Page update - Sep 13, 2022
What language is spoken in the United Arab Emirates? What language is comfortable for vacation? What dictionary or phrasebook to take? Read the answers in this review.
The official language of the UAE is MSA (Modern Standard Arabic), a commonly used modern version of the Arabic language. All official documents are written in MSA, the government office work is done only in MSA, most of the media works in MSA.
All court sessions are held only in MSA. And before, the authorities were not obliged to provide parties with interpreters. Foreigners, unless they hired an interpreter, were just spectators in the courts. Fortunately, on November 8, 2020, amendments to the laws went into effect, and now the defendant has the right for interpreter at the state's expense.
However, the natives of the UAE themselves do not speak MSA at home, but their own dialect. And this is the situation in most Arab countries.
Gulf Arabic is one of the three most widely spoken dialects of Arabic in the world, along with Egyptian Arabic and Lebanese Arabic. It is spoken in the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
Native Arabs in the UAE do not speak MSA from early childhood. They first learn to speak their dialect and then they learn MSA, usually at school or while watching TV. In high school they learn English.
It is not so large. Now all the dialects of Arabic are mutually understandable. That is, a resident of the UAE will understand a Tunisian or an Egyptian, but some words will be unclear. It takes some experience to adapt to the features of the grammar and to learn new words.
Two such native Arabic speakers will generally understand each other, but will have to explain to each other the meanings of new words and clarify details.
Accordingly, if you already know some Arabic words and expressions in other countries, be mentally prepared that the Arabs in the UAE will not understand them.
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Among the UAE's 10 million people, only a little more than 1 million are native Arabs (citizens). The rest are expats, guest workers from various countries on work visas. We talked about this in detail in the review "Population of the UAE".
Naturally, all these people need some kind of joint language. The language that play this role is commonly referred to as "lingua franca". Until 1971 the United Arab Emirates was a British protectorate and English has been in wide use ever since.
If one wants to work in the UAE, knowledge of Arabic is not required, but knowledge of English is. Road signs and signboards, cafe and restaurant menus and Internet sites are always duplicated in English. An example is pictured nearby, click on the photo to enlarge to full screen.
If you know English you won't get lost in the UAE! English is used there much more often than Arabic.
There is no need to be afraid, because many things are clear even without knowledge of languages. You can choose dishes from the menu by pictures, most stores are automated and you do not have to explain yourself to the salesmen. You can haggle and change currency using the numbers on your calculator or smartphone. For example, in the picture below everything is clear without knowledge of languages. You can make an order just by pointing a finger at an interesting offer.
Many services are available in other languages. You can order a transfer with your language speaking driver, hire your language speaking babysitter for your child, tours in other languages are available. You can find all such services on the Internet.
If you still have to communicate, then use a translator on your smartphone. The good thing is that they are now available in large quantities and free of charge. You just install the application on your smartphone, and it will not only translate the phrase, but also voice it in a pleasant female voice. Many of the applications require Internet access, and this is also no problem in the UAE. Read our page "Internet in the UAE".
Going on vacation in the Arab Emirates is possible in such a way that the Arabic language is not required. Of course, this is true if nothing extraordinary happened during the vacation.
It is even possible to make a verbal appeal to a police officer in English. However, once it comes to bureaucracy, only the MSA is used. It is only possible to write an application in Arabic. There are interpreters at police stations who will write the statement from the applicant's words, but it is still uncomfortable to sign a document in which you have no idea what is actually written.
In case of trouble with the police, we strongly advise tourists not to say anything at all and not to sign anything without the presence of a lawyer and an interpreter. A lawyer and an interpreter are either provided free of charge, or you can use the services of your embassy or consulate.
Or it is better not to get into trouble at all. Read our page "What is not allowed in the UAE".
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Farsi, also called Persian language. It is spoken by people from Iran, of which there are about 500,000 in the United Arab Emirates.
Hindi, also called Indian. There are about 3,000,000 Indians in the United Arab Emirates. However, not all people from India speak Hindi. India is a huge country and there are dozens of languages in India.
Malay. It is spoken by people from Malaysia and Indonesia. There are about 1,000,000 of them.
Bengali. It is spoken by people from Bangladesh and East India. There are about 350,000 of them in the UAE.
Tagalog. It is spoken by people from the Philippines, about 300,000 people.
Telugu. It is spoken in some areas of India, about 450,000 people speak this language in the UAE.
- Arabs have their own digits. On dirham coins the denomination is written only in Indo-Arabic digits. However, to learn these sticks, dots and circles is not difficult, instructions in our review "What is the money in the UAE";
- What else to take on vacation, except a smartphone with an interpreter, read our review "What to take on vacation in the UAE".
Have a great vacation in the UAE and read our interesting pages about this country (see list of pages below).
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