It all began centuries ago when the Spaniard Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic in theSanta Maria to prove to the ney-sayers that the world was indeed round, not flat. Originally he had aimed for India but found a big mass of land known as America in the way. It was too big to chisel through so it had to remain. His find led to European awareness of this so called “New World” and as a result lots of colonies started to pop up.
Those fed up of high fuel prices and the EU then started to migrate across the Atlantic to settle down in little wooden towns and wear cowboy hats. Those from Northern European countries went to the Northern part of America, and those from Southern Europe went to the Southern bit ofAmerica. It was there that a war began: a war of idiom…English vs Spanish.
Anyway, hundreds of years went by, some stuff happened, some people were killed, some weren’t and as a result English is the third most spoken language in the world after Mandarin and Spanish. There are – according to a Labour poll – 328 million native speakers and 400 million that can “speak” English as a second language. Obviously Arabic is the national language of the UAE but English is actually more widely spoken due to the internationally cosmopolitan demographics.
Sadly, as it so happens, the English language is one the most complex to grasp. The reason dates back to middle-age Britain when the gentry were worried about the serfs becoming literate, so the word “thort” was changed to “thought” and “color” became “colour”. This slowed the serfs down by a couple of hundred years but they caught up just in time for the start of the British Imperialism. So when Sean Bean was over in India, he had his men force our grand old tongue down the native’s throats. Sadly, the teachers weren’t scholars…
English being as it is then means that the folks who have to learn it as a second language often make mistakes. There is generally a lot of verb confusion, adjectives pop-up in the wrong place and there is such pro-noun abuse that it is only a stones throw from becoming a criminal offence. Forget spelling and grammar.
Dealing with the language barrier in the UAE can be infuriating. I have been into shops many times and asked to speak to someone in English, so they send their finest linguist to me…we then proceed to talk loudly using personal pro-nouns at such volume the windows start to crack. “Me…this one. You have? You have this one? Yes? Mafi?”. See there….I even have to throw in my pigeon Arabic too, like that will help.
Twinned with moving your mouth like a horse and speaking slowly you start making meaningless hand gestures too. Have you ever tried to make hand gestures to describe to the shop-keep that you want to buy a table? You are essentially playing Pictionary without the equipment and with someone who doesn’t understand the rules. It’s a veritable nightmare.
So what may be done? We can’t go back in time to stop Sean Bean from teaching English; it’s too late, so we have to act. I raised this point to a friend and he said “learn the language then”. Sounds like jolly good fun, but which one? Arabic isn’t an issue, most Emiratis can speak English. But do I need to learn Tagalog? Urdu? Hindi? Malayan? Punjabi? Bangladeshi? Surely not. So, I’m going to carry a pocket book and a pencil with me wherever I go and try and convey my thoughts through imagery. I honestly can’t think of another way to deal with the issue of being unable to communicate. Who said the English were lazy?
Actually thinking about it, it’s not too different from being in London.