Arabic must be the focus in pursuit of ‘true’ bilingualism in the UAE: Why a serious language policy is needed

العربية: لوحة التوقّف في دولة الإمارات العربية...

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Thank you for all recent comments and emails, I am glad Arabizi is playing a role in getting people to think about Arabic in new ways. Below I have pasted an article from the National, written by Dr. Ahmad al Issa and it superbly summarises the situation of Arabic in the Emirates. He raises excellent points about the danger Arabic is in, in the Arab world generally but more specifically in the UAE. WIth his experience and knowledge of how languages are taught around the world this article is a must-read for those wanting to understand the frustrations of linguists and educators when it comes to their fears over the demise of Arabic language. I don’t need to make many points it’s all nicely put below….your comments on this topic specifically are very welcome…enjoy the read…

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Recent articles in The National have discussed and debated the role of English in the UAE, and highlighted concerns with the place of Arabic in this diverse nation. Government officials say they hope to implement bilingual education earlier to help students improve their English language proficiency, and ease their transitions into universities where English is typically the language of instruction.

The idea of bilingual education is sound in principle. However, any language policy promoting bilingualism must be well thought out. It is important that language policies introducing bilingual education be done with an intensely balanced emphasis on both languages. True bilingualism can be achieved, but the method of instruction, and the attention and status each language receives in the classroom, matters. Simply introducing a new language earlier in a child’s education is not necessarily the best way to attain a multilingual population.

No one disagrees that English is today’s lingua franca; it is a global language that most people require in order to get ahead. Yet for children and students to gain a strong balance between their languages they must first have a very firm grasp of their mother tongue at an early age.

With Arabic in the UAE, this is not always the case.

Research has shown that students who are taught core subjects, like maths and sciences, in their native language understand the material better and become stronger communicators. Take the example of Finland, which has the highest literacy rate in Europe but whose children do not start learning English until they are seven or eight years old. English in Finland is taught as a foreign language, not a second language.

In the UAE there is the further notion that native speakers of English are best suited to teach the language. But there are many well-trained English language teachers here who are native speakers of Arabic and fluent in English. Unfortunately, they are often overlooked in favour of native speakers of English. This is an out-dated notion that has been discarded by most scholars.

When it is said that parents want their children to learn English, one has to ask how the parents were consulted. Do parents really have any option? The combination of the language policies of the country, the fact that English is the medium of instruction in higher education, and the fact that they see English as a pathway to success, all lead parents to seek out the best for their children.

One must also question if parents are aware of possible detrimental effects of English at such an early age. If students are over-exposed to English and its colourful books and exciting methodologies, their interest in Arabic can be diminished. Certainly, people will continue to speak Arabic, but fluent classical or Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) will become a language of the past.

The book Global English and Arabic: Issues of Language, Culture and Identity marks the latest warning regarding the status of Arabic. Researchers from the Arab world and beyond report growing apprehension over the role of Arabic in the Arab world generally, and in the Gulf and UAE specifically.

To be sure, there will always be those who stand firm in their belief that classical Arabic will never be reduced or lost in the Arab world due to its central role in Islam and being the language of the Quran. However, no matter how hard they attempt to make their case it does not stand up to serious scrutiny. If we view language as a standard bearer of identity, then the gradual loss of Arabic in the UAE is a serious problem in need of immediate attention.

There is hope that the roots of Arab linguistic history can be salvaged. But language policy needs to be well thought out; linguists and specialists from the UAE and surrounding Arab nations need to be involved in crafting smarter ways of incorporating Arabic instruction into our classrooms . This is not a job for foreign consultants alone. Our pupils need to know as many languages as they can or desire, but it should not be at the expense of their mother tongue.

Much as identity characterises people, native languages are of great importance in defining people. For the Emirati identity to remain strong, Arabic proficiency must be maintained.

Ahmad Al-Issa is an associate professor of English and linguistics at the American University of Sharjah—end

Action needs to be taken, other countries have done so without infringing on their mother tongues and are still able to provide their students with high quality education at international standards. English is vital and needed in today’s world, but native languages surely have a place too right?

Source: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/arabic-must-be-the-focus-in-pursuit-of-true-bilingualism

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7 thoughts on “Arabic must be the focus in pursuit of ‘true’ bilingualism in the UAE: Why a serious language policy is needed

  1. Pingback: the root of language « JRFibonacci's blog: partnering with reality

  2. I am a Swedish native speaker and I would never allow another language to take over mine back in Sweden- never! But glad to see there are people who know the damage already caused and are prepared to over come it. I learned English when I was 15 and went on to university in England my English was really good. people panic too much, the Arabs need to relax. Thank you once again for an interesting post-Heather

  3. Hey! I simply want to give a huge thumbs up for your ability to always chose the right posts and deliver them to us in a nice easy way.

  4. Hey Really nice post good work and will love to read some more good posts about Arabic and how people interact with it today 🙂

  5. Hi, i just wanted to say that people do not realise how worried we are here. I have been learning English and standard Arabic at school my whole life, yet I communicate with my family and friends in our own Emirati Arabic. Also, standard and Emirati Arabic are very different. In the end, I am not 100% comfortable using one single language. What i mean is, sometimes i think in English, and when i talk to people in Arabic while thinking in English it becomes messy and confusing. I really think that children should not be taught English until they’re comfortable with Arabic, or they will naturally lean towards English because it is much easier.

    • Thanks for stopping by Alya, some speakers of more than one language report feeling confused because they think in one language and speak in another and that can sometimes feel inauthentic or disturbing. It also affects their overall language abilities in both (or more) languages that they grew up speaking. However, there are also many who report positive aspects of thinking in one language and speaking in another and also not getting confused either. But I think the UAE case is unique and you describe some of that experience here. I think there are many people who suggest that Arabic should be taught later to children perhaps in their teens after they have mastered Arabic as a way to help them with proper first language acquisition. It would be interesting to see that idea implemented- thank you for your comment again.

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