been an advantage. As a business tool, Arabic helps break the ice, earn trust or at the least show an attempt at cultural understanding. “If you speak to Qataris in Arabic, especially if you know the Gulf dialect, it puts them at ease because they know you speak their language and makes them less suspicious of your intentions. If you speak their dialect it means you have some understanding of their culture,” says Yousra Abdelaal, a student at Qatar University. Abbas Al Tonsi, Arabic language Professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar, has seen a decline in formal Arabic usage within the region. He argues that the language is so central to Arab identity, it's more important than wearing thobes and abayas. The language also has its mental benefits for Al Tonsi. “It's a kind of psychological thing. As a client of a bank, when I see someone who speaks my language, even with greetings, it makes the relationship much, much better,” he says. “It's different when I have someone who cannot even understand a word in Arabic. I have to sign in front of him and he cannot understand because my signature is in Arabic.”

Critical language

However, Arabic is becoming more than

an incidental advantage or a way to exchange pleasantries. It's currently one of the most sought after skills in the Western world. The US declared Arabic as a language of strategic importance and in 2006 the National Strategic Language Initiative increased funding efforts with critical language scholarships and learning opportunities. “What's amazing is that the number of foreigners who are willing and trying to learn Arabic is more than the number of Arabs trying to learn Arabic,” says Al Tonsi. President of the US Qatar Business Council, Patrick Theros agrees there is a dearth of competent Arabic speakers. When Theros served in the American Foreign Service, there were 70 positions that required professional level Arabic speakers. Only 22 officers qualified. “Of the Arab - American generation born in the States, few speak good Arabic. They're not a good recruiting source for the government or for companies. The only people working for American companies and the American government are the immigrants themselves,” he explains. As member of the board of Qatar Foundation International (QFI), Theros is helping to spearhead Arabic education programmes in US public schools. QFI will fund the programmes for five to seven years, after which the schools will have to choose whether or not to continue with


tag this their own resources. In terms of higher education, a 2006 survey by the Modern Language Association revealed that the number of students studying Arabic at American colleges and universities since 2002 has doubled. Despite this, Theros believes most people are still only 'going through the motions of learning Arabic' and the language will not gain strength until people figure out how to teach it effectively. “Language teaching is pretty much restricted to university and you can't teach language effectively at university if the kids haven't had preparation. Not necessarily in the same language but in any language,” he says. “The problem is the skill level. You're never going to get westerners to learn Arabic to the degree that an Arab can learn English. Two reasons why - it's much more difficult than English to learn and secondly we haven't figured out how to teach it.” Al Tonsi concurs, there are major problems with Arabic language education. He explains the focus on grammar, the need for good textbooks and the lack of common words between the formal and dialect all contribute to uninterested students, Qataris included. “If you don't develop your mental system in your first language, you will not be able to master the second language. What I see here as a result of having bilingual students is that students are weak in Arabic but they are also not excellent in English,” he explains. “Many students cannot write or read in English or do critical reading. Arabic language is important because of the cultural identity but also to have a linguistic system to work with.”

No longer a must-know language?

In terms of infrastructure, advocates for Arabic language face other challenges. Technologically, English has the upper hand. Many technical terms have English names and there are far more websites in English than Arabic. Domain names did not became available in Arabic script until May 2010. Additionally, although it is possible to find some individual tutors for free Arabic classes, language schools can cost

“There is a decline in formal Arabic usage within the region.” Abbas Al Tonsi,

Arabic language Professor Georgetown University of Foreign Service in Qatar

“There is a dearth of competent Arabic speakers.” Patrick Theros,

President of the US Qatar Business Council

“Arabic is necessary for ethical business” Maria Mendonsa,

Director of Studies at Alexander Language Schools “If you speak to Qataris in Arabic, especially if you know the Gulf dialect, it puts them at ease and makes them less suspicious of your intentions.” Yousra Abdelaal,

(student at Qatar University)

thousands of riyals. Alexander Language Centre Doha offers an 'Arabic for Expatriates' class which runs for six hours, thrice a week for six weeks at QR2800. Qatar University offers an intensive free Arabic for non-Native speakers programme but participants must apply and have at least a high school certificate and preferably a Bachelors of Arts. But more regardless of the resource available, the need for learning Arabic is no longer as pressing for arriving expats. “There's really not that much pressure to learn Arabic. Most of the expats here don't learn Arabic,” says Abdelaal, who had to surround herself with Qatari girls in order to learn the lingo. Maria Mendonsa, Director of Studies at Alexander Language Schools, agrees that English is more prevalent now. When she first moved to Qatar eight years ago she was forced to learn new words by going grocery shopping, but now Carrefour and MegaMart are stocked with international products. However, she believes that Arabic is necessary for an ethical business. “How do you ensure that the customer is fully aware of what they are purchasing? There will always be a need to make sure your customer knows what they are getting, conscientiously, morally and ethically. I think a good organisation wouldn't reduce the need for Arabic knowing that most of the people who are going to be the ongoing consumer need to know what they're buying. There should be no ambiguity as to what they are getting,” she says. Regardless, Mendonsa says she sees a continued commitment to both English and Arabic at the Centre and class retention rates remain high. “The importance of language overall is communication so at the end of the day regardless of the language being utilised it needs to be respected for its own position. There shouldn't be a negative or a positive for speaking any language or learning any language because one has superseded the other,” she says. “I don't believe that the Arabic language usage will ever decrease within this region, due to the nature of the fact that it is the traditional language. Arabic is fundamental to the roots of the family, to the culture.” n JUly 10

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