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Legs up and reading a book

Image by Gael Martin via Flickr

Good morning everybody, hoping everybody has a nice weekend the weather seems to be getting nicer, I hope it stays that way so on the Race for Life day it can be pleasant. There is one dilemma that exists for Arab speakers and that is uninteresting material to read, and then people end up not reading at all. I found an article in The National addressing the issue of the availability of reading material in Arabic. There is a plethora of translations of all our classics such as Charles Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austin and even George Orwell. It’s always my habit that when I go on holiday I like to visit the main bookstores and over the years as I have visited the Middle East I noticed the book stores are more apparent and there are more of them which is a good thing and maybe an indicator that someone somewhere is reading! Of course until you go in then you can tell the contents and usually the materials they sell are; post cards, key rings, factual books about the country in question, magazines (plenty of them on everything from cooking, furniture, make-up to computers mainly in Arabic but some in English too) self- help books (many are translations from English), and novels in English, their translations and other wonderful Arabic novels. There is of course the canonical works of Arabic grammar, literature, and Islam that are always available and some of the printing is beautiful with their wonderful calligraphy-pressed covers and exquisite borders in the inside pages; you have to hold yourself otherwise you might end up buying the same book three times! Children’s books are mainly in English and the ones in Arabic are in Classical Arabic which most kids can’t read. I know that whilst doing my degree many of my colleagues would buy kid’s books in Arabic to revise grammar and help themselves learn Arabic- that shows the level of Arabic (children’s books in Arabic are so fun you don’t need to be a kid to read them!). This article below is the story of a mother who struggled to buy suitable reading books for her kids…. have a read to see what she had to do (no editing was done)

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Why are so few reading Arabic books? Tahira Yaqoob and Shadiah Abdullah (Writer) 

Last Updated: Apr 23, 2011

As an Arabic-speaking mother of three, Abir Ballan was eager that her children be familiar with their mother tongue. Yet when the 35-year-old public health worker scoured libraries and bookshops in search of entertaining children’s books in Arabic for her oldest son, Zein, then seven, she came up against an unexpected stumbling block: although plenty of translations of adult English literature filled the shelves, there was very little in the way of original, engaging fiction for young inquiring minds.

Undeterred, Ballan, who is originally from Beirut but lives in Dubai, set about writing a children’s book herself, turning the “crazy stories I used to tell my children to make them laugh” into lively printed form. Today she has six hugely popular picture books in print, including Fie al Ittihad al Quwa (United We Stand), which tells the story of National Day in the Emirates through a child’s eyes, and Ahlum An Ankoun (I Wish I Were).

But while her success story has inspired other writers and created a fan base of youngsters hungry for more creative fiction in their mother tongue, the obstacles she was forced to overcome represent just a fraction of a widespread problem: why are so few people reading Arabic books?

The scale of the problem was spelt out in a recent survey on reading habits in the Middle East. Commissioned to mark World Book Day last month, it produced depressing results for any Arab writer or publisher: only one in five read on a regular basis and among those under 25 – nearly 65 per cent of the 3,667 questioned by Yahoo! Maktoob Research – about one in three seldom or never read a book for pleasure.

Broken down by country, the results make equally uncomfortable reading. In an Arab League table of readers by nation, the UAE comes fifth behind Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and Iraq. In the Emirates, just 22 per cent of people regard themselves as regular readers. Most of those were well into their 40s and older.

Behind the figures is a sense that Arabic, at least in written form, is in serious trouble. The causes are complex and much debated. A diaspora, particularly among young educated professionals, means many young Arabs educated and living abroad are more comfortable writing in English.

A general lack of educational opportunities, particularly among poorer Arabs, is also to blame. Research for the Arab League estimates that about 100 million people – almost one in three – struggle to read and write. A recent Unesco report found that in the UAE, one in 10 people is illiterate.

Then there is something more intangible but equally damaging: a culture based on globalisation that is increasingly dominated by foreign-language products. Films, magazines, TV programmes, the printed word – everything that is culturally shiny and enticing to young minds. Among young Emiratis, the most popular section at the Book World superstore in Dubai Mall is English translations of Japanese manga comics. One result is that, as Ballan found, there are simply not enough books being published in Arabic, particular for children and teenagers. It is a chicken-and-egg situation. The market is not big enough to make it worthwhile, so there are not enough people writing.

“The quality of Arabic books is not of the standard of English books, which are nicely illustrated and cater to children’s emotional needs,” she says.

“Arab culture does not promote reading. I do not think parents see the importance of reading to their children in Arabic unless they are learning the alphabet. They do not see that books need to be read for fun, too.”

———The article continues…..please feel free to read it at the link below.

It’s great that she did something about it. If there is no incentive to read or a culture (as is claimed here) that does not push for kids to read they will not read, not as kids and not as adults. As linguists like to say, it’s always the attitude a good and positive attitude promotes better language learning and so on. The attitude must change, and if it does not then they will always say that Arabic is in danger of dying! I can go on and on about the benefits of reading not just for social gains but psychologically, for intelligence purposes etc… but it’s not the place and most people know this anyway. I can’t imagine what the world would be like without books!? There are efforts to address this lack of Arabic books for children, many publishing houses are taking this seriously, I am hoping that in a few months time when I go, the bookstores will have a better variety in the kids’ section. It might be a few years until a shift takes place, and I am sure it will (how that will impact or change things is to be seen) so we’ll see how that goes.

sourcehttp://www.thenational.ae/news/worldwide/why-are-so-few-reading-arabic-books