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Bahrain - Speaking the Language
There are different ethnic groups native to Bahrain, although the small size of the nation makes the differences in religion and political allegiance more acute than any effect on dialects.
The Khalifah family, who hold the monarchy as well as most government positions, are Sunni Muslims. Most Sunni Muslims have Persian or Arab ancestry, although the Huwala are descended from Iranians and other groups originated from East Africa.
The Baharna community are Arabs who belong to the Shia branch of Islam. The Ajam community are also Shia but descended from the Persians, who ruled the lands until 1783, when the Khalifah family took over. There are also other ethnic Shia groups such as the Hasawis community. Altogether, there are many more Shia Muslims living in Bahrain than Sunnis.
Using English In Bahrain
The official language of Bahrain is Arabic. The most widely spoken dialect is Bahraini Arabic.
However, more than half the country’s population were born outside Bahrain. The majority of these people are from the Middle East, but there are also significant numbers of workers and residents who arrived from South Asian countries. Indian citizens are the largest group of foreign residents in Bahrain, making up almost a third of the population.
As a result, many migrants speak the Persian of Iran or the Indian and Pakistan language Urdu. Other common languages include Nepali, Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi.
Despite all this, the long association between Bahrain and the UK – which began in 1861 – means that English is widely used in the country today. Even driving down a highway, you will see signs directing you in both Arabic and English.
An Islamic Culture
Although you’ll be able to fully enjoy life in Bahrain even if you only speak English, you’ll still have to get accustomed to a different culture. Some 70% of residents in Bahrain are Muslim, and the local population generally has a conservative view of personal behaviour standards.
This means that the way you dress, where you drink and your interaction with members of the opposite sex are all subject to cultural attitudes which disapprove of non-conformist behaviour. It can take some time to adjust to these new expectations, although they are more liberal than in many nearby societies.
Self-Censorship In Bahraini Media Outlets
Bahrain’s government has come under criticism for its alleged disregard of human rights, especially in reaction to huge protests in the wake of the Arab Spring of 2011. The case of the footballer Hakeem Al-Araibi highlights the reaction of the authorities to criticism, which is in great contrast to the free speech most Westerners enjoy. The majority of the population are Shia Muslims, but the country has Sunni rulers, a situation which has been a long-standing source of tension and protests, some of which have been suppressed by troops firing live ammunition at civilians.
If you choose to live in Bahrain knowing about these well-publicized cases and allegations, do not air your views publicly once you live there. Even social media comments about the country’s relationship with Qatar are illegal.
Not surprisingly, self-censorship is widespread as journalists know they risk their careers and freedom by criticising the country’s leaders and government. Newspapers follow a pro-government editorial line. Be aware of this when reviewing locally produced news.
Television And Radio
The government, via the Information Affairs Authority and Bahrain’s radio and television corporation, runs a number of state television and radio channels. Private channels and radio stations also broadcast.
Free satellite platforms are popular in Bahrain. Many households also sign up to paid satellite packages, whose content includes UK and US programmes. Satellite sports channels are often the most convenient way to watch big sporting events in the comfort of your home.
Netflix offers streaming services in Bahrain for those with a good internet connection. The Netflix catalogue can be accessed in Arabic or English. You may find that some titles available via Netflix in the UK or US are not available in Bahrain as films and TV shows are dependent on regionally specific agreements held with film distributors. These restrictions are one of the reasons Netflix has invested so heavily in the creation of new content for inclusion in its catalogues worldwide.
The majority of newspapers printed in Bahrain are in Arabic, although some titles are produced for specific communities in their own languages.
For English speakers, online resources include:
As discussed in the Leaning and Schools section of this country guide, public schools in Bahrain teach in Arabic. However, most children learn English as a second language.
Bahrain has a good selection of US and UK international schools whose curriculum and learning environment are all in English. For many expats seeking a good school with English-speaking teachers for their children, international schools are a popular choice.
Communications If you need to know more about home phone connections, mobile phone networks, broadband access and postal services, head over to the Communications section of this country guide.
Sarah Cole from John Murray Learning wrote a useful article for ExpatFocus on ways to approach the learning of a new language.
Online resources, CDs and books, YouTube videos and language classes are all available according to your chosen method to learn. Individual tuition is more expensive but may give you more confidence in speaking and learning from your mistakes.
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