“Speak Dating” – a new language learning initiative in Dubai
Speak Dating is a new method of language learning that has proved a hit in the United Arab Emirates. It is a similar event to speed dating, but languages are the main pull as opposed to romance. The first event took place in May in Dubai, and boasted an impressive eleven different language combinations including Arabic, Russian, Turkish and Urdu.*
Arabic is the official language of the United Arab Emirates, but with over 140 different nationalities living there, English has emerged as the lingua franca between members of this international community, which unfortunately means that there is not much scope for practising languages other than English. This was a stumbling block for Bénédicte Hennebo (the founder of Speak Dating, herself fluent in Dutch, English, French and Italian, and with a background in linguistics) when she moved to Dubai and wanted to learn Arabic. However, this situation prompted her to create Speak Dating – not only to improve efficiency in a foreign language, but also to promote a deeper understanding of other cultures.
The event has already attracted a lot of media attention, including articles published on the Time Out and Gulf News websites, in which the format of the sessions is explained: The Shelter workspace centre in Dubai hosts the monthly meetings, where tables are set out with designated languages and teachers. Participants register by language interest and also state whether they will act as a teacher or a learner. Each teacher has a specific table, the learners move between them, and after a certain amount of time they swap roles. Partners are matched on suitable levels of language proficiency and meet up after the event to continue the language exchange and also to deepen their cultural knowledge.
One participant stated that he was already able to converse with more people in his workplace; another language couple realised they lived in the same block of flats which made it more convenient to arrange meetings; and a further couple have spent evenings at each other’s homes, speaking each other’s languages and experiencing each other’s cultures.
The organisers have stated that this event is not suitable for absolute beginners, as the focus is on “language practice” and furthering a person’s language skills. “A language exchange is also a wonderful way to learn the real spoken language and the foreign culture. Therefore, it is a great way to bridge the gap between the language classroom and the full immersion” states Speak Dating’s Facebook page.
Let’s hope that Speak Dating will be making its way over to the UK in the very near future!
*Time Out Dubai