My initial days in Dubai were dull and lonely. The main reason was that I had a problem of communicating with the local customers. Dubai’s local language is Arabic and international language is English. I was poor in English and Arabic was totally unfamiliar to me. I could only speak Hindi or Marathi. But very few customers would reciprocate in Indian languages. This dilemma not only made me nervous but also isolated. I began hiding from the Arabic speaking and English speaking customers.
Some white collared customers would prefer to speak in fluent and elite English only and that made the situation even more awkward for me. Even after figuring out that I struggled with English and would reply with only 3 words –Yes, No or Thank you, they maliciously kept talking in eloquent English and enjoyed watching my embarrassment. This caused an inferiority complex within me.
One day I was working in the shop as usual when an Arab customer dropped in. I warily faced him and greeted him in Arabic saying ‘Sabah al-Khair’ (Good Morning), the only Arabic words I was familiar with. Hearing this he thought that I could speak his language and he continued the conversation in Arabic. Soon he noticed my silence and realized the situation. He wisely found a way and started communicating in sign language. He first pointed towards the commodity he wanted and then made a chopped like action on his wrist. The meaning immediately flashed in my mind and I understood that he wanted half kg of that product. When I handed over the packet to him he paid for it and waved his hand happily, saying ‘Sukran’ (Thank you).
The body language of that Arab customer taught me a lot. I understood the importance of communicating in the customer’s language. At the same time I realized how easy and joyful it is to learn a foreign language from the natives. All of a sudden my fear vanished and I resolved to learn both Arabic and English by heart. The very next day I started learning different Arabic words and applying them. In six months, I progressed to talking with my customers easily.
Then I turned my attention to English. I joined a coaching class to polish my language and acquire conversational skills. The teacher was a pleasant, gentle person. He taught me various techniques of public speaking. This tutelage profited me in my business also. Being a multilingual definitely expands your reach to a large number of customers. I always offer this precious advice to all entrepreneurs who would like to expand their business globally.
A quote of Nelson Mandela, the late South African leader, is worth memorizing- one that is a personal favorite.
“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.”