Two men in conversation

Although most people from Arabic speaking countries speak Arabic, it is important to note that there are issues of linguistic diversity to keep in mind, especially when engaging an interpreter.

The English proficiency of Arabic speaking clients varies greatly depending on their length of time in Australia, literacy, education levels, socialisation and opportunity to learn English. For example, many Lebanese who have been in Australia for decades may speak English well, but newly arrived Lebanese, Syrians, Egyptians and Iraqis may have little or no English. Even those clients who speak English well, may not be able to read or write it, and others who are proficient and elderly, tend to revert to their first language.

Some Arabic speaking clients may be illiterate in Arabic, but speak Modern Standard Arabic, while some may speak a second or third language, and others may use Arabic, English and other languages interchangeably.

For most Arabic speaking people, Arabic is their mother tongue and this, along with other aspects of Arabic culture, has formed their identity.

To communicate adequately with Arabic speaking clients, the Arabic language is clearly preferable, and Arabic speaking services employ Arabic speaking staff for this reason. Where Arabic speaking service providers are not available, or are not able to deliver a specialised service, communication strategies become very important.

It is crucial for service providers to at least be aware that communication difficulties are likely. For example, your client’s response in simple yes or no answers may not be a valid indication of their understanding of the question and their level of English.

Best practice is to establish effective communication by engaging an interpreter, especially in the initial contact to establish the level of competency in English.

Other strategies include:

  • sourcing some written Arabic Translations to explain your service or procedure
  • using helpful hints and strategies for effective communication through increased awareness of culture and traditions, religion and culturally appropriate communication styles
  • establishing rapport with your client and their family with Basic Phrases in Arabic