What a fascinating title, ‘Arabic: a window into the Arabian soul’! A direct reminder of the relativity theory of language, that I often bring up time and again- is language a reflection of who we are? This article caught my attention a while ago and I am posting it here for you to enjoy it, it was quite long and so I have selected the most relevant parts; but as always you can click on the link that will take you back to the original. The writer specifically focuses in the linguistic disadvantage of the expatriates living in Arab speaking countries and yet do not speak Arabic. In his view they are missing something great, a world view only seen through the Arab eyes and linguistic brain. It is not so linguistic as it is a documentation of the social-linguistic situation in Saudi Arabia and how Arabic language is under-taught. Here is the article:
Arabic: a window to the Arabian soul
Marhaban: Greetings. Shukran: Thank you.
You already know what these two words mean. The Arabic vocabulary of the majority of expatriates living and working in the Kingdom is limited to only a handful of words. Isn’t it odd that so many people live here for 10-plus years without learning the Arabic language?
It is embarrassing to walk into a small, local restaurant and not be able to order because the men there speak Arabic only. It is frustrating to drive around and try to reach your destination where street sign posts are written in Arabic only. Although a plethora of institutes exist in Jeddah that teach English to adult males, there is only one place besides Berlitz that offers Arabic classes.
A group of proactive men saw the need for expats to be introduced to the Saudi culture, go on tours of historical sites in Jeddah, and to learn the Arabic language. And they decided to feed that growing need. As a result, Jeddah Cultural Exchange Center was founded.
The Administration Manager, Christopher John Malvar, elaborated on why it is becoming increasingly important to learn Arabic. He said, “Companies are encouraging their employees to learn Arabic to facilitate their businesses here. Our students learn to read and write memos in Arabic, send e-mails, take notes at meetings, and communicate with the locals. By learning Arabic, they get ahead in their professional careers. Our students are able to read restaurant menus, road signs, and newspapers, make hotel reservations, and communicate with hospital staff. The skills they gain at CEC builds their confidence and breaks the barrier that alienates them from the local community. If you want to learn about a culture, you need to learn the language.”
The group at CEC conducted some research to find other Arabic teaching institutes in Jeddah and found none. Dialing 905 and requesting an Arabic language institute is equally futile. One survey showed that, worldwide, Arabic is one of the top most sought after languages. Since more than 50% of Jeddah’s population are expats, the city should provide more centers to teach Arabic to this large mass of people.
At least there are calls for language centres to cater for non-Arabic speakers, as I always say there are some linguistic environments that baffle me, and this is one of them. Usually linguists study what encourages people to learn a language, or the rate at which a language is learned, I think here someone needs to study how a language may not be learned! I am sure we will see and hear more about topics such as these…. I better go back to my writing the word document is calling me…have a nice weekend all and I’ll post soon.