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English language in the UAE

English language in the UAE

English language in the UAE

English has become the world’s premier international language and is now spoken by over 1.2 billion people. It has also been given official status in 75+ countries, and while the original purpose of learning English was to communicate with native speakers, most people are actually using it to speak with non-native speakers. English is now the world’s most widely spoken Lingua Franca.

Lingua Franca refers to a language that is adopted as a common language between speakers whose native languages are different. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the UAE. While Arabic remains the official language of the UAE, English is used as a Lingua Franca throughout. This is because of its diverse mix of nationalities from different cultures, some of which have a long history of English, such as India and the Philippines. Many have imported their own different varieties of English and use it to communicate – in the workplace, across businesses, in the service industries and even socially.

Some of these changes have come from the language transfer of Arabic. In her article, ‘The local flavour of English in the Gulf’, Fussell (2011) noted a preference for continuous tenses when using stative verbs such as ‘come’, “He is coming from Ajman” instead of “he comes from Ajman” and a tendency to add the plural ‘s’ to ‘traditional’ non-countable nouns like furnitures, informations, homeworks, advices, evidences and staffs.

This “local flavour” can also be seen in the borrowing of certain Arabic words; particularly those Islamic expressions such as ‘Insha’Allah’ (God willing), ‘alhamdulilla’ (thanks to God), ‘masha’alla’ (praise to God). These can be heard being used not just amongst Arabic speakers but also users of other languages.  There are also many other examples of lexical borrowings such as the local clothing like the Kandura and abaya; food names like shawarma and laban, and areas such as the corniche (beach), jabel (mountains) and wadis (valleys).

Arabic words like Insha’Allah and Alhamdulillah have widely become part of spoken English in UAE

As mentioned, there are many borrowings from other nationalities. The largest nationality in the UAE is India, which makes up nearly 39% of the population, and so the influence of ‘Indian English’ is common.  Some interesting and very unique grammatical features in the language are expressions that have been transplanted such as the use of ‘would’ to imply a future “the teacher would be arriving later” or the use of the singular auxiliary ‘isn’t it’ in tag questions ‘we should help him isn’t it’.

Some of these changes would be considered wrong or inaccurate in ‘standard English’ or native English; but like most people in the UAE are using English to communicate with other non-native speakers and If these changes do not impede understanding, should it really matter?

English has always been changing and now it has become the global language it no longer belongs to the British and the Americans alone.

UKCBC Dubai Campus boasts of a diverse student community that unearths various unique uses of the language from different countries. Our expert native tutors employ an engaging study structure that makes English learning more exciting and inclusive. Get in touch with our advisors and learn more about our various English language courses to communicate more effectively in English with anyone from any part of the world.


Gareth Smith,
English Language Programme Leader,

Originally from Manchester, Gareth has been working as an English teacher for the last 6 years in the UAE with prior teaching experience in South Korea and South America. When he’s not teaching his English students, you can find him competing in triathlons or cheering for Manchester United at home with his dog, Scholesy and cat, Rigs.