Is the Arabic language “dying”?

I should really be enjoying myself now that I am on holiday! But as usual I could not help it when I came across the article I am about to paste below, I am tired but looking forward the break just as soon as I find a decent cup of  English tea I will be fine! It’s all coffee here, it’s so early in the morning but my body clock has not adjusted yet or the clock on the blog?!  Hopefully I will try posting as mush as I can in the next few weeks.  Right, another posting on the so-called death of Arabic language, and some future predictions of what the fate of this powerful language will be. It does make for a melancholic read, and as usual could be a wake-up call to those who regard Arabic language as part of their culture and heritage to do something.



DOHA // Abbas al Tonsi sees something wrong in a future where citizens of Gulf countries wear dishdashas and abayas but are unable to speak Arabic.

“How can you say ‘I am an Arab’ if you don’t know the language?” said the professor of Arabic at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar.

For Mr al Tonsi, who has written several Arabic textbooks and has been teaching the language for almost 40 years, the crisis is personal. “I am afraid that after 20 years,” he said, “Arabic will just be a language of religious ritual.”
The native tongue for more than 300 million people and used regularly by 1.6 billion Muslims, Arabic is in no danger of extinction. But because of the dominance of English, its usage in everyday life is under threat in several of the Gulf’s smaller states.

A senior official at Qatar’s ministry of culture, arts and heritage recently acknowledged Arabic’s decline and underscored the seriousness of the problem. “Language is the key issue for the identity of a society,” Marzook Basher Binmarzook said last month.

Mr al Tonsi’s forthcoming study of Arabic instruction reveals how Qatari schools are helping to erode that identity. Standards are vague and not communicated well to the teachers, he said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Meet this level of efficiency’. But how do you guide the teachers to get the students there?” said Mr al Tonsi. “What exactly are the main ideas? In these standards, there are no indicators of intent, no uniform lesson plans or content.” Secondly, he said, most of the Arabic teachers were inadequately trained and relied on outdated methods. “The teachers mainly teach grammar, and it’s mainly teacher-centred,” Mr al Tonsi said. “They lecture rather than engage the students.”

Finally, schools use a wide variety of textbooks, which complicates proficiency testing. They also lean too heavily on grammar, according to Mr al Tonsi, and use simplistic drills that fail to develop critical thinking. Further, most books are overly proud and authoritarian, he said.

“‘We are the best, we are the bravest’ – you feel this is nonsense if you’re a young person,” said Mr al Tonsi, who co-authored Al Kitaab, an Arabic textbook used in about 700 universities worldwide.

In addition, fewer Gulf nationals are opting for teaching careers because of low pay and a lack of cultural respect. And a major reform programme in Qatar has instituted a more westernised curriculum.

Gulf culture has in recent decades shifted towards the West. Arabs represent a minority population in Qatar, as in the UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain. English dominates business, and is more common in many public places, such as malls. Many schools now favour English as the primary medium of instruction. And Education City in Doha, American University in Dubai and Sharjah and New York University in Abu Dhabi point to a higher educational system that is embracing English. Many students and their parents see it as the best route to success.

“Many Arab families now want their children to learn English before they learn Arabic,” said Jinanne Tabra, the founder of Araboh, a producer of contemporary Arabic learning materials. “There is this ridiculous impression that English is somehow superior to Arabic.”

But instead of becoming bilingual, most students in Qatar lack fluency in any language. In the past four years, only five to seven per cent of primary and junior high school students in Qatar achieved acceptable standards in national tests for Arabic and English. He urged schools to improve teacher training and create extra curricular activities in which students could converse in Arabic – book clubs, speech groups, drama clubs and poetry readings. He also thinks schools should use audio and video as the main texts, and teach an Arabic that is challenging, enjoyable, respectful of young minds and develops critical thinking.

Maybe learning Arabic could even be fun. “You will never learn a language unless you are willing to learn it,” he said. “No one learns a language by force.”


What a predicament for the Gulf countries! The more I read these articles and the more I think about the issues raised even by top government officials of the concerned countries; and I constantly ask myself , “what are they doing about it”?  To what extent does Arabic in their countries need to deteriorate in order for something to be done about it? Or is it that simply no one cares enough to do something about it? You might think that putting a law in place might be the solution, but people usually have this tendency to break the law when they can, so how effective is the law that Arabic must be used in all public buildings? When most of the workers are foreign or even if they are not all the software and interface used in the workplace is in English and has no Arabic equivalent what are the chances that Arabic will be used?  I could go on, but the more I am reading about this the more I am surprised that nothing of real substance is being done to save “their” language.  As I always say let’s give it five to ten years and see what will happen will Arabic still be in decline or will it not? I am collecting every article, every conference paper, every book and news/entertainment article on this issue and I am hoping to compile a corpus on the issue of Arabic being in ‘danger’. After five years it will be an excellent source of research and discourse analysis to see where the rhetoric is going and how the discourse on this subject is being shaped.  As usual your emails on this topic always interest me and I am grateful to those who email me with new ideas and links to other similar topics. Keep reading!