Abu Dhabi: You may have come across her on Instagram and TikTok, smilingly translating common spoken phrases from English to Arabic. In fact, Hanan Al Fardan considers it her mission in life to spread the Emirati dialect — an Arabic vernacular used by the people of the UAE.
With more than 340,000 followers on her TikTok page, and another 72,500 subscribers on YouTube, it will be apt to say that Al Fardan’s bright and snappy videos have been teaching Emirati Arabic to the world.
Finding her calling
Forever passionate about education, the 35-year-old first found her calling when she was working as an education sector regulator in Dubai. “I had colleagues from many different nationalities and they would often ask me how to say things in Arabic. One day, a colleague who hailed from Scotland said there were many people like her who wanted to become fluent in spoken Arabic, but simply could not find an easy way to learn,” Al Fardan, 35, told Gulf News.
The Emirati dialect
“This got me thinking. Indeed, there were a number of language-teaching institutes that taught formal Arabic speech and writing. But Emirati Arabic is itself distinct and I couldn’t find any place that specifically helped people learn it,” she said.
Her observations were indeed spot on. Even for Arabic speakers, or expats versed in modern, standard Arabic speech and writing, the Emirati dialect can prove to be somewhat unusual. For one, the phraseology is different.
“We also switch certain sounds when we speak. For instance, we change the ‘k’ sound to ‘ch’ or a soft ‘j’ in certain words. We also switch the ‘j’ sound to ‘y’ in other words,” Al Fardan explained.
So 11 years ago, the enterprising Emirati launched a YouTube channel — Emirati Arabic — to promote her native dialect. At first, the videos were basic and used Powerpoint presentations with audio. Then, with some mentorship, Al Fardan started adding additional elements.
Two years into this journey, she launched an institute that specialised in teaching Emirati Arabic, the Al Ramsa Institute in Dubai, together with another Emirati — Abdula Al Kaabi.
“We started with eight students, now we see about 80 students enrolled every month across a number of levels,” Al Fardan said.
Quite a few of these enrolled students are already Arabic speakers. “As Arabs, we have a lot of different dialects. So very roughly speaking, when an Arab encounters another Arab from a different region, it is likely that they understand only about half of what the other person is saying. So, this is why we see quite a few Arabs signing up for our courses, including actors who want to speak the authentic Emirati dialect,” Al Fardan said.
There is also a small number of Emiratis who enrol at the Institute.
“About 15 per cent of our students are Emiratis who speak mainly English, even at home. For them, learning the dialect is a way of connecting with their countrymen,” Al Fardan said.
Expanding her reach
Obviously, Al Fardan did not stop there and went on to launch her TikTok page during the pandemic. “We’ve had more than two million ‘likes’ on it within just a year-and-a-half of launching it, thus confirming that there is genuine interest in learning the dialect,” she said.
“We provide tailored books. If you cannot afford those, then there are YouTube videos that we have developed. And if you don’t have the time to watch longer content, you can simply learn one phrase a day from our TikTok page. There is now more than one way to learn and no more excuses,” Al Fardan said.
Why learn Emirati Arabic
Most students at Al Fardan’s Al Ramsa Institute are expats at the beginner level. As they progress through the stages, Al Fardan says they report better job opportunities and a stronger connection with the UAE. “One Russian expat who took multiple courses with us eventually got so fluent that people always believed she was somehow related to an Emirati,” Al Fardan recollected.
The Institute has developed ten books of different levels for students, and Al Fardan has had a hand in developing the content for all of them. In 2016, she even quit her day job and began training other Emiratis to become teachers.
For her quick videos, Al Fardan tries to keep the content relatable. So on a recent overcast morning, she taught her followers how to greet their Emirati colleagues.
She may have made tremendous headway in spreading Emirati Arabic, but Al Fardan, who recently had her first child, doesn’t see herself stopping anytime soon.
“We’ve always worked with our students to teach them what they find useful. Now that I have a baby, I am already thinking of baby-related content and early childhood terminology,” she added.
Emirati Arabic examples:
1. How to say “I’m not in the mood”
Standard Arabic: Lastu bi mizaaju jayyidan.
Emirati Arabic: Ma lee baaridh.
2. How to say “When did you wake up?”
Standard Arabic: Mataa astayqaztu’?
Emirati Arabic: Mataa nasheetu?
3. How to say, “Send me a message.”
Standard Arabic: Ursil lee risalatan.
Emirati Arabic: Tarash lee message.
4. How to say “What should I do now?”
Standard Arabic: Madhaa af’al al ‘aan?
Emirati Arabic: Shoo’aswee al heen?
5. How to say “How are you?”
Standard Arabic: Kaifa haaluka?
Emirati Arabic: Ishaalik?