Dear Ali: I am 23 and I work in a public place and wear an abaya. Many people who meet me think I'm local and start speaking to me in Arabic. I understand what they are saying, but I always have to reply: "Sorry, I don't speak Arabic." I even know how to read the Qu'ran, but I want to learn how to speak and write in Arabic, especially the Emirati dialect. Can you recommend any places? SU, Dubai
Dear SU: I appreciate your interest in learning Arabic. Sadly, there is really no major language centre that offers Emirati dialect because they assume there is no demand for it. If you've been here for years then I'm sure you have some Emirati friends. Talking with them in Arabic will help you a lot in picking up our accent. In the Gulf countries, our Indian, Pakistani and Filipino friends pick up our dialect and customs within a few years. A good example is my payroll officer, Nabil, who is from Kerala. If he put on a khandoura and ghutra, people would assume that he is my brother, from another mother, because sometimes he speaks Emirati Arabic better than I do.
There is a centre in Dubai called Kalemah (www.kalemah.org), which offers Arabic courses for free. The catch is that it is only for new Muslims. The Eton Institute (www.eton.ae) in Dubai's Knowledge Village also offers courses, although the Arabic they teach would be classical Arabic, or Egyptian or Lebanese dialects. Of course, these are still useful in the Gulf. Accents come after learning the basics of any language. When I studied in the United States, I could never figure out what "wazzup" meant. If you want to find out "what's up" with other language centres, (see, I eventually learned) visit www.ask-ali.com and look under the "Arabic language" section. I hope somebody in the government reads this question. One of the fastest and most effective ways to export our culture to the world is by increasing opportunities to learn our language. Thank you again for your question.
Dear Ali: Could you please tell me what the word hafeet means, as in the mountain name, Jebel Hafeet? Also, are the hot springs there real or artificial? JH, Houston, USA Dear JH: Hafeet's origins come from a few different sources. One is the word "khafa", which means "hidden". But the word is also derived from "hafa", which means to welcome someone. In fact, hafeet is the past tense of hafa. Anyone who has visited the grand mountain in Al Ain, the second largest in the UAE after Ras al Khaimah's Hajar Mountains, knows that it is a most welcoming place, offering amazing views of the oasis and surrounding desert.
Our ancestors would tell us all the time about welcoming people from the other side of the mountain, showing their hospitality to these new arrivals who had to walk through such harsh conditions. The walking might explain the strangest origin of the word hafeet; "haafi", which is a derivative of hafeet, means to "walk with bare feet." So maybe those stories my grandparents told us about walking uphill both ways and barefoot were true. The hot springs are indeed real. They began beneath the mountain, and over thousands of years, developed into the channels and pools we bathe in today.
Arabic: Mertaah English: Fine, comfortable In Arabic we have extra words to explain the details of each level of comfort. Mertaah (or mertaaha for females) gives the combination of good and very comfortable. So when you say "mertaah" (I'm comfortable), it means you are one level better than just fine or good. It is used more when someone changes their seat on an aeroplane or buying a new sofa or bed. When they find one that's comfortable, they will describe it as "mureeh".