Every month this year, we will be turning our focus towards one of the core languages we love to teach – looking at the language’s potential for business, considering a few facts and figures to put its global prospects in context, plus sharing some tips to help you get started. This month we take a look at Arabic, the primary language of the MENA region (which refers to the Middle East and Northern Africa).
Arabic is thought to be spoken by over 400 million people, and it is the fifth most spoken language in the world. It is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations. It is an official language in 23 countries, including Morocco, Egypt, Syria and much of the Arabian Peninsula. The region is oil and gas rich, and so its prosperity is tied to global interests – but it is also a region full of tensions due to ongoing civil wars and political unrest. However you consider the influence of the region, there is no doubt that investing in learning Arabic could create business opportunities in many industries, even if it brings challenges along for the ride.
Learning Arabic: Business Prospects and Opportunities
Arabic is not so much the language of a country as it is the language of a region, meaning that a working knowledge of Arabic could unlock opportunities across one of the most resource-rich, volatile and economically diverse parts of the world: the MENA region. The MENA region does not map exactly onto the countries that speak Arabic as an official language, but there is a close relationship, and while many MENA countries also speak other languages (such as Farsi, Hebrew and Turkish), Arabic remains the most widely spoken language across the region.
The most obvious business opportunities in the MENA region are offered through the energy industries – oil, petroleum and gas – but with the recent climate change report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change showing that the world needs to do more to limit climate warming, all bets are off when it comes to the wisdom of investing in fossil fuels (which many countries are increasingly seeking to replace with renewable or non-fossil fuel alternatives).
However, the MENA region is more than an energy-rich region, and many countries are looking beyond their fossil fuels to expand the diversity of local industries. Technology and finance are two sectors that are on the rise, notably in the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, respectively.
Another factor to keep in mind is the impact of COVID-19 on the region. Many countries are struggling to roll out vaccines to their uncertain populations, and reporting on case numbers has been hit and miss, so it is difficult to quantify the situation across the region. Furthermore, many countries in the region are weighed down by heavy debt, which requires some strategic solutions to complex problems that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic. While governments have provided support to their people in many countries in the region, and it is expected to recover economically over time, the path ahead remains unclear and the economic outlook is precarious.
Civil war, revolution and refugee crises are a fixture of the region, and 15 million people have fled Syria, Libya, Iraq and Yemen to seek refuge, leading to the biggest refugee crisis since the Second World War. With economies under strain, a slow-starting COVID-19 vaccination programme and continued political unrest across much of the region – all sitting alongside prosperity and opportunity in specific countries and industries – it is hard to predict what the future holds for Arabic-speaking countries in the MENA region. What we can say for sure is that this is a part of the world full of potential, with a history of innovation and an ability to adapt, so the future may be unknown but it is full of possibilities.
Did You Know? A Few Facts about Arabic and the MENA region
Arabic is one of the most spoken languages in the world – and the language of a diverse range of countries that have many similarities but also a number of differences. It is a region of culture, creativity and history – plus the home of some of the wonders of the modern and ancient world, such as the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt and historic site Petra in Jordan.
Here are a few interesting facts to know about Arabic before you get started on your language-learning journey.
- Arabic is written right to left rather than left to right – which is also true for Hebrew, another language of the MENA region (they are both Semitic languages).
- Arabic is the language of Islam, and the language in which the Quran was written. This form of Arabic is known as Classical Arabic, but this has since evolved into Modern Standard Arabic (which is the form of Arabic spoken today). Modern Standard Arabic is the ‘lingua franca’ of Arabic-speaking regions because it can be mutually understood by many different Arabic dialects. Modern Standard Arabic is also the form of Arabic you would encounter in global media, magazines, online and through education.
- The Arabic alphabet is the second most widely used system of writing in the world after the Latin alphabet. The Arabic alphabet has 28 letters.
- The MENA region is home to some of the most mouth-watering cuisine in the world, from familiar hummus and falafel to the less familiar harira, shakshouka and knafeh. Discover some more delicious dishes to tickle your tastebuds here and here.
Click here for more facts and figures about the Arabic language and culture in the Arab world.
Tips to Help You Get Started
Learning a language with a different alphabet may seem like a challenge, although there are ways to take the pain out of the learning process. Here are a few tips to help you develop your language skills and build your confidence.
- Practise regularly – ideally every day! – if you can. This is a new language with a whole new alphabet, so little and often may help to reinforce your learning far more than an afternoon of intense study every week or two.
- Listen and learn! If you have a friend or colleague who speaks Arabic, see if they would be happy to practise with you – and listen to how they pronounce key words and sounds, too. Of course, listening to radio and watching TV and movies will help as well, but an in-person (or virtual) conversation may help you put key words into context, especially the business context (if you are learning the language for work).
- Find the study tools that work for you, whether flashcards, mnemonics or lists of vocabulary. Utilise these in your daily practice wherever possible!
- Taking on learning a new language for business is an ongoing, long-term commitment, so remind yourself of why you are doing this. Is it for a promotion, new business opportunity, or to connect with future clients? Keeping your ‘why’ in mind will help to motivate you – and it may help you stay on track when the going gets tough.
- Travel is not easy right now, but next year we may be able to see more of the world with confidence – especially as the vaccination uptake increases. In the meantime, the virtual world presents many language-learning support systems, such as language classes, where you can develop your skills. A language class may also introduce you to others embarking on the same journey, so you can meet additional people to practise with beyond the virtual classroom!
If you would like to find out more about learning Arabic to help you grow your business prospects in the MENA region, contact us today. We can work with you to develop a bespoke language-learning plan for your business, as well as provide cross-cultural training to help you connect with your global colleagues, whether virtually or in person. All our courses can be taught live online.