As the Arab Health show continued, I was able to talk to people on a more individual level. One of the most interesting conversations was with an older Emirati. He stood at the counter of our stand and, before I could step out to greet him, told me that English is ruining innovation all over the world.
I blinked and asked him to repeat. He told me that the very limited vocabulary that is English shuts down the right hemisphere of the brain and destroys the ability to make connections across the cerebral cortex. I think I’m quoting accurately.
I smiled and gently asked where he got his information. English has one of the largest, if not the largest vocabulary of all languages due to its ability to borrow and absorb terms from all the groups that invaded Britain over the centuries: Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Romans and French. There are also words originating in Greek, Latin and, yes, Arabic.
He didn’t want to listen because he knew what he knew. I was there to sell, not argue, so I turned the conversation to how we could help his company.
The conversation puzzled me. Later in the day, I made the acquaintance of a British woman teaching at a school in Dubai. Once I became sure she wouldn’t take offense at the question, I asked her about the earlier conversation.
To my delight, she smiled and said it was easy to explain. Because English is becoming widespread in business and scientific communities, one of the goals of the government is to teach every child English so they can go abroad and study. I interrupted. Doesn’t that simply make the citizenry bilingual? She shook her head.
It would, if English and Arabic were both taught with the same intensity, but schools are rewarded for students who score high enough to go overseas. Arabic, then, is not emphasized at all because everyone speaks it at home. She told me that students are coming out of some high schools unable to either read or write their native language. This infuriates the older generation, who are, of course, proud of their culture and its language. The man I spoke to earlier was simply grasping at any idea that would make English less important in relation to Arabic.
Another interesting language issue arises concerning the children of workers imported from India and Pakistan. They are entitled to education, but the assumption is sometimes made that they will never work in a situation where they will use Arabic, and so they spend time in class copying phrases but never learning to speak them. This explained for me why the workers emptying trash and carrying boxes could neither communicate with us in English nor read the Arabic translations in our booth.
In my opinion, adding a language expands the way a brain sees the world and increases both creativity and innovation. A bilingual citizenry will produce more than one segregated with only a single language.