Arabic? It's all Greek to me, says Prince Charles on latest leg of his Middle East tour

  • @tompeck

The Prince of Wales has been having lessons in Arabic. But on a visit to Doha, in Qatar, he told guests that the language, which he has been learning for six months, “goes in one ear and out the other”.

Charles was attending the launch of the Qatar-UK Alumni Network, for Qataris who have attended British universities, when he told guests: “You all speak such good English.”

Dr Mohammed Bin Saleh Al-Sada, chairman of the association and Qatar’s Energy Minister, asked the Prince if he spoke any Arabic, and the Prince said: “I tried to learn it once but I gave up. It goes in one ear and out the other.” Dr Sada told him: “It’s never too late to learn.”

But an aide to the Prince confirmed he had been having lessons in Arabic recently, and is “enormously interested in the region”. The Royal Family are often deployed in diplomatic dealings with Arabic countries, where monarchies are still in place which prefer to deal with Princes than with diplomats or elected officials.

The Prince and his wife the Duchess of Cornwall are due to visit Saudi Arabia today on the next leg of their tour of the region.

Buckingham Palace held a state banquet for King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia in 2007, which the then acting Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable refused to attend on the grounds of the country’s human rights record. The Prince also speaks some French, some German and, on account of his 55 years as the Prince of Wales, has also had some lessons in Welsh.

One of his two A-Levels was in French, in which he gained a grade C. The other was a B in History, but together they were sufficient to gain a place at Cambridge University, from where he graduated with a 2:2 in archaeology and anthropology.

His mother, the Queen, speaks fluent French, and regularly does so on state occasions and in telephone calls with foreign leaders.

But it was a language that didn’t always come easy to her. As a little girl, she threw something of a tantrum at the hired French teaching madamoiselle, who made her write out endless columns of verbs, as her former governess Marion Crawford recalled.

“One day, I heard curious sounds emerging from the schoolroom and popped in. Poor mademoiselle was transfixed with horror,” she said last year. “Lilibet, goaded by boredom to violent measures, had picked up a big silver inkpot and, without any warning, tipped it over her own head.”

With the middle-east and its oil rich city states emerging as ever more significant centres, the number of Arabic speakers in the UK is increasing, as are the number of Britons tempted by higher incomes and, in the case of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, zero income tax.

How do you Doha? Prince’s phrasebook

Whatever ‘in love’ means Hasab ya’ani “fil hibb”

How are you today Mr Geranium? Kayf Haalak al yawm, as-sayyid Geranium?

Just the seven eggs this morning please Bass al saba’a bayd hatha al masa’a, min fadlak

Anyone for a Duchy’s original bacon sandwich? Yureed shachs sandweesh al khanzeer “Duchy” al assli?

Translations rendered into Arabic, in Latin alphabet