And the Arabic-speaking countries about which we’re misinformed
Around a year ago, a list of the top 9 languages for the most highly paid jobs in Britain started being shared around social media. Number one on the list, German, maybe wouldn’t have been my first guess, but it’s understandable: Germany is a centre of commerce, a very wealthy country and a global economic power. But close behind, earning on average £34,122 a year (only £412 less than the average German speaker), was Arabic.
Is this simply because so many British people find the Semitic language and its alien alphabet daunting? Is it because it is perceived as taking much longer to achieve fluency? Is it because there is a misinformed aura of danger around the countries that speak Arabic – do these highly paid jobs come with a higher degree of risk?
I have recently begun learning Arabic, and, this being the third language I have learned (behind English and Italian), I can honestly say it is no more difficult than the “average” European language. If anything, it is more logical, with its pronunciation and lettering more definite than the myriad of ways to pronounce an English word or letter. The letter ‘A’ in English can be vocalised almost to infinity; its Arabic counterpart has only one, definite sound. Yes, some sounds in Arabic have no English equivalent, and there are definitely days when I need a lozenge after some of the throatier, harsher sounds of the language – but after 10 weeks (3 hours a week), I can proudly say I am confident in reading and writing with the Arabic alphabet.
But even if this myth of impenetrability were dispelled, would a reticence to Arabic still persist? Many Arabic speaking countries are only heard of, at the moment, because of rising political tensions and violent news stories. But one quick look at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office travel advice pages show how misinformed many Brits are about the Middle East.
Take Bahrain as an example: many people feel discouraged from visiting the country because of its proximity to Iran and Iraq, and due semi-frequent political demonstrations throughout the region. But around 8,000 to 10,000 British nationals live there, uneventfully and safely, and thousands more travel there each year.
Egypt’s popularity with tourists has declined due to a spate of terrorist incidences – but many people will be surprised to know there are still safe areas to travel to, according to the FCO travel pages. Just check which areas of the map are deemed “green”, and therefore safe (as long as you read these advice pages thoroughly, take out appropriate travel insurance, and travel responsibly). This is also true for misinformation surrounding Turkey – but there are even fewer areas in Turkey to which the FCO advises against travelling.
Learning Arabic would not be a wasted effort. It is not daunting, and so many Arabic speaking countries are safe and open to visit. Hopefully, with adventure tourism and culinary tourism on the rise, Arabic speaking countries will receive a boost in tourists wanting to experience the world class food that places like Morocco can offer, and the adventures and wildly varied terrains of countries like the United Arab Emirates. And, if this happens, it’s only a matter of time before Arabic is number one on the highest paid languages list.
By Annie Pennington, general lover of travel and English Literature finalist at Durham University.