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