The official language is Arabic, but it is certain that the majority of the population does not speak it. Iranian, Indian, Filipino and Western expatriates outnumber the Emiratis, especially in Dubai (where the foreign population is over 80%), and generally have very limited knowledge of Arabic. English is the lingua franca and many Emiratis speak it to communicate with the many foreign workers who work for them. As the Emirates is a British protectorate, most people would have learnt English at school and have at least a basic knowledge of English.
Other languages widely spoken in the UAE are Hindustani (Hindi and Urdu), Malayalam/Tamil, Farsi (Persian) and Tagalog (Filipino). Most people have at least a basic knowledge of English, although it is not uncommon to meet people with limited English skills.
In Dubai, most shops, hotels and commercial enterprises are run in English. Arabic is generally spoken by government agencies and the police; however, in Abu Dhabi and the northern emirates, Arabic is much more widely spoken.