A belated Happy New Year to everyone, hoping that 2016 will be a great year for everyone around the world. I would also like to welcome new readers and thank you to a number of readers for all the wonderful comments sent via email, I appreciate those- they encourage me to keep sharing my ideas here.
So what was 2015 like for the Arabic language especially in ‘Arabic-speaking’ countries?
- Sesame Street in Arabic was re-launched after a 25 year absence. This was met with much excitement and anticipation for those who used to watch it and for parents who wish for their children to be exposed to Standard Arabic in a fun and modern way. Standard Arabic is used consistently throughout the show, which runs for 30 minutes, broken into different segments. The different characters encourage learning, discovery, they share their love and enjoyment for reading (in each episode a story (using a picture book) is read to the audience) among other things. I have also watched one or two episodes for the first time which seem great, but I may perhaps be able to give a better overview once I have seen more episodes (which I hope to do). It’s a good way of teaching Arabic indirectly and informally which may perhaps assist schools to help children better their Arabic. The biggest benefit I saw right away was the vocabulary size in each episode and the emphasis of case endings of each of the words (it might also be a good resource for Arabic language students). Watch an episode here.
- 2016 was announced to be the year of reading in the UAE: An interesting initiative that aims to tackle poor reading in the Middle East/UAE and to improve Arabic (reading) comprehension was launched. The idea is to encourage children to explore knowledge (and the world) outside the classroom through reading for fun and out of choice. The hope is that the launching of this idea will foster a love of reading in children and encourage them to do so more frequently. The second intention is to encourage children to read in Arabic (this is much harder to achieve given the current levels of Arabic proficiency in the UAE and in some other Arabic speaking countries) and further improve their reading proficiency in general (reading is a learned skill after all!). I think this might work if there is support in place for children to do this, and I am sure this will also allow Arabic publishing houses to publish more books in Arabic. More demand will force a bigger supply and hopefully this will allow Arabic publishing houses to be creative, innovative and operate in their own unique way. Without doubt Arabic publishing houses can only develop and become reliable producers of books if readers read, it’s that simple.
- Fears over the future of Arabic were raised again: This is in the context of the UAE or other Gulf countries, of course these fears are present at different levels in different Arabic speaking countries. For example an article written in The National back in March, titled: Arabic at risk of becoming foreign language in the UAE. This worry was prompted by the fact that many teachers (over the years) have reported that their students are not fluent in Arabic, and that eventually that may lead to a shift or loss of Arabic. The article also raises an important issue, which I sometimes discuss here, and that is the need to make Arabic language classes more creative, fun, up to date and functionally effective in teaching students a language. A second article More must be done to preserve Arabic (Nov, 2015) calls for not only the teaching of Standard Arabic but also that of Emarati Spoken Arabic. I like the idea that people living in the UAE (or any other Arabic speaking country) should be able to learn the local dialect in a formal setting, like learning any other language. It is effective, useful and it allows non-Arabic speakers to interact with native speakers as well as other non-Arabic speakers. The result? Well, aside from creative language use Emarati Arabic will be actively spoken in public. A note on the use of the word ‘preservation’, it is more ideological than real (I think) because we usually speak of preserving a dying language, it is hard for me to say Arabic is a dying language. But the panic and anxiety is real and Arabic can only become effective or seem more alive (in some countries) if people converse and communicate in Arabic, an Arabic they feel expresses them, not a form of Arabic imposed by laws.
- Talking of laws, in Qatar (Jan 2015) there is a law in the making that intends to make it an offence to speak Arabic incorrectly-I quote from the article: “The draft law would discourage mixing of Arabic with any other language and its use in public — in educational institutions, business establishments and offices, service institutions and the media. Shops and business establishments would need to pay special attention since signboards and letterheads used by them would have to use impeccable Arabic. The organisation feels that the Arabic spoken by many in Qatar is not proper, so there is a need to take corrective measures, and hence the draft law.The prestige of the Arabic language is to be maintained at any cost so that people feel proud of it, and the draft legislation aims at that”. Can you control how people speak? My sociolinguist self is telling me no, especially not multilingual (those who speak more than one language) speakers. Socially it would be almost impossible to police this, but maybe in institutions and the media it may be easier (as is the case in some other countries). The idea that signboards and letterheads should also be correct is a good idea and that can also be monitored. But to monitor speakers is not realistic and will only push people with poor Arabic proficiency not to improve their reading and writing skills. I don’t know what data they are using to say that people in Qatar have bad Arabic, it is also unclear how they will ensure the law is implemented and what sanctions will be handed out to those who defy the laws.
- In September the Qatar Foundation published a list of English-Arabic biological terms, in an effort to realise their intention of making Arabic a language of learning. Their vision is that one day Arabic speakers should be able to go to university and not only be taught in Arabic (in some classes alongside English of course) but also write (competently) in Arabic. They identified a need for the formulation, standardisation and recognition of ‘Academic Arabic’ a form of academic writing that should not need to use English words for expert terms (but should have good Arabic equivalents that go beyond transliterations). This coincides with the opening of a university in Doha that offers courses in Arabic and asks students to supply not only their TEFL (English) scores but also Arabic ones in an effort to raise standards of the Arabic language. It would be very interesting to see the outcome of this initiative and see its effectiveness, I think the fact that they are not against English is refreshing. Most Arabic bodies or revival committees always blame English or dream of an English-free world, but that is unrealistic and it usually results in unattainable initiatives and ideas. Let’s see how this initiative pans out, I’ll be watching carefully and if I am lucky enough I can interview someone about it.
Those were the stories that caught my attention as I was going through my file of saved articles in 2015. It seems to me that anxiety over the future of Arabic in Arabic speaking countries will linger for a while until educators, teachers, parents, children, and speakers themselves decide what they wish to do with/or for their language. Parents blame teachers for poor proficiency, teachers blame parents, parents blame children, others blame technology and globalisation and it goes on and on. But essentially it is only the individual Arabic speaker and/or together with their family who can make a difference. Let’s hope 2016 will be as exciting, I already have 2 posts in draft, thanks for reading.
Iftah ya simsim (Sesame Street): http://iftahyasimsim.com/main_activities.html
Law to prohibit bad Arabic in Qatar: http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/news/qatar/318801/mind-your-bad-arabic
Reading initiative: http://gulfnews.com/news/uae/government/uae-declares-2016-as-year-of-reading-1.1631695
Publication of Arabic terms: http://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/news/qatar/353226/glossary-of-english-arabic-biological-terms-released