Saturday, July 10, 2010

You speak english?

So I think one of the good things about Saudi Arabia that isn't mentioned enough is how much English is spoken here. Many of the major road signs and signs in the malls are written in both English and Arabic. Even your trip to the grocery store is aided by bilingual signs and bilingual labels on products. You can bank in English, get your internet set up in English, basically live your life in Riyadh in English. My Riyadh readers must think I am a little insane suggesting this, but actually I feel quite grateful that enough people speak my native tongue here that I can get by in my day to day life without having too much difficulty with language barriers.

Don't get me wrong, it can definitely try your patience when you have a communication breakdown with your driver. Questions that you know for a fact cannot be answered with 'yes' or 'no' (e.g. 'where the hell are we?') can and will be answered with 'yes' in the car when a driver doesn't understand you. As far as I am concerned, this is the international test of English: ask a question that begins with who, what, where, when, or why. If the person answers 'yes', it means they do NOT speak English and though they may look nice, they will NOT be able to help you!

But on the whole I find it astounding how many people in this country are bilingual or trilingual. I am most ashamedly monolingual despite having two official languages in Canada. The truth is that we are only truly bilingual in pockets and the vast majority of us are English-speaking with an elementary school sprinkling of French stored somewhere in the back of our brains. Here is a random sampling of my French: je ne sais pas mon ami, mais ou est le gateau? Le fromage est dans la salle de bain avec le croque monsieur chateau frontenac louis riel decoupage cuisinart.

=D

15 comments:

Dentographer said...

ive always argued with many of my saudi friends how labour who they look down on usually speak more languages than they can ever speak,i met some labors who work in cheap restaurants,and they speak a bit of arabic,english,Hindi,and two or three languages from india...
i must admit i always show respect to anyone who knows how to communicate with more than one language.

Personally,i only speak three,but i wish i can add spanish and french.

nasserine said...

mais votre français est parfait. justement je cherche une personne qui m'aiderait à parfaire mon anglais et en échange je l'aiderai à parfaire son français.

je suis aussi expat en arabie. je parle couremment arabe et français but I don't speak fluent english.

coolred38 said...

I always got a kick out of indians nodding their head yes in agreement...no matter WHAT I was asking them. Hilarious.

Im always impressed with anyone that can speak more than one language...but I have come across some Americans who just assume everyone should learn english to make Americans living abroad lives easier. *sigh*

Orchidthief said...

dentographer, 3 is impressive already! And you're right, many workers in Riyadh are trilingual. They do deserve a little respect. It's not easy to live in Riyadh, even with a bit of money. Can't imagine how hard it is for these people who are making so little, getting yelled at by frustrated rich people, and then sending a lot of their earnings home. I honestly admire the determination some of them show and wish I could model myself on it a bit more.

nasserine! it seems you write fluent english - I bet you don't really need any help in that department. I would offer to meet up but I am actually leaving the country soon.

And coolred...have you ever noticed the indian nodding is funny only after you've finished the task at hand? ha ha...
I suppose I've had the good fortune to be around Americans that have always been respectful, but there's always some bad apples in the pile. Their bad apples can be a bit self centered. Canadian bad apples are usually a bit kooky and judgemental. British bad apples prefer to think they are actually good apples, and therefore dissociate from the rest of the apples...

ok that analogy went on way too long! ha ha ha

nasserine said...

It is effectively to speak fluent english that raises me problem due to the lack of practice. I write and I read by helping me of the dictionary or the translations on internet.

Good return in your country.

Neuv said...

I think the vast majority of Saudis Learn English to get by too,although we're an Arabic speaking country there is a numerous amount of expats, be it Indians, Pakistani's, Filipinos or Indonesians -which wouldn't take you a while to notice once you've arrived here-, nonetheless a lot of people don't even try to learn English/a new language which is unfortunate.

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Orchidthief said...

Neuv my hubster was saying the same thing just the other day, that so many foreigners work here that Saudis benefit from speaking it in their day to day lives. They always have reasons to practice. Can't say the same about French in Canada - there is no real benefit of learning it unless you want to work in Quebec or Ottawa.

Thanks for stopping by Pervaiz :)

burning-phoneix said...

I was watching an episode of the excellent british TV show Top Gear and they were having a race across Japan.

I was stunned by the complete lack of both spoken English and English roadsigns in Japan. The hosts kept getting lost because they knew no Japanese at all (With Hilarious results). It kind of struck me then when I realized how much English is a part of Saudi Arabia

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