Monday, January 11, 2010

.. and why should you learn English?

Just as an addendum to the previous post on the need to master Arabic before you attempt English (if you are an Arab, that is), here we go - this time from Bahrain:

"Give me job. I am graduate." Probably the shortest job application I have ever received. It arrived on my desk at the GDN some years ago, on a torn piece of paper. The applicant remembered to put a stamp on the envelope, but forgot to include his own address - not that we would have been interested anyway in interviewing someone so devoid of the basics.

This may be an extreme example, but it was no surprise to me to read that 60 per cent of graduate job-seekers in Bahrain emerge from university with poor English language skills.

Why should Bahrainis have to learn English to get a job in their own country, you may ask and I would have to agree that it is galling - but it is also a reality. The Arab language may be complex and its script beautiful, but it is not an international language and in this global village businesses must be able to communicate at home and abroad. The most commonly used language in international communications, certainly in business and banking, is English. Some may resent this but it is also an inescapable reality. Bahrain is also a cosmopolitan community, home to people of many nationalities and, once again, the common language between them is English.

So for Bahrainis looking for work, whether it is serving petrol at the pumps, or making and breaking fortunes in the dealing room, a good command of the English language is not just an advantage, it is a necessity. The government has recognised this and has introduced the teaching of English at a much earlier stage in its national schools, to give children a better start and to improve their chances of good careers later in life. That so many university graduates are emerging with only their own language at their command is a serious flaw, in a country seeking to propagate a knowledge-based economy.

It may not be fair, but this is a small country and those who speak only its native language will have limited futures ahead of them. That does not mean that the Arabic language should be sacrificed, far from it. It embodies the national character and heritage and should remain in everyday use.

But a business that cannot communicate with the outside world will fail and they know that, which is why young Bahrainis who can speak, read and write English will always be at the front in the jobs queue.

The writer? A certain Mr. Horton. Yes, you guessed right - a monolingual. English. Yes, yes, I know...The sad thing is that they actually published this in an English Gulf daily :-(

Appaling this patronising prescription that the Arabic should "embodies the national character and heritage and should remain in everyday use", while English "should be used for business and academic endevour". It is a prescription for the death of Arabic, which - unless it becomes involved in business and academia, will atrophy and stop evolving. We are already having problems in translating science, with many of the newer generation opting simply to transliterate from English, while the Arabic Language Forum in Egypt is asleep. Arabic was once rich in scientific language, richer than Latin and Greek, but these "archaic" terms are forgotten by the Internet and SMS generation of Arabs bred and raised on ART and Haifa Wahbe. So the blame is not totally on Horton Bek. He is just socialised into neo-colonialism :-D The real blame is on those who allow their language and culture to be relegated, in their own countries, to "everyday use".

For all your English to Arabic and vice versa translations that will help you expand your business into the Middle East visit Arabic Language Experts at

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