An Emirati man in Dubai is at work. He is using his laptop sitting in his Dubai office. Do you need to speak English to work in Dubai?

Do You Need to Speak English to Work in Dubai?

Hannah Mason
Dubai

Do You Need to Speak English to Work in Dubai?

Hannah Mason • Jan 06, 2023

You might be surprised by how many people speak English in Dubai given that the UAE is in the Middle East and the population of native English speakers is relatively small.

After all, Dubai is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world and due to its relatively accessible visa requirements, it attracts professionals from all corners of the globe.

As a former Dubai recruitment consultant and a qualified teacher of English as a Foreign Language, I’m going to share my insight about language requirements in Dubai along with some of my favourite resources for improving language skills.

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English is the business language of Dubai

Arabic is the national language of Dubai and is the first language of UAE nationals.

However, the majority of UAE residents do not speak Arabic and therefore a secondary language is needed for the large expat community (around 88% of the population) to communicate and work together.

The United Arab Emirates was formerly a British protectorate, establishing independence in 1971. To this day, the country maintains strong ties with the UK and therefore it follows that British English has been adopted as the main Bridge Language that is used across the diverse international population.

If you visit Dubai, you will quickly notice that all signs, packaging and written communication are presented in both Arabic and English. Visit a shop or restaurant and most employees will greet you in English. In many ways, although Arabic is the national language, English is used far more widely.

Nearly everyone in Dubai speaks some English

Although Arabic is the national language, English is more widely used and is the default language for the majority of interactions.

What’s more, Dubai has quickly become a hub of international business with its many freezones attracting multinational companies.

These multinational businesses transact all over the world and it’s generally expected that their Dubai employees speak English in order to do business with international clients and offices.

As a Dubai expat, English is the most important language to master

If you are looking for a job in Dubai, then English is the number one language requirement. Almost all roles will expect some fluency in English and it is very difficult to find work in Dubai if your English skills are weak.

This is especially true for office roles

As you might expect, positions where you need to interact with the public or issue written correspondence usually require a higher level of English proficiency.

In these types of positions, a native or high level of business English is needed. This would be equivalent to C1 or C2 on the official scales.

There are many great online tools such as British Council that will help you get your English language skills up to this level.

There are more online tools too and I'll list them all at the end of this article.

Does your English need to be perfect to land a job in Dubai

Whilst a good understanding of English is important, you don't need to speak English perfectly to work in Dubai. In fact, in some interactions native English speakers can be at a disadvantage.

This is because most people in Dubai speak English as their second (or third) language, meaning that the English you hear in Dubai is different to what you would expect in a country where English is the national language.

Having a strong regional English accent, using unusual vocabulary or sayings, or speaking very quickly will make it difficult for people to understand you. Speaking a less complex version of English is therefore beneficial if you want to be understood by the majority of the Dubai population.

What language are CVs and job interviews in Dubai?

It’s important to note that for most positions, your CV will need to be submitted in English and job interviews will be conducted in English.

For this reason, strong communication skills in English will also help you to convince a potential employer that you are a strong candidate.

If the role does have another language requirement, then you should be prepared to interview in that language, as well as English, in order to demonstrate your proficiency.

Learn more about Dubai job interviews here.

Occasionally for Arabic speaking roles, you can submit a CV in Arabic and interview in Arabic.

However, most people in HR are English speakers and therefore an English CV is often also needed and you should be prepared to correspond in English for some of the job application process.

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Do you need to speak Arabic to work in Dubai?

If English is the only language you speak, then you can certainly get work in Dubai. However, there are some roles that require bilingual or trilingual language proficiency.

As Arabic is the official national language, you will see multiple roles advertised that require bilingual proficiency in English and Arabic. This is most common for roles at government or semi-government organisations where the majority of staff are Arabic speakers and where Arabic is used for internal correspondence.

Some jobs in Dubai may require a candidate to speak Arabic

Companies that transact a lot of business across the wider Middle East region may also request that their employees speak Arabic.

For example, if you are leading Sales and Marketing for a regional brand, then you will need to speak Arabic at a native level in order to develop both Arabic and English marketing campaigns.

If you see Arabic listed as a job requirement for a role in Dubai and you don’t speak Arabic fluently, then there is little point applying.

There is typically a good reason for this requirement and if you don’t have this language skill you will not be considered for the role.

Which dialect of Arabic is needed to work in Dubai?

Whilst all dialects of Arabic can be useful for living in Dubai, where fluency of Arabic is listed as a job requirement this is usually referring to Middle Eastern Arabic. Those from GCC countries are typically preferred for such positions.

If you speak a North African dialect of Arabic then you may struggle to land bilingual roles unless you can demonstrate a high level of accuracy in the regional Arabic dialect.

What about other language requirements for jobs in Dubai?

English and Arabic are the two main languages required to work in Dubai but you will sometimes see other languages required.

French is a fairly common language requirement in Dubai as a lot of Dubai offices act as a hub for the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region that contains a number of French speaking nations.

If you are applying for a role at a company that is headquartered in a non-English speaking nation, then you may find that it helps or is necessary to speak the common language of that company.

For example, the Huawei office in Dubai predominantly hires Chinese nationals with native fluency in Mandarin.

There is also a phenomenon in Dubai where a whole team of a company is made up of one nationality. Some companies intentionally aim to increase diversity and enforce English as the common language.

However, other companies do not fight this trend and continue to hire individuals with a shared background.

In such cases, you may find that although the work is in English, you need to speak the language of the team in order to be an effective and integrated team member.

How to improve your language skills for Dubai

If your English or Arabic isn’t at the level you need to land the jobs you want in Dubai, then the good news is that there are lots of tools that can help.

Many of these websites offer discounts and free trials and I highly recommend checking them out before you seriously begin your Dubai job search.

Recommended language websites

All of the below websites have a great reputation for helping people quickly improve their language skills.

Online courses such as these are very accessible and surprisingly affordable. Some of them even offer apps so that you can learn on the go.

British Council

Learn Laugh Speak

Memrise

Skillshare

Babble

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