Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 27 October 2020

Mashkoora: the TikTok star teaching the world Emirati Arabic one video at a time

Hanan Al Fardan is passionate about making the Emirati dialect accessible to beginners

In 2018, Hanan Al Fardan’s young nephew downloaded TikTok on her phone.

She didn’t find much meaning in it and so deleted it, but he was persistent and downloaded it again. This time, Al Fardan gave it a try, and now she is a popular Emirati TikTok star with a growing global following.

Her TikTok page, @alramsainstitute, has more than 286K followers and 1.8M likes.

“I didn’t know that I would be a star one day. Now, whenever I go to any place, I always meet one of my fans and they say, 'Oh Hanan. We see your TikTok channel and we are learning a lot',” Al Fardan tells The National.

She lives in Dubai, and has been making TikTok videos for almost a year now, teaching Emirati Arabic via short, snappy videos that explain everyday Emirati phrases and expressions.

Hanan Al Fardan at Al Ramsa Institute, Dubai, September 23, 2020. Suhail Rather / The National
Hanan Al Fardan at Al Ramsa Institute, Dubai, September 23, 2020. Suhail Rather / The National

We asked her to explain how Emirati Arabic was different from the conventional Arabic we hear. “So, what we speak is different from what we write. There is something called Modern Standard Arabic, Fus’ha, which is the language that people learn in school, in university and anything formal across all the Arab countries. So, we are similar [to] that.

"But the differences come when we speak. So, if I say to them, ‘khashooga’. ‘Khashooga’ means spoon. But if I say this to an Egyptian, he may not understand ... the word window, we say ‘darisha’. Other Arabs, they say ‘shubbaak’, but in Modern Standard Arabic they say ‘naafidah’,” she explains.

Al Fardan is a teacher at heart and has always been fascinated by the beauty of the Arabic language. When she is not making TikTok videos, you will find her giving language lessons at Dubai’s Al Ramsa Institute.

When you speak Emirati, they think, 'Khallas, you are part of the gang, you know us'

Located in the city’s Al Quoz area, this small start up has big aspirations. The Al Ramsa Institute was founded in 2014 by Hanan Al Fardan and her business partner Abdulla Al Kaabi.

Before the pandemic, there was a constant flow of students in and out of Al Ramsa, with an average of 30 to 40 students per month, either taking classes, buying books or both.

But most of the teaching is now done online.

“With Corona, TikTok has grown more. And I noticed that a lot of people know us from TikTok now and are coming to us from [the app],” says Al Fardan.

'Oh my gosh, she knows Emirati Arabic'

Al Ramsa Institute has published at least five books on Emirati Arabic, that Al Fardan says are available in all the major bookstores of the UAE. There is one book, almost the size of your palm, called One Phrase Per Day. It has 365 everyday Emirati phrases, each with an accompanying illustration. In fact, Al Fardan says her mission is to keep things easy, particularly for beginners. And that’s why her TikTok videos are such a hit.

“Someone said to me that ‘Hanan, I used what you have taught us in the airport. And the passport control, they were so happy, they were telling everyone that, oh my gosh, she knows Emirati Arabic, and they were asking how do you know? Did you come to the UAE before?’" she tells The National.

But while running a TikTok account is fairly simple, running an institution is not.

“We find it little bit hard to get funding for our project,” Al Fardan tells us, explaining that people tell her "it is a new idea, it’s risky. We don’t know if people are interested to know Emirati Arabic.”

Despite the challenges, Al Fardan and her business partner put in their own money to steady their project, and she is thankful that Al Ramsa is getting support “in terms of being a start-up, like reduced license fees”.

At her office in Dubai, Al Fardan has covered a couple of walls with giant murals of a desert landscape and a bejewelled woman wearing a traditional Emirati face mask called a burghu.

Al Fardan often uses this strong image as a backdrop for her TikTok videos, as if to convey that language and culture go hand in hand.

“When I started making TikTok videos, I was totally shocked when I saw the number of views, the reaction, and how people are really interested to learn Emirati Arabic," Al Fardan tells us as as she holds up her phone to make another video.

“[When] you speak Emirati, they think, ‘Khallas, you are part of the gang, you know us'.”

Updated: September 28, 2020 02:26 PM

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