Early Language Education in the United Arab Emirates

Author First name, Last name, Institution

Kay Gallagher, Zayed University

Document Type

Book Chapter

Source of Publication

Springer International Handbooks of Education

Publication Date



This chapter examines early language education in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a vibrant plurilingual context that has two dominant languages, Arabic and English. Arabic is the UAE’s official language, and speakers of Arabic include Emirati citizens who form a minority of the overall population, as well as expatriate residents from across the Arab world. However, English is used as the contemporary lingua franca, due to the superdiversity of the majority multinational expatriate population. Given the volume of global immigration to the UAE, other languages are widely spoken, including Farsi, Hindi, Malayalam, Sinhalese, Tagalog, and Urdu.For the national population, free, state-sponsored Arabic-medium kindergarten education is offered from 4 years of age, while both national and expatriate parents must pay for private prekindergarten education which is offered mostly in English. The focus of this chapter is primarily on early language education in nursery (birth to 4 years) and kindergarten (4 and 5 years) settings, with some reference to the early elementary years (6–8 years). Little research attention is paid to languages other than Arabic and English in early childhood education in the UAE. In light of recent moves to develop Arabic-English bilingualism and emergent biliteracy from an early age through the state education system, the chapter pays particular attention to issues and challenges surrounding early dual-language education. In addition, some recent, although limited, developments in multilingual provision in the early years are discussed. Home language and literacy factors outside formal educational settings are also addressed. Although early childhood language education in the UAE is not yet well researched, key studies published in English are referenced, critical issues are addressed, and future development and research directions are outlined.



Springer International Publishing

First Page


Last Page



Education | Linguistics


United Arab Emirates, Early language education, Arabic language teaching, English language teaching, Early bilingual teaching, Early biliteracy teaching

Indexed in Scopus


Open Access