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What Language Do They Speak in the United Arab Emirates?

What Language Do They Speak in the United Arab Emirates

Key Takeaways

Official LanguageArabic
Secondary LanguagesEnglish, Hindi, Urdu, Tagalog, and others
Arabic DialectGulf Arabic
Percentage of Arabic SpeakersOver 80%
Role of EnglishWidely spoken, especially in business and tourism

The Linguistic Landscape of the UAE

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a melting pot of cultures, a testament to its rapid modernization and globalized outlook. Naturally, this cultural diversity is also reflected in the languages spoken within its borders.

The Primacy of Arabic

Arabic, being the official language, holds a special place in the hearts and minds of Emiratis. It is more than just a means of communication; it is a link to their rich history, traditions, and Islamic roots.

Features of Gulf Arabic:

  • Phonology: There are slight differences in pronunciation compared to Modern Standard Arabic (MSA).
  • Vocabulary: Contains local terms and expressions.
  • Grammar: Some variations from MSA, especially in verb conjugation.

It is crucial to understand that while MSA is the standard taught in schools and used in formal settings (like media and literature), it’s the Gulf Arabic dialect that you’ll frequently hear in daily conversations among locals.

The Influence of Expatriates

The UAE boasts a significant expatriate population. Consequently, numerous languages echo through its streets, markets, and businesses. Some of the dominant ones include:

  1. English: Given the UAE’s role as a global business hub, English has become the de facto lingua franca, especially in professional settings.
  2. Hindi & Urdu: Large communities from India and Pakistan reside in the UAE. Their languages naturally found a place in the country’s linguistic tapestry.
  3. Tagalog: With a substantial Filipino community, Tagalog (along with other Philippine languages) is widely spoken.
  4. Persian (Farsi), Pashto, Bengali, and Sinhala are also spoken by the respective expatriate communities.
LanguageEstimated Percentage of Speakers in UAE
ArabicOver 80%
Other Languages10-15%

Note: The percentages are rough estimates and may overlap, as many residents are bilingual or even multilingual.

The Evolution of Language in the UAE

The past few decades have witnessed a significant transformation in the UAE’s linguistic environment. With rapid urbanization, globalization, and an influx of expatriates, the way language functions in the UAE has evolved.

Education & Arabic

One of the pillars of the UAE’s vision is preserving its culture and heritage, with the Arabic language at its core. Schools emphasize Arabic studies, ensuring younger generations are well-versed in their native tongue.

  • Arabic in Schools: It’s a mandatory subject for all, with schools teaching both MSA and Gulf Arabic.
  • Higher Education: Many universities offer courses in Arabic, with some institutions using it as the primary medium of instruction.

The Role of English

As the UAE continues to cement its role in global affairs, English’s importance cannot be understated. From business contracts to tourist brochures, English is omnipresent.

  • Business & Trade: Given the country’s trade ties with the English-speaking world, fluency in English is a prized skill.
  • Tourism: With millions of tourists flocking to the UAE, English ensures smooth communication and fosters cultural exchange.


The linguistic milieu of the UAE is a fascinating blend of the ancient and the modern, the local and the global. While Arabic, especially Gulf Arabic, remains the heart and soul of the nation, a myriad of other languages adds vibrancy and diversity to its soundscape.

For anyone visiting or doing business in the UAE, understanding this linguistic diversity can lead to richer interactions and a deeper appreciation of the country’s unique cultural mosaic.