Multi-Lingual Family Life
An Entreaty From One Who Learned (the Hard Way)
When a Western woman marries a Saudi man, and moves to Saudi Arabia, she is faced with a language barrier. Her MIL likely will not speak much English. Even if she does, the Western wife will find herself an object of curiosity and conversation within the family. Her world will both narrow and expand in ways she never thought possible. In fact, her whole life will close in on itself or blossom out, to the extent that she learns Arabic.
Her husband will be the main person- the only person, at first- she’ll be able to talk with, unless we can count the maid, who might know a few words of English. The family will help her a bit, but they’ll always run off and leave her, conversationally, and she’ll end up sidelined, finding more meaningful social contact with pre-lingual nieces and nephews.
When her kids start school, she will be unable to communicate with the teachers. The kids will have learned Arabic from Baba, of course, and guess what language they’ll use when they don’t want Mama to understand?
The common Arabic phrases are easy enough to learn. Foreigners cannot help but learn them by osmosis, but permanent residents need to learn more. They need to apply much effort. The language is difficult, and the multi-cultural, multi-lingual atmosphere of Saudi Arabia can lull a person into laziness. An ex-pat worker need not speak a word of Arabic, but a permanent resident needs to do everything she can to get a good grasp of it.
Without a working knowledge of the language of your own family, you put yourself at risk for all kinds of misunderstanding, if not worse. Please, if you live in a multi-lingual family, do not trust them with a language you do not speak. Learn it, no matter how hard, no matter how long it takes. Consider it an insurance policy of sorts. Consider it your right and your responsibility. Make your husband aware of this stance. If you do not, you remain in a compromised position within the family, even if mutual love and respect suggest otherwise.