Despite being heavily reliant on its vast petroleum and gas reserves, the United Arab Emirates has spent the past three decades trying to achieve a more sustainable and diversified economy by creating logistics centers, forming strategic partnerships with other nations and investing in other industries. As the second largest economy in the region, the United Arab Emirates is currently home to millions of foreigners who have decided to leave their home lands in order to seek employment and / or take advantage of the fabulous investment opportunities being offered by local companies and institutions.
In order to gain a deeper understanding of how demographically diverse the region is, suffice to say that as of 2013, the UAE’s population consisted of 1, 4 million native Emiratis and nearly 8 million expatriates (BBC News, 2016). If history has taught us anything, it is that when many different ethnic and racial groups live next to one another, most of them tend to resort to a lingua franca to perform their daily tasks as it would be impossible for every single citizen to master such a wide range of foreign languages. Back in the 4th century B.C., people across the Macedonian Empire created by Alexander the Great used a simplified form of ancient Greek to conduct trade, communicate and perform transactions with foreigners. In today’s increasingly interconnected world, a number of historical and political events have resulted in English emerging as a common medium of communication for speakers of different first languages.
As a linguistically diverse region whose main trade partners include Iran, Japan, India, Oman, China, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom, it is no surprise that the UAE has embraced English as a lingua franca as well. It is also worth pointing out that in the early 19th century, the UAE was a collection of loosely-defined sheikhdoms known as the Trucial States, whose shores were home to numerous pirates and raiders. In order to protect its trade with India, the British Empire started cooperating with local emirs, offering them protection in exchange for exclusivity. A series of treaties were signed in 1820 according to which the emirs wouldn’t cede any land to anyone or sign any other treaties with any nation except for Great Britain; on top of that, all local disputes would be settled through the British authorities (Tristam, 2016). The subservient relationship between the Trucial States and Great Britain ended in 1971, when the former agreed to create an independent federation (Tristam, 2016).
By the time the UAE emerged as a politically independent entity, a significant percentage of locals had already studied English in school, had embraced many aspects of the English culture and were perfectly capable of expressing themselves in basic English, Hindi and Urdu, which were also widely spoken across the Arabian Peninsula. Over the years, Emirati citizens’ knowledge of the English language played a key role in prompting foreign tourists, investors and workers to see the UAE as an attractive destination. As of today, most restaurants, shops and hotels in Dubai and Abu Dhabi conduct business in English, whereas Arabic is primarily spoken by the police and the government. With the Emirates constantly looking for new ways to minimize their reliance on natural resources and turn their most populous cities into international trade hubs, it is no wonder that more and more Emirati citizens are starting to appreciate the positive effects that an English education would have on their career prospects. As a result, local demand for international schools has grown significantly over the past two decades, resulting in new international academic institutions being opened on a regular basis. Recent statistics suggest that as of 2016, in the UAE there are approximately 600,000 students aged 3-18 attending nearly 600 international schools (ISC News, 2017).
- BBC News (2016). United Arab Emirates country profile. Retrieved from
- ISC News (2017). Demand for international school education continues to expand globally. Retrieved
- Tristam, P. (2016). When the United Arab Emirates Won Independence From Britain. Retrieved from