The City of Dubai

Robin Basselin and Ryan Geertsma look at the history and future of Dubai. This major global city has changed a lot in the last 40 years.


Voice 1 

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Robin Basselin.

Voice 2 

And I’m Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1 

Imagine a mountain made of snow in the middle of the desert. Now think about 300 large islands made by men to look like a map of the world. What about an underwater hotel where people can sleep while dangerous sharks swim all around them? These ideas seem impossible. But in the city of Dubai, they are real. Today's Spotlight is on the city of Dubai - one of the fastest-changing cities in the world.

Voice 2 

Dubai is a large city in the country of the United Arab Emirates. It sits on the Persian Gulf, right next to the ocean. Dubai is a port city. But it has a completely desert climate. In the past, Dubai was not a big city. Most of its citizens lived simple lives. They earned money by catching fish, or diving for valuable ocean pearls. Until recent years, most people in the area around Dubai lived the same way they had lived for hundreds of years before.

Voice 1 

All that changed in 1966. This was the year workers discovered oil in Dubai. At this time, the Maktoums were Dubai’s ruling family. Oil quickly brought the Maktoums huge amounts of wealth. But the family knew that the oil would not last forever. So they decided to invest a lot of their money in other industries - like tourism and trade. As a result of their effort, Dubai changed in major ways.

Voice 2 

Now, tourism is a major industry in Dubai. Each year, millions of people visit the city. Many people come to see Dubai’s famous building projects. Dubai has the world's tallest and highest priced hotel, the Burj al-Arab. It also has two sets of human made islands. The Palm Islands are a group of islands made in the shape of a date palm tree. Dubai's World Islands look like a map of the world. And, they are so large, you can even see them from space! But Dubai is most famous for the Burj Khalifa - the tallest human made building on the planet.

Voice 1 

Dubai is a global city, full of modern wonders. But less than 50 years ago, it was a small, desert port. No other area in the world has experienced such large amounts of change in such a short amount of time. But how does this affect a culture? What happens to people when they become rich so quickly?

Voice 2 

Many young people in Dubai are thankful for their wealth. Ahmed al-Atar is a young man who lives in Dubai. He told The Independent newspaper,

Voice 3 

"This is the best place in the world to be young! The government pays for your education to the highest level. You get a free house when you get married. You get free healthcare...Almost everyone has workers who clean their homes, watch their children and drive them around. And we never pay taxes. Before, my grandfather got up every day, and he would have to fight to get to the well first, to get water. They were always hungry and thirsty. They needed jobs very badly... Now look at us!"

Voice 1 

But not everyone agrees that this easy wealth is wonderful. Sultan al-Qassemi is another young man that lives in Dubai. He told The Independent:

Voice 4 

"People here are becoming overweight babies who do not want to do any work... We do not do anything for ourselves!"

Voice 2 

Many people from Dubai are also concerned about keeping their cultural identity. To help achieve Dubai’s fast growth, rulers brought many foreigners to the country. Between 90% and 95% of Dubai's population is foreign. Many people from the United Arab Emirates feel that Dubai is losing its Emirati culture. Professor Abdulkhaleq Abdullah told the Independent.

Voice 5 

"The people of Dubai are extremely proud of their city, and rightly so. And yet, in our hearts, we fear we have built a modern city but are losing it to all these foreigners."

Voice 1 

Dubai’s fast growth has also caused other problems. Many human rights organizations have recognized problems with poor treatment of foreign workers. Dubai needs a lot of workers to support the city. These workers help build Dubai’s many new homes and buildings. Other workers help wealthy families care for their homes and children. Most of these workers come from poor countries. To enter the United Arab Emirates, they need a visa. Often, they do not have enough money to pay for this official document. So, many of the businesses or families they work for pay for the workers’ visas. This means the workers owe their employers money before they begin working. This gives the employer a lot of power.

Voice 2 

When workers arrive in Dubai, their employers often pay them much less than they promised. Many workers have to live in very bad conditions. But they have to pay off their loan before they can leave the country. So they are trapped. Some of them feel like they are slaves. Baya Sayid  Mubarak lives in Dubai and works for the government of India. He told the NPR news organization,

Voice 6 

"Even though the city is so rich, there is another side. ...The city's economic miracle would not be possible without armies of poorly paid workers from the Indian sub-continent. Most of these workers are forced to give up their passports when they arrive."

Voice 1 

The Maktoum family claims that they are working to fix this problem in their city. And they have big hopes for making Dubai even better in the future. In 2013, 11 million people visited Dubai. That is only 3 million less than London and Paris - the world's most visited cities. By 2020, Dubai hopes to become the world's most visited city. To achieve this goal, the city will hold the 2020 World Expo. This huge world fair is the biggest international event other than the Olympics and the World Cup.

Voice 2 

There is no question that Dubai is an amazing city. It is also clear that the city plans to grow even more than it already has. But what is less clear is how all of this growth and change will affect the people living there. What will life really be like for them? Will the people of the United Arab Emirates be able to keep their culture strong? Will the workers from poor countries earn enough money to improve their lives? Tell us what you think. You can leave a comment on our website. Or email us at You can also comment on Facebook at

Voice 1 

The writer of this program was Jen Hawkins. The producer was Michio Ozaki. The voices you heard were from United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted for this program and voiced by Spotlight. You can listen to this program again, and read it, on the internet at This program is called, ‘The City of Dubai’.

Voice 2 

We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye!


Do you live in a big city? If you do, do you like it? If you do not, would you want to live in a big city?


Avatar Spotlight
Mss Flamboyant
said on September 01, 2014

woa Dubai is a dreaming city. Residential citizens do not have to pay for education, healthcare and even house. It is wonderful. I am really impressed with Dubai’s polices as well as Dubai’s government officers who work professionally and enthusiastically. But I am so worry about foreign worker policies and regine. I hope that Dubai will take care more about this in order to make Dubai becoming not only is a famous city but also is fairy city. I will try my best to earn much money to travel Dubai in the near future.

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Michael Adam
said on September 06, 2014

I Like This Program. Thanks Very Much. I Hope There’ll Be More Interesting Program Like This One.

muadibchik86's avatar
said on December 12, 2014

In Moscow we have about the same situation, but the most part of native population lives more worse.

GianlucaValente's avatar
said on January 24, 2015

Excuse for my english but I’m still learning….. I have listened and read this article about Dubai.
I think that in each rich country there is the same situation. A lot of people live very well and there are always a lot of people who live poorly.
I hope only that in the future this situation will change, giving to more people chance to earn enough money to live without problem.

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Đỗ Văn Hoàn
said on September 23, 2015

I hope one day i can visit this city in order to see the rich of it. I heard about it a lot. By the article,  Dubai is more magnificent than I imagine.

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said on April 18, 2016

I’m impressed by how sensible, even so wise, the government of the UAE disposed the natural resources and money that it has brought in. The natives are really blessed people. I live in country that is the most rich in lots of natural resources in the world but we as the natives have no benefits of that.. Yes, it differs in population as well but nevertheless you can’t get away from facts - we are treated the different ways.
As for me it’s a wonderful city to live in. I read in the blogs of Dubai’s residents that living there is comfortable in lots of reasons - it’s modern, fast-changing and highly developed. Dubai is one of the most suitable cities for raising children in its best way. Of course that’s it if speaking about working on a well-paid job there :) Besides I have a few friends living there so I know what I’m talking about. And I hope to move there soon. That is one of my dreams and I will do my best to make it come true :)

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said on October 04, 2016

thanks a lot. It is very useful for learning English at home

Severino Ramos da Silva's avatar
Severino Ramos da Silva
said on October 14, 2016

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) (Severino Ramos)
To: spotlight programme
Subject: answer to the questions above
Date: Friday 14, October 2016
São Paulo SP Brazil

Dear Robin Basselin, Jen Hawkins, Ryan Geertsma, and Michio Ozaki:

At first, I want to thank you to bring us readers and learners of English more one great article. Thanks!

Yes, I live in a big city. It is located in the South of the Brazil and its name is São Paulo city. São is the biggest city of the Brazil.
Yes, I like it because I live here and I work. But here I feel like a fish out of water.
Therefore, I would rather never have left my Pernambuco countryside where I was born and I lived until my 18 years old.

The best regards,
Severino Ramos