Rise of K-pop sparks new interest in country's language in the UAE

Korean and Japanese lead the way in emerging languages, according to teaching centres across the emirates

Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympics - Closing ceremony - Pyeongchang Olympic Stadium - Pyeongchang, South Korea - February 25, 2018 - EXO perform during the closing ceremony. REUTERS/John Sibley
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Fans of South Korean and Japanese pop culture in the UAE are driving up demand for foreign language classes.

A language expert said the country’s enthusiasm for K-pop, K-drama, anime and manga are among the reasons more people are learning Korean and Japanese.

“They are emerging as our most in-demand languages,” said Jasmine Mantour, head of linguistics at Eton Institute in Dubai.

She said people wanted to lean the languages “so that they can enjoy the content without subtitles or translations.”

South Korean pop ban Exo are such a hit in the UAE that they recently had their own LED show on the facade of the Burj Khalifa.

Another language that has grown in popularity recently is German, Ms Mantour said.

French and Arabic also still rank highly, and Chinese has become more popular than ever.

“We see interest in languages change seasonally and depending on current affairs,” Ms Mantour said.

“There is an extra interest in Mandarin after the various trade and cultural initiatives between the UAE and China and the historic visit of President Xi Jinping.”

She said expatriates in the UAE should learn Arabic wherever possible.

“Knowledge of the language provides a competitive advantage when seeking better employment opportunities and helps to build relationships with locals of Arabic-speaking countries,” Ms Mantour said.

“Locals, as in any country, really appreciate when you make the effort to learn their native language.”

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 25 JULY 2018. An A1.2 class being taught at the Eton Institute in Knowledge Village for developing English Lanuage Skills to non nattive speakers in Dubai as a means to better their career possibilities. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Patrick Ryan. Section: National.
A teacher helps at language student at the Eton Institute in Dubai. Antonie Robertson / The National

But English remains the most common way for people from different nationalities to communicate around the world, she said.

“Knowing English also gives you the chance to learn more about other cultures, travel the world with ease and form friendships that go beyond country borders,” Ms Mantour said.

Alliance Francaise Dubai has had thousands of people come through its doors in the past few years to learn the “language of Moliere”.

“We have more than 3,500 students learning French from different cultures and nationalities in the UAE,” said Ossama El Shamaa, spokesman for Alliance Francaise Dubai.

“We have more than 170 nationalities of which the top five are Indians, Pakistanis, Lebanese, Egyptians and Emiratis. We can see that the desire to learn French is increasing in the UAE, especially because Dubai will be hosting Expo 2020.”

Mr El Shamaa said the organisation had received an increase in requests from UAE universities to introduce the French language to students.

“We have also seen an increase in requests by Emiratis to study the language in France,” he said.

French is so popular that an agreement has been signed between the governments of France and the UAE to teach the language in public schools in the Emirates again for the first time since 1988.


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Jessica Davis, 31, is a strategy consultant who is studying French at Alliance Francaise Dubai.

“I want to learn another language because it will open doors for me in emerging markets,” Ms Davis said.

“Being able to speak to people in their own language makes such a difference to them.”

Linda Fernandes, 41, a bank relationship manager, wants to learn French before she migrates to Canada.

“It is the little things like being able to take part in a conference call in another language that can help you professionally,” Ms Fernandes said.

Nour Al Dajani, 25, is a surgeon who plans to move to France.

“When you are performing a surgery it is all about your communication skills,” Ms Al Dajani said.

“You have to be able to speak to patients in a way with which they are fully comfortable.”

American Sign Language is also growing in popularity.

“We have seen a steady increase in demand for ASL over the years and expect it to continue,” Ms Mantour said.

“Businesses in the country are now required to adhere to the Dubai Universal Design Code, created to make facilities and services more accessible to people of determination, and communicating with them through ASL is an important part of the initiative.”

The Ministry of Community Development and Dubai Customs have already started training their staff to communicate with people of determination.

Ms Mantour said that organisations in education, health care, hospitality and retail have been asked to do the same.