In 2016, Canadian Economist Dr. Kai L. Chan created the Power Language Index (PLI) as what he calls “a thought experiment” in which he posited the question: “If an alien were to land on Earth, which language would enable it to most fully engage with humans?” In wanting to learn an Earthly language, Dr. Chan assumed that the alien would likely have the same goals as humans such as being able to travel, work, communicate with others, gather knowledge, and engage in diplomacy. Accordingly, he based his index on several indicators including the number of native speakers of the language, the speaker’s economic output, and how important the language was to world diplomacy.
Arabic is the official language of over 20 countries with nearly 300 million native speakers of the language. That, along with the fact that Arabic speaking countries having a combined GDP of $2.5 trillion, it’s no wonder PLI ranked it as the fifth most powerful language in the world, thus creating a high demand for Arabic at the same time.
With Arab countries being some of the largest exporters and importers in the world, and with countries like the United Arab Emirates (UAE) deeply involved in global trade, there are a number of great opportunities for businesses looking to expand into the Middle East. To take advantage of these opportunities and compete in the Arab market, companies must hire employees who speak Arabic effectively.
Arabs prefer to use high context methods of communication – that is, communication that is founded on underlying context and tone in a message which can make the language more difficult to navigate than the contrasting communication methods of many Western languages. Companies wishing to enter the global market must keep this very crucial fact in mind if they want to build long-lasting relationships with both consumers and organizations of the Middle East.
Yet, the West is not quite ready to meet this quickly growing need for Arabic. In fact, recent studies in the United States show that those learning Chinese and Japanese are quickly outnumbering the roughly 32,000 out of 21 million college students who study Arabic. This could be because the difficulties many Western students face in the differences between their languages and Arabic writing and grammar have created a shortage of students who study Arabic, even though Arabic is in high demand among employers. Nevertheless, Arabic can be a profitable skill.
Further highlighting the need for Western businesses to speak Arabic is the fact that many Arab countries have ranked last in English proficiency tests, thereby opening many doors for those who can use Arabic proficiently. Furthermore, in Arab countries with growing markets and diversified economies, Arabic will only increase in its importance in business; thus, it will prove to be an invaluable skill for fluent speakers of the language looking for work that offers a competitive salary. Solving the puzzle on how to increase student interest in Arabic for the language may not be easy, but one thing is for sure – all the pieces are there to meet the huge global demand.
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