How Emiratis Localized the Filipino Language

A vending machine that dispenses gold, gigantic aquariums, an underground zoo inside a mall, policemen sporting luxury cars, a building that extends beyond the skyline—sounds fancy, right? Well, these are just some of the common sights in Dubai.

Dubai is one of the Emirates that comprise the UAE. One might think that it’s hard to get by in this city, given the complexities of their Arabic language. But do not fret; they are blessed with English-speaking natives. Aside from this, most of the signage on the streets, establishment names, restaurant menus, and other paraphernalia are written in Arabic together with their respective English counterpart. (Upon seeing their bilingual labels in the airport for the first time, I was immediately reminded of my work as a desktop publishing artist.) This is a reflection of them being welcome to foreign relations and therefore, opens doors for greater opportunities for globalization.

Being one of the wealthiest cities in the world, they are not only known for their attractive tourist sites, but also as a shopping haven for locals and tourists alike, thanks to their tax-free policy. As our cab driver jokingly said, Dubai means “Do shopping, then say goodbye.” There are around 60 malls where they can take refuge during the extremely hot weather. If you’re more of a haggler and looking for a more exotic shopping experience, you may opt to visit their local marketplaces or what they call a “souq.” Countless stalls can be found in the area and many offer the same products. So, how do the merchants attract the attention of potential customers? They take advantage of the power of localization. Because a growing Filipino community exists there—with more than 20% making up the population of the city—I wasn’t surprised that the natives are knowledgeable with the Filipino language, but I find the range of their vocabulary quite amusing.


Identifying yourself with your fellow countrymen … it is only correct when used to call a fellow citizen, but as this is rampantly heard by the locals there, they might have assumed that this is a general term that refers to a Filipino national. As soon as they find out that you’re from the Philippines, they would immediately exclaim, “Kabayan!” or “Kabayan, check out our store. We’ll give you discount!”


These are colloquial terms with Spanish origins that are used when calling friends or colleagues.

Pare/mare, ‘lika dito!” (Pare/mare, come here!)


This word means “beautiful.” Flattery—a classic move to appeal to the people.

“Maganda! Maganda! Try this.”


As flattering as the previous word was, this one works against their favor. In Filipino, it means “fat.” Personally, I find it funny, but some might feel offended when they are called “mataba.” Ideally, it is not a term you would want to use, unless you want to see customers walk away.

Mura dito!

“It’s cheap here.” Who wouldn’t want quality goods at an affordable price, right?

People tend to be drawn to the familiar. This is an element that businesses should take advantage of to be able to get ahead in the competitive market. Fortunately, there are a lot of companies with localization expertise—like Lexcode—that are dedicated to providing excellent translation and interpretation services.