International students at NYU Abu Dhabi learn Arabic to understand Emirati culture

Students speak on the importance of learning the language ahead of the World Arabic Language Day on Friday

Gabi Branche. Courtesy: New York University Abu Dhabi
Powered by automated translation

Students from around the globe who have made UAE their second home say learning Arabic has drawn them closer to the country.

When Gabrielle Branche moved from Freiburg, Germany, to Abu Dhabi, she often felt left out of conversations with friends from the UAE and other parts of the Middle East.

She decided to get a grasp of the language and in the past three years has learnt various dialects of Arabic.

Speaking Arabic is a gateway to the country's culture, history and people

“There are many ways to learn about culture but learning the language immerses you,” said Ms Branche, a 22-year-old student from Trinidad and Tobago at New York University Abu Dhabi.

“Speaking Arabic is a gateway to the country’s culture, history and people.

“Now, that I can converse in Arabic, I feel more present here.

"I can understand my friends better."

Ms Branche is in her fourth year of studying Interactive Media with a minor in Dance at New York University Abu Dhabi.

She grew up in Trinidad and Tobago and completed her high school in Germany.

Nabil Haskanbancha. Courtesy: New York University Abu Dhabi
Nabil Haskanbancha, a 21-year-old student in Abu Dhabi, says he learnt Arabic because he was fascinated by the language and the grammar. Courtesy: New York University Abu Dhabi

In the past three years, she has learnt modern standard Arabic and the Shami dialect, spoken in the Levant region.

“It’s such a beautiful, poetic language and I feel honoured to be able to speak it, even just a little bit," Ms Branche said.

It helps connect her with Emiratis and her favourite Arabic word is Hayat, which means life.

For many international students, learning the country's language is an integral part of moving to a new place.

Henry Roberts, an Australian student at NYUAD, 22, said he wanted to learn Arabic when he moved to the Emirates.

Mr Roberts, a fourth-year physics student, said he did not enjoy learning languages in the past but that changed when he moved to the Middle East.

“I thought if I would be living in this part of the world, I should learn the language," Mr Roberts said.

“When I travelled in the region and met people, I thought I should be speaking in their language.”

Now an advanced Arabic learner, Mr Roberts has taught Arabic to visiting students.

Knowing the language also helped him talk to strangers when he travelled in the region.

Henry Roberts. Courtesy: New York University Abu Dhabi
Henry Roberts, a student at New York University Abu Dhabi, is an advanced Arabic learner and has taught the language to visiting students. Courtesy: New York University Abu Dhabi    

He spent 45 days volunteering in Jordan and weeks travelling through Oman.

“I am the first member of my family to have learnt Arabic," he said.

“Knowing Arabic has helped me to make friends in the Middle East. I would not be as close with them without being able to speak with them in their language."

Mr Roberts studied the Shami dialect and then chose Emirati because he wanted to understand the culture.

Nabil Haskanbancha, from Thailand, 21, started studying Arabic in his first year at NYUAD.

Mr Haskanbancha is set to major in Social Research and Public Policy, and minor in Arabic in 2021.

Learning Arabic was an eye-opening experience for the student who rarely heard the language spoken in his home city of Bangkok.

He studied Shami, Emirati, and Egyptian dialects to bond with friends from different Arab countries.

"Arabic grammar fascinated me though it was very difficult. But now, I have reached the advanced stage," Mr Haskanbancha said.

"I felt an inclination to learn Arabic. When I heard the language, it was so beautiful.

"I fell in love with Arabic food such as hummus, vine leaves and Balaleet, an Emirati sweet vermicelli.

"The food was a window to learning about the culture."

Mr Haskanbancha said it was easier to make friends after he learnt Arabic.

He advised other international students in the country to use the opportunity to learn the language.