It is not enough to modernise Arabic teaching materials- their content matters too

Sample Q&AThe most common complaint about Arabic teaching materials is that they are out dated and do not reflect the real world in which the student lives in. And the poor quality of materials is often claimed to be the reason why students fail to acquire Arabic to the desired levels (especially native speaking Arabic students). I was sceptical about that for a while because as an Arabic teacher myself I knew, as any teacher would, that the teaching materials are just half of the equation to a successful language teaching lesson, the other half depends on the teachers’ qualities of creativity, enthusiasm and his/her general ability to convince the student to learn. A teacher who is passionate about their subject will almost always attract the attention of the student and over time the student will realise the teacher’s efforts and learn the subject well. I am sure we all had that teacher whose passion for their subject influenced us in one way or another, and that it was those lessons that we not only enjoyed but excelled in.

textbook2The teaching of Arabic is no different, and as a secondary school teacher I never used only one book I mixed maybe 4 or 5 separate curricula and made some materials myself. This I found, apart from taking up all of my summer and being a welcome distraction from my then-MA thesis, changed the Arabic class from monotone-like, boring, repetitive, and often predictable lessons of the previous year into lessons that kept the students excited. A new wave of interaction, questions and creativity crept into the Arabic class and I was motivated even more to teach the subject.

But, what I realised (over time and through observing other classes) was that the content of the materials mattered for real language learning to take place, it wasn’t enough to have it on flashcards, or on online specially designed online platforms I had made. Nor was it enough that each week one of my lessons was a “free class” where students came in and taught one another something great they had learned in Arabic from the previous week. It was all great, not to mention the crazy amount of work and preparation I had to dtextbooko, but I always felt as if it was not enough. I felt that in addition to all of the above the material had to also challenge students to think deeply about the way they used language. Of course I do not mean 5 or 6 year olds but 8, 9, 10 and secondary school students (especially native speakers of Arabic) deserve material that challenges their thinking.

So although it is the teachers’ passion and creativity that plays a big role in the teaching of Arabic, I have come to see that the content of the material is also important (I probably will always think about this). Content that not every teacher will have the time or the knowledge to think up independently in addition to their other teaching or non-teaching duties. Therefore, the Arabic curricula, or book or teaching material designers and printers need to produce high level materials in Arabic. It would be great if they consulted Arabic teachers in the process.

I will give one example, for fear of this post becoming too long, that of comprehension and in particular the question section. Traditionally, most Arabic language books (the ones I have seen) have a very simple method through which to test a students comprehension of a text. So it will be something like (I am making these examples up):

“Why did the man go to the big house?”  The expected/acceptable answer would be: “The man went to the house to get his coat” and this answer would be deemed correct because the student has shown understanding and most probably an ability to conjugate verbs. The questions move on to other aspects of the text with the intention of making sure the student has understood the semantic (meaning) content of the story or lesson. Which is absolutely fine and great- but as a starting point. My quarrel is that the questions are always so simplistic and  never go beyond that starting point. The questions never really fully challenge the student to use all their vocabulary or structures to answer a question. Can you imagine challenging a student so that they go beyond the simple answers, words, structures, synonyms, can you imagine pushing the student to think in Arabic at a higher level? I know there are improvements being made all the time to Arabic materials, but more needs to be done for both native and non-native learners of Arabic. Well, this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently and thought I’d share it with others…thanks for reading and as always any ideas are welcome.

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The following links maybe of useful to anyone who has an interest in Arabic as a medium of instruction at schools, it’s taken from the ever-exciting blog by Lameen Souag:

http://lughat.blogspot.fr/2015/08/algerian-arabic-in-schools-more-smoke.html

http://lughat.blogspot.fr/2015/08/algerian-arabic-in-schools-actions.html

http://lughat.blogspot.fr/2015/08/teaching-in-dardja-before-colonial-rule.html

 

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“Who says I won’t be cool anymore if I speak Arabic?!” The fight for Arabic

fi'l amr1This week Arabizi (this blog) celebrates it’s 3rd birthday! I didn’t expect to still be writing 3 years after I started this blog because I wasn’t sure how blogging would work or how readers would react to my thoughts and ideas about a topic close to my heart- linguistics and Arabic. But, thankfully, it has been an eventful 3 years both on and offline, and I have learned so much from both readers (through comments, criticism & opinions) and from reading the extra books/articles in relation to some of the topics here. So in that celebratory spirit, I spent this morning going through many of the posts I wrote in the first 6 months of the blog, and decided to track how (if possible) those stories/events have progressed over the last 3 years. One such story I thought I’d talk about again, and which seemed to have had some sort of progress was the F’il ‘Amr initiative in Beirut (See the post here written in April 2010). Since the 2010 festival in which Suzanne and her team addressed their concerns about the future of Arabic in Lebanon and across the Arab world, she has been quietly working away at improving the organisation and working to be more effective in her goals and endeavours. At the end of 2012 TED asked her to participate in their Beirut event and of course she obliged (you can see the video here sorry it’s in Arabic), and the Gulf newspaper did the following review interview with her (without editing):

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How did Feil Amer come about?

About seven years ago, I started working in the [Lebanese] civil society but while I worked for many causes, I realised that I and the other people were speaking Arabic only occasionally. After meeting people from different age groups I soon realised that Arabic was becoming extinct. It’s looked at by the new generation as something that is old-fashioned — not cool or modern — and it was almost like no one felt the need to speak Arabic. This made me wonder how we reached this stage.

Over the past 10 to 15 years, there has been this big change in the world, through the internet, technology, etc. We are just consuming because we feel we want to keep up or stay tuned, as they say. It became an emotional issue for me when I saw that even people from poor families would speak only in English just to prove that they are from a certain culture or maintain a certain image. This really made me raise important questions: Where are we now? What are we fighting for? What do we really want? What will I teach my children? What stories will I tell them? I needed to take this cause, the Arabic language, and put it in the civil society. I wanted to speak to the youth and do it in a very modern way, and to do that I had to establish an NGO and that’s why I established Feil Amer.

What do you think is at the root of this social issue?

Well, first of all, the new terminologies in Arabic are very poor. There aren’t any new terminologies that the youth can use and that reflects the world they’re living in, such as “CD”, “internet”, etc. Even if the terminologies are there, they are not easy to digest and are not marketed well. People will know about these terminologies from films, plays, songs, or the media, but they’re not marketed and if they are, they are marketed in a manner no one can relate to them.

Socially, the perception about the Arabic language is that it is very old and sometimes associated with terrorism. Many would rather say thank you rather than shukran because Arabic gives them an image they don’t want to project. It’s a matter of image in society. This is a very big conflict in our identity — between wanting to be a developed society and to be productive and creative and, on the other hand, wanting to forget anything that relates us to our identity. We end up consuming what is being given to us and building on that. So yes, socially and psychologically, we have a big conflict with the Arabic language.

What are you doing with Feil Amer at the moment?

Feil Amer has been around for two and a half years now and this NGO came about only because three people decided to say no to this situation. However, we’re still facing teething troubles. Although we have become known internationally, in the past year we’ve had a big problem with funding. I couldn’t find funds to continue working on our projects.

However, despite all this, the plan is to organise another Arabic Language Festival and make this an annual event in the Arab world to support all creative initiatives by the young in the different domains of graphic design, plays, films, Arabic calligraphy, novels, poetry and so on. It’s not only about making them aware, but making them interact in their own language and helping them realise that they can be creative in Arabic.

What do you plan to do next?

Right now, I’m planning to call for a meeting through social media to bring together all the people who want to help. I will present the organisation’s strategy and projects and see how we can do this together as the youth. I will not give up on this. Our target is the youth and our language is the language that the youth wants and our aim is to be creative in Arabic.

To help Feil Amer or get involved, visit www.feilamer.org.fi'l amr2

Suzanne’s tips-

What parents can do:

  • 1. Never tell your children that Arabic is not important and that they won’t need it.
  • 2. Talk to them in Arabic.
  • 3. Make sure they read in Arabic.
  • 4. Tell them stories that relate to their life in Arabic.
  • 5. Explain to them that one’s identity is related to the language and culture and that it’s important to preserve it.

What teachers can do:

  • 1. Engage your students in cultural activities outside the school premises.
  • 2. Encourage your students to be creative in Arabic.
  • 3. Use new teaching methods that associate Arabic with being “cool”.
  • 4. Discourage your students from writing Arabic using Latin letters and numbers.

What NGOs can do:

  • 1. Talk, involve and address the youth in a language they can relate to.
  • 2. Create a space where youth can express themselves.
  • 3. Focus on linking creativity to revitalising the language.
  • 4. Support youth initiatives to preserve the Arabic language

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Well if you want to help you know where to contact her, I don’t think there is anything to add. She seems to be moving the organisation from one that panics to one that is organised and willing to think through this current perceived problem. Her tips seem straight-forward  but it is as simple to implement, especially because of social beliefs, where some speakers prefer English as the language of modernity. A note about the pictures I’ve added, the one right at the top (on the left) is the original advert for the first Fi’l ‘amr event that took place in Beirut in 2010, and reads “we are our language”. The second picture is of the props that were put outside the convention centre where the event took place and is creative in its format, almost CSI-like, with the Arabic letter on the floor as if it is a dead body! The script on the yellow tape reads ” do not kill your language!”…

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Source: http://gulfnews.com/about-gulf-news/al-nisr-portfolio/weekend-review/making-arabic-the-language-of-the-young-1.1137102

That New York Times article, what I really meant & other updates

Many of you know that I participated in a New York Times article discussing the language of instruction in higher education in the Gulf with special interest on Qatar (which has now been copied, pasted, and quoted in many other forums, newspapers and blogs). To get to the point, some readers found it offensive that I blamed the Thai/Philippine accent on the demise or weakness of Arabic among Gulf speakers- I did not. I did not blame any accent and really to make a relationship between the two is nonsensical, immature and unheard of in linguistics. What readers must appreciate is, that the journalist will interview the participant for 15-20 minutes and then he’ll pick and choose which quotes look good where. He has to build his story, each writer has a focus and intention behind the questions they ask and how they want their readers to understand their story of interest. The other thing is that the journalist is not a linguist and so cannot be blamed for linguistic/language learning misconceptions misread in the article, the onus is on us linguists to deliver the correct information. I did explain this on Twitter but felt compelled to do so here in case the same was felt by other readers, this is not an apology – just a clarification. Why did I say that some children in the Gulf speak with a Thai of Philippine accent? Simply to illustrate to the writer the multicultural multilingual environment many children in the gulf grow up in. With domestic maids from the Far East many children’s initial exposure to English is through these maids and so if their parents speak no English (or very bad English) they can only learn from the maids hence the acquisition of the accent.  Thereafter, throughout their lives the linguistic landscape of young people growing up in the Gulf gets ever more complex and in the end everyone worries about the status of Arabic language and it’s future (not to mention the poor English standards as well) etc….something I’ve talked about before on this blog and at length in a book chapter I wrote last year (“Ahyaanan I text in English ‘ashaan it’s ashal: Language Crisis or Linguistic Development? The Case of How Gulf Arabs Perceive the Future of their Language, Culture, and Identity” a bit of a mouthful).  As always I am open to comments/ discussion on this if anyone wishes, just leave a comment on the blog and I’ll be happy to reply.

On a different note, Twitter is now available in Arabic!!! Which means that people who prefer to use the Arabic version can without any worries (simply choose Arabic under languages). There are adequate substitutes for retweet, favourite, direct message and we are still working to translate words so they make sense in Arabic properly (not half-baked translations). If you are on Twitter and wish to follow the progress of this development or wish to participate follow @taghreedat for more info. There are also efforts by the founders of Taghreedat to make the first collaborative online Arabic dictionary so far it’s going well and I’ll update you as more information comes through.

My next post will be on naming rights as an outcome of strong and cultured civilization and what language has to do with it all, it will be based on a video lecture which I will put up….I promise you it will be an interesting video to watch. That may well be the last post (I might also get a guest post on Arabic and humour :))  for a while and I’ll hopefully resume posting after September depending on my thesis writing/revision commitments at the time. Without intending to nag anyone, please avoid plagiarising from this blog, as I hate receiving emails from teachers and tutors about that, at the moment I have been advised to move the site to another platform…please stop copying simply refer to my sources or quote the blog URL (which I usually give permission for, after an email from the student).  Thank you for comments, emails, questions and welcome to new readers from Tunisia, Nicaragua and Poland!

“The Arabic Language: DNA of a Nation” yet the challenges are many

Herbs & Spices in Souk market in Amman

In this post, I continue with some of the themes from Al Marzouqi’s translation (which generated much interest and emails both positive and some negative, I think some Arabic speakers prefer to blame “outside forces” for the situation of Arabic…but that’s a topic for another post) on the challenges facing Arabic. I paste below an excerpt from a report by the Arab Centre for Research and Policy Studies (Doha Institute) titled: “The Arabic language: DNA of a nation”, which was part of their first annual conference on the theme “language and identity”.

The author discusses some of the most challenging issues facing the Arabic language in Arabic speaking countries today. The major issue here is the existence of the very many spoken dialects (which are unwritten) against that of the standard written Arabic  (MSA) or Classical Arabic (however people classify it) and the expectation that children need to learn, master and be competent in both. It is a challenge and such a rich language dynamic should not endanger the language, rather it should make it unique, but the problem is that lack of a systematic system is what endangers the speakers to losing their language. In addition to this the language medium of education in Arab countries is English or French (Syria is the exception, Iraq was too once…I think that’s why most people will agree that the Arabic of the Syrians just outdoes everyone else’s) which for many language ecologists further hinders speakers from learning their mother tongue well. There are efforts to overcome these issues, for example Zayed university in the UAE and Qatar University in Qatar are working to introduce in certain subjects Arabic as the language of instruction. Perhaps in a decade or so we will be able to see the effectiveness of the programs at the respective universities through the Arabic proficiency of their graduates in other spheres of life like the workplace. Diglossia (triglossia or the existence of many dialects used for many different reason mainly official vs. non-official) does not have to be a problem it just has to be managed- that for now seems to be a challenge. The article is below without editing….

—————-29th March 2012

Non-native students of Arabic are often taken aback by just how much the standard, written form of Arabic differs from the various vernaculars; being frustrated in their attempts to learn the written form of the language, it’s usually quite difficult for them to appreciate how involved and emotional is the relationship between the written Arabic Language (“Modern Standard”) and Arabic speakers from Morocco to Bahrain. Sentimentality aside, however, there is a growing sense of urgency amongst Arab scholars about the need to bring standards of written Arabic in line with contemporary needs; this palpable feeling came out in force during the three days of the ACRPS annual conference on the social sciences and humanities.

Lacking any kind of effective centralized political or cultural authority, it seems a wonder that there is anything even approaching a common Arabic language to begin with. So the pressing economic, social and technological demands for constant standardization of the language and its styles take up a major part of the public discourse within Arab countries. The multiplicity of cursive writing forms and the vocalizations (or lack thereof) in many Arabic language manuscripts have an aesthetic value which raises them to an art form, but often prove impractical in digitized texts. Long before digital record-keeping was imagined, a proto-Arabic language emerged in the area to the south of the Arabian Peninsula. Making matters more complicated, a large part of the higher education in almost all Arab countries (Syria being a notable exception) is conducted in a “colonial language”, with English being the medium of instruction throughout most of the Middle East, and French taking prominence in the Arab Maghreb; a further obstacle to the formation of a cohesive Arab culture of the academy.

One of the speakers at the ACRPS meeting was the eminent Lebanese scholar and historian of the Arabic language, Ramzi Baalbaki. Baalbaki explained to his audience in Doha his position about the common origins of what are referred to as “Northern Arabian” (widely held to be the one reflected in present-day written language) and “Southern Arabian”, which was otherwise viewed to be closer to Amharic. According to Baalbaki, the importance of his theory of a common origin for the two forms is that it highlights the way in which trade routes tied together dispersed communities along the eastern coast of Arabia, centered, according to Baalbaki, around the village of Al Faw where the oldest Arabic inscriptions (dating back to the Fourth Century BC) have been found. In other words, the Arabic language became the “DNA of a nation”, becoming a repository of its common cultural lineage.

While an awareness of the central importance of the Arabic language to the future of a common Arab identity is widespread, use of Arabic is under constant attack in everyday life. The Palestinian hydrologist Abdulrahman Tamimi, whose intervention was focused mainly on political and economic themes in Palestine, took the time to explain how the education of the children of the economic elites in foreign-medium schools was leading to the social marginalization of the other sectors of society. Tying it to questions of the privatization of public utilities, Tamimi concluded that “what we need is not more economic re-structuring, but a reinvigoration of our national consciousness”.

Another speaker at the ACRPS event was Idriss Maqboul whose paper was provocatively titled “Educational Institutions:  Waging war on the Arabic language and identity”. According to Maqboul, profit-driven educational institutions which dominate the landscape within Arab countries and are also incredibly culturally influential, have promoted the use of foreign languages and even foreign syntactic styles at the expense of the Arabic language.

Many dialects, one language

Within the Arab Homeland, much of the scholarly output concerned with issues of language and identity is produced in three countries of the Arab Maghreb: Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. This is-arguably-the result of the way in which the French colonial powers were ruthless in imposing a Francophone regime on those Arab countries which they occupied. In post-independence Algeria, which had technically been a one of the Department of France and not a colony, the newly freed country had found itself with a bureaucracy, military cadres and academics and educationalists who were far more comfortable in French than in Arabic. Alongside this was another French legacy of the promotion of minority languages and local nationalisms at the expense of single, homogenous national identities: Ironically, it was France, which had used blood and iron to impose a unified national consciousness on what had been a diverse community of dialects and localisms, had chosen to exacerbate localisms within the Arab countries which it dominated in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. With this in mind, it should come as no surprise that much of the discussion on the Arabic language within the ACRPS conference was led by scholars from Maghreb countries.

One of these was the Moroccan scholar Abdulkader Al Fassi Al Faheri, whose paper was titled “Politics and economics of linguistic identity and language of instruction: Case studies for the preservation of unity within diversity”. Al Fassi’s research depicts the situation of Morocco as one where the “national languages” of both Arabic and Amazigh (or “Berber”) are in conflict against the language of the former occupier, France. Al Fassi Al Faheri echoed some of the concerns of Abdulrahman Tamimi, stating in his paper that, since the drafting of the new constitution (in 2011):

“there are [efforts under way to] invest French …officially…as the language of the ruling elites, of powerful economic, political and cultural groups, and, conversely, to keep Arabic in its present position of being the language of the toilers, which would be simply to recognize the de-facto situation as it stands.”

In the view of Al Fassi Al Faheri, and countless others from, in particular, the Arab Maghreb, the problem began with the failure of the governments of Arab states to enact and enforce legislation which would protect the official status of the Arabic language*. Of course, one obvious observation would be to note that this in itself is a reflection of French influence on the way to solve these problems; France, with its Academe Nationale and its strict rules on translating foreign words which come into use within its territory, had done so much to undo the Arabic language in the territories it occupied Africa’s northern shore. Yet all of these issues begged a double question: What role was there for grassroots initiatives? What happened of previous efforts to promote the Arabic language within the educational institutions of other Arab countries?

For the polyglot country of Sudan has some very compelling reasons to promote the teaching of Arabic as the de-facto national language of education and bureaucracy. As detailed in the presentation of Kamel Al Khider from Sudan, who spoke at the ACRPS Annual Conference, Sudan’s efforts to integrate the Arabic language into public life came pre-date the country’s independence, and were first enunciated at a 1938 conference of Sudanese graduates, which demanded the end of the Egyptian-British Condominium which had ruled the country since the mid-nineteenth century.

It is also worth mentioning here a fact often overlooked by many when looking at the history of Sudan: It had never been conquered as part of the wave of Arab-Islamic conquests which fanned out from the Arabian Peninsula which fanned out from the Arabian Peninsula in the mid-seventh century. Instead, the Sudanese had adopted the Arabic language and come to identify as Arabs through a process of cultural osmosis. Despite this, Sudan became one of the first independent Arab states to Arabize its secondary school curricula, in 1965 as set out by Al Khider.

While efforts to Arabize the terminology and language of modern education and scholarship were to be found in a number of different countries and were motivated primarily by emotive considerations-at least on the individual level-self-criticism of these efforts and rational examination of the implementation has been a feature of Arabization efforts since the very beginning; Al Khider also cited in his paper the records of the deliberations between members of a committee set up to examine the hardships associated with creating Arabic language curricula for a variety of academic disciplines, including, most poignantly, the difficulty of preparing a competent cadre of teaching staff capable of teaching in Arabic.

Participants in the Conference convened in Doha from as far afield as Morocco, as far north as Syria and as far south as Sudan and Yemen, for three days of involved academic discussions about issues of language and identity, alongside the other topics. None reported having problems having difficulty understanding each other.

—-* For an example of such a discussion, see Mahmod Athawdi and “The Tunisian Revolution: whither the sovereignty of the Arabic language?” which was translated into English and published on the ACRPS website in July of 2011.—–end

Short but well explained and it does serve as an introduction to the subject as a whole for interested researchers. I thought it would make a good part for my post this time round….I hope you enjoyed reading it and comments are always welcome (the constructive kind). I am still waiting for my second author on the Pioneers of Arabic posts like the one I did for Noura Al Nouman…so please bear with me I have not forgotten.

Source: http://english.dohainstitute.org/Home/Details?entityID=f4c16d5a-893e-4b10-bce4-fda7bb6493c7&resourceId=eea8c65e-6193-445a-9928-4b14a438c859

Writing & the revitalisation of Arabic through sci-fi: why the future of Arabic is bright? Part 2

The Qur'an was one of the first major works of...

In this second and final part of the interview, I focus the commentary on the situation of Arabic language and its use today and what it will be like in the future. Thank you for the emails and comments sent in about the post, I am glad some of you enjoyed the change in the blog. Below are the interview notes, and after that some commentary.

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6.Being that this is a new genre in Arabic literature, what struggles if any did you face during the writing stage? I had no point of reference when it came to writing fiction in Arabic. When I talk about Arab YA not finding it easy to read Arabic fiction, I am actually also including myself. I don’t feel comfortable reading Arabic fiction, it’s almost always about what goes on in the head of a character. The language, the style, so self-engaged and verbose. Sure, there are youths who like it; but more and more youths who are put off by it. It just doesn’t go anywhere, and in this age where movies and video games are so fast paced, who wants to spend time in the head of an insignificant character who is struggling with something inside of him and the story ends inside his head? It’s not even written for YA, it’s for adults.

My biggest challenge was how to start it – no Arabic creative writing workshop was available and certainly nothing for this genre. What were the Arabic words for the huge volume of terminology invented and well established by Anglo-American SF heavily used in books and movies? And the clincher was: if action words were the main tools of moving the plot forward, and I didn’t read much Arabic where there were a lot of action words, how do I do that in Arabic? Days were spent on taking pictures of things and sending them to friends to ask: what do you call this in MSA? One example was: “Hey, you know when you get scared, and your hand instantly goes to your throat? What’s that area called in Arabic?” After long debate, the verdict was: “na7r”. Another example: “How do you write “she clicked her tongue” in Arabic?” – that was more difficult. I ended up with: “a9darat 9owtan bifamiha yaddulu 3ala al2istiya2.” Yes, really! Such hurdles cost me days and weeks of writing.

7. The one question I really want to ask you is, did you make up new words? If so how?

Such opportunities kept cropping up from time to time. Ajwan (the main character) is an “Empath”. She has the awkward ability of being able to feel exactly what other people are feeling as if it is actually happening to her. I asked Ashraf Al Fagih, a Saudi author (Sci- Fi short stories) how he would translate it. He suggested “istish3ar” – that is not exactly an invention; but it is a new use of the Arabic word. I’ve struggled with traveling by space gates and worm holes, not to mention communication devices and other tools. Thankfully, there is a bit of that in subtitles of movies; but not nearly enough. In book 2 of “Ajwan”, I did get to finally “invent” a word. One character in the opening scene was using an anti-gravity bike (darajah meghnatisiyeh is what I could think of).. then I thought what an idiotic name.. so I mixed it up and came up with “meghrajah” (that is not to say it is ideal; but it’s a start). I am in chapter 2, so I am sure a new challenge will soon present itself.

8.Some people might say that your book promotes non-Arabic (traditionalist) ideas, is that a fair statement? (Given that this is a new genre, I presume you had no examples from Arabic books for young people).

Well, Ajwan is from another planet, and she breathes water too. Her name is Arab; but she isn’t. She comes from a peaceful, very conservative society; but is soon thrust into the reality of a huge universe which doesn’t live by the rules and traditions of her society. She has to live in the real world – something which our youth are finding out about now that our world has become a small village. They are taught a lot of ideals; but within a few years they discover that the rest of the world – the movers and shakers, don’t live by those ideals and this shocks them. It either turns them into extremists who want to impose these ideals on everyone else, or they become like everyone else and go with the flow. In both cases, they realize how naïve they were and perhaps even accuse their parents of being hypocrites. The reason why YA in the rest of the world love dystopian fiction is because it is real. It’s not the Little Mermaid or Snow White. They understand the world much more than we give them credit for, and trying to shelter them from all of it is not going to work beyond a certain age. It is the parents’ job to instill traditions in their children, so that when they grow up and read non-traditional material, they are already grounded and know what’s right and wrong and can enjoy the fiction, without other factors getting in the way.

 9.How do you ensure your book appeals to young Arabs? In reference to culture and language, but also in keeping up with trends in the English books they read?

This is a very important point for all authors of Arab YA fiction. Our youth live in a world where the Internet has given them access to just about anything we can think of, and beyond. They no longer wait at home for mommy and daddy to bring them books – they download them on their iPads. Language may have been a source of pride and identity for us; but to them it is a tool. Kids perceive tools as useful things which get them what they want. If the tool is broken or not up to date, they move on to another tool. They have no reverence towards old things the way we did. My expensive laptop is no longer working, buy me a new one, and then no one even knows where the old one was stowed away. Arabic and English are languages they use to get something else. Whatever gets them the most becomes their favorite “thing”. Once it no longer serves its uses, it is discarded like an old laptop. We have to constantly see what is grabbing their attention, and use that to provide them with the content we want them to see or read. If Arabic is becoming inaccessible, then we need to see how to make it more interesting. We can’t waste time crying over the loss of Arabic, our kids have moved on. We need to create content which competes with what is out there, so YA would deign to look at. I am trying to do that by writing in a genre which is almost non-existent in Arabic. That may grab their attention. It is in an easy form of Arabic – according to my 16-year-old daughters who told me: “this is not the Arabic they use in school. That one I don’t get at all!”

10.How do you see the future of Arabic in the UAE and the Gulf in general?

I think there is a consensus now that we’ve come to a point where enough is enough. Although the adults are all blaming the kids for their awful Arabic, they are also making the right noises which will force the Ministry of Education to look differently at the way it creates Arabic syllabus. Moreover, publishers are taking note and have started looking at YA as a huge segment completely different from children. I am also seeing more and more people finally realizing that at some point in the past Arabic was denied the right to evolve like other languages, and that linking it to sacred text (Qur’an) has harmed it considerably. So basically, it is a great time to be an author for Arabic YA fiction.

11. A personal question, how did you keep up your Arabic (I mean it’s no small feat to write a novel entirely in Arabic) and learn English proficiently at the same time? What can others learn from you?

Confession, my Arabic is not so great. It is enough to write for YA. Arab authors who have read Ajwan have commented on my simple style. However, I do owe it all to translation studies. If it were not for the fact that I studied under Dr. Basil Hatim at AUS in the early 2000s, I would not have been drawn back to Arabic, its beauty and its importance. It is never too late to start reading in Arabic – you automatically start acquiring new vocabulary and style. You can approach it like others have approached English. It’s a language, it has literature and that’s how you learn it. How else did I learn English?

12. My blog Arabizi© is about the situation of Arabic and how speakers use it, what would you say to those who say Arabic is dying amongst Arabic speakers today?

I am not sure why they say it is dying. There are 22 countries which produce Arabic books (and a stream of Arabic media every single day). Exactly how does one succeed in killing such a language, or dismissing that much content?! The important thing is that we do not sit on our laurels (?) and say here is Arabic, come and get it. The youth segment in the Arab world is huge and their attention span is miniscule; we need to continuously engage them with the right kind of stimuli so they love Arabic, protect it, contribute to its evolution, and pass it on to the next generation of shorter-attention span. Thank God that particular generation won’t be my problem!——–end

Interesting points raised here in the answers and this second part of the interview was my favourite because as Noura says I made “her think” about the process from a different perspective- a linguistic one. The issue of writing any type of literature is always governed by the audience for whom the text is being prepared for, and so issues of culture always come up. It would seem so far that Noura has dealt with these issues well and managed to produce a piece of writing that is novel yet in keeping with the readers’ cultural preferences.  Noura has in fact in the last week signed her contract with the publishers….congratulations Noura..now the world awaits!

The most interesting thing for me here is this creation/merging/coining of new words to express a new experience that the Arabic literature does not really contain. This is not  blaming the literature itself, for we all know that at different stages of the evolution of Arabic language and literature new words were made, even borrowed from other languages. But these new words represent whole new concepts that were until very recently absent in Arabic literature, typical sci-fi concepts and fantastic descriptions of other planets require a different type of vocabulary perhaps? It seems Noura is creating words because she is not satisfied with the current available expressions, this is both creative and exciting. If this picks up and these words are used by other authors in the future to write about sci-fi in Arabic, then it would be a great achievement and a huge step towards the revival of Arabic language (in the Gibran sense a process often referred to as neologism).

The second bit of the interview that caught my attention was the analysis of the situation of Arabic and the question of its death or demise. Noura maintains that the Arabic language is not being lost, not with the amount of material out there, or with the fact that 22 countries use it as their official (apparently) language. She does however acknowledge that something must be done to get the youth interested in the language (not in the communication sense but in the preservation sense) and that the education system and publishers are working hard to ensure Arabic becomes more practical for the youth to use. Good points raised and yet the same conclusion, something needs to be done if Arabic language is to enjoy an equal status with English (see previous post on bilingualism the UAE) because books of Arabic will always be there, we have books today in Arabic spanning 13 centuries but we can only access them with the right knowledge of Arabic. What will the Arab world look like in 50 years time if all the young people chose to read in English only? Knowledge of Arabic language will be the exception not the rule, and worse still in a hundred years it might be like what Latin is to English today. Yes…yes… yes I am quoting the worst case scenario, but you do not need to burn books to make people forget or lose their language (the Mongols did that in Damascus and Baghdad but that did not change anything because) as long as people know the importance of their language they will start over and even improve the way they use it. In specific reference to the UAE, I am sure the founding father and late leader Shaykh Zayed Al Nahyan would frown at the prospect that Arabic language is slowly being lost in his country when he was a champion of the Arabic. He encouraged people to learn their history and language and he would famously say that without those two (knowledge of a people’s language and history) a nation has no prosperous or meaningful future. He was no linguist but knew the value and symbolism of a person’s language, especially in today’s globalised world.

I agree with Noura that one of the reasons that Arabic language and/or literature has stagnated for a long time is this boxed in view that because Arabic is also the language of the Qur’an we are restricted in how we use it. What’s important is that the Qur’anic text itself is sacred, and the language is sacred, but it is also a language of a people. It therefore needs to be practical and easy to use, it should also be used in its highest forms in literature (which it was esp. in the 12/13th century and with superb results, new genres were created, new forms were made then it all stopped and many authors have just been in awe of the old, which is not all bad in a situation where the language is evolving well). Arabic must be ready to take on new concepts and new ideas in a new world with new problems and new challenges, the core will always remain the same but the language must be renewed in order for its speakers to have faith in using it to express their feelings, fears, aspirations, anger and hope.

Review of Ajwan: This is a very short section and highly speculative since I have only read two excerpts…I hope I will do the short sections some justice of course I will only comment on the language (since that was the whole idea of the interview).

The language I would say is easy not as complicated/complex as say Mahfouz (this is taking into consideration young people), the sentences flow easily and the whole picture comes together really well. The once thing I loved the most in the excerpts is the eye to detail Noura has, the description of small ants, sticks, posture of characters, of what something/someone looks like, the environment, the air, how Ajwan rests her head on a tree, how she takes a deep breath… you feel like you are there with her! There is also a description of the feelings of the characters, how they deal with certain events and the reader empathises with them. Action packed sections are fast paced though ironically descriptive and you move with the story and characters, and I think at times you are also surprised like they are at the outcome of certain events so perhaps that’s what brings the text to life?  Although Noura says she is not good at Arabic, I read it all understood it and got hooked on the book…so that to me was good. That’s all I can say for now…I hope the publishing goes well and I am sure many people are waiting for the book. Thanks to Noura once again and thanks for reading….my next post I hope will be a translation of an Arabic article discussing the current situation of Arabic and then I will post interview two with another author.

New year…but how the same old issues still affect Arabic

A belated happy new year to everyone wishing you all a prosperous 2012 where all dreams will be realised with determination and where the world will hopefully move towards peace and stability. It has been a while since I last blogged in November last year (oh my that’s a while back!) and it’s hight time I add something now after hectic work and of course a break. A huge welcome to new readers/subscribers as always I hope Arabizi will be good reading for you and not a waste of time, bear with me if I do not blog as often, my excuse is the crazy thesis and other writing commitments I have currently. Thank you to all those who commented on my posts although I did not reply to each one, I appreciate them and thank you for stopping by and having the time to write a few lines- these really encourage me to keep writing. I know so many comments and emails have come asking for me to recommend sites for learning Arabic and or culture, I agree it would be nice however it would need a lot of time to go and look for the sites and then list the best ones. I would not just do a google search I would prefer to know who was behind the site etc… so until I can go through the sites myself I am afraid you will have to wait.

Over the weeks I did not blog I came across many articles on the situation of Arabic in the Gulf, namely the UAE and how different quarters are addressing Arabic’s linguistic status within the country. The National newspaper is brilliant in that it presents really important linguistic issues (at least I think so!) affecting the UAE and does so with boldness and some criticism albeit at times not as precise as we linguists would like it to be. Although, I do not agree with everything that is presented, I think the points made are important and the fact that we can debate about them shows the strength of the articles. Other newspapers in other parts of the Arab world do not focus on linguistic issues, as often or as in depth as the ones the National presents. This by extension does not mean that the level of Arabic in other countries is not being affected, it just means no one is talking about it as much as they perhaps should, in a world where Arabic is under threat everyday (even in the slightest manner). If not under threat from extinction then at least from other languages due to the media, social networking or globalization, and at times the language that threatens Arabic is not necessarily English!

The article I paste today is about multilingualism in the UAE, have a read and then browse over my thoughts at the bottom, enjoy! As usual no editing from me,

—————— start:

A multilingual nation, where Arabic is not the victim

Christopher Morrow——–Jan 9, 2012

Casual onlookers may have failed to notice that some recent National Day displays featured English greetings more prominently than Arabic messages. In many ways that’s not surprising. We are getting used to the idea that the UAE is bilingual, and that English is the lingua franca that unites us to a much greater extent than Arabic does.

The rise of English in health care, business and education has been astounding. But at times, colleges and schools are sacrificing content mastery in different topics so that instruction can be conducted in English, even in situations where students and teachers don’t have the necessary language proficiency or interest in language instruction.

Education administrators want to maximise the number of opportunities that students have to develop their English, but Arabic proficiency is suffering as a result.

There is an upside: English is spoken today more than ever. Secondary students in Abu Dhabi take English for two periods per day. And of course, many expatriates are pleased with these developments and feel more at home in a place where English is so widely used.

However, this trend also has a downside: Arabic is playing an increasingly smaller role in social, cultural, economic and political communication. In truth, while English-only speakers are eligible to lead major companies and institutions in the UAE, Arabic monolinguals risk being stereotyped as uneducated. Which would you rather be?

The incessant but uneven spread of English as a second language was accurately described last year in a report by Education First, called the English Proficiency Index. The Education First company offered free online tests to more than 2 million adults worldwide and used those results to calculate a score for the overall level of English proficiency.

Not surprisingly, the countries that have had the greatest success in English have been those with high levels of development, education and business. In particular, the countries between Holland and Finland stood out because they attained superior English skills without losing their competence in native or regional languages.

Saudi Arabia was the only Arab country which had a sufficient number of adults volunteering to take the test. While such sampling methods are inherently not very scientific, valuable data can gleaned.

As a whole, Saudi Arabia achieved a rating of “Low Proficiency” but their overall score put them level with Taiwan, Spain and Italy. English has gained a secure foothold in Saudi Arabia but it hasn’t threatened the use of Arabic as it has here. When I visited Saudi Arabia two years ago, I actually felt that my limited Arabic was a disadvantage, something I’ve never experienced in Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

The Education First report wisely noted that policy changes in education take decades to bear fruit in general social discourse, and starting English in first grade is not a guarantee of high levels of ultimate achievement. Local educators may be tempted to take credit for gradual improvements in the level of English here, but global trends might be equally responsible.

In the end, embracing bilingualism requires more inclusive policies than we currently find in local institutions. If trends continue, Arabic could become endangered in this corner of the Arabian Peninsula, despite its enviable distinction as being one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Many nations have learned to celebrate their multilingualism in ways that affirm native tongues rather than suppress them. Unfortunately, our eagerness to boost English locally has created systems and networks which have devalued Arabic in ways that could have serious long-term consequences for linguistic and cultural diversity.

The role of Arabic in social discourse deserves to be secured before the forces of globalisation threaten it further. Without more support, Arabic could become merely a language of religion, history and folklore.

Europe’s lessons in multilingualism prove that two or three national languages can be supported without disadvantaging those who would rather not use the lingua franca.

——–End

Well! Excellent highlighting of key issues facing Arabic in the UAE, some parts were hopeful others hit the reader in the face with helplessness. This particular post is written by an academic so you can see the careful almost precise comments made about data and what it might mean! The title of the article gave the impression that Arabic language was on par with English (and other languages) but that seems not to be the case. Rather, the increase in English language teaching means a decrease in Arabic language proficiency, and the de-Arabizing of work places, business centres and health care centres,  means English takes top spot- without a fight. There are still some countries (and very successful ones at that) where businesses must train their staff in the basic language (and customs) before they travel to work there. They have to hire translators and after many years of working in those countries they learn the language proficiently. This type of set up values the locals and their language, offers the locals important native language related posts (interpreters, trainers in culture and conduct) and they as locals get exposed to how westerners do business. That’s great each side learns from the other. But in the UAE it is different the locals must adapt to the businesses (as they tell me and as the article above described) and the language of the expats, here of course we mean the English language (not Hindi, Bengali or the other 10+ languages spoken) in the UAE.  English, was important for the country to reach its current situation of prosperity and high living standards, it is the language of knowledge and science etc… without knowledge of English I do not know where the UAE would be. But the question many ask is-  is it still important to teach in English at all levels of the education stages? Even when the teacher’s proficiency is questionable, even when the students are not learning English?  Is it? Who decides and how? Why? Based on what?

The UAE celebrated its 40th anniversary last month and for over a month before that all tv stations, billboards and posters were showing the achievements of the country from barren deserts to modern metropolis and business hubs, tallest buildings 7* hotels and so on. When I was there recently in November I saw the pride in the people, and yes they should be proud and encouraged for having achieved in 40 years what some continents have not achieved in 100’s of years- but at what price? At the price of losing their language? Whenever a development happens a loss of some type takes place that’s the rule in life, but surely these s-called losses can be controlled.

All Arab countries pride themselves with maintaining Arab culture, well cultural preservation is attached to linguistic preservation. Lose a language, lose a culture. After 40 years of hard work (and of course out of humility and true intentions they mean to continue working harder for an even better UAE) it is high time that Arabic language took its place in the country. THe article above warns of the demise of Arabic if the current trend continues….what a sad day that will be….it would have destroyed all the hard work of Arab publishers, writers and hope of future generations who, as Arabs, have the linguistic right to speak Arabic with proficiency. It’s not too late but something needs to be done, right now… I dread the day I’ll sit here and say that Arabic in the UAE is now a minority language… hopefully 2012 will mark a change in language policy and implementation in the UAE. Do not misunderstand me, English is a necessity (and it is a fact that English is the language of education) but so is Arabic, in an Arabic speaking country :)—-  I will end with this quotation about what it means to lose a language.

 “What we lose is essentially an enormous cultural heritage, the way of expressing the relationship with nature, with the world, between themselves in the framework of their families, their kin people,” says Mr Hagege. “It’s also the way they express their humour, their love, their life. It is a testimony of human communities which is extremely precious, because it expresses what other communities than ours in the modern industrialized world are able to express.” For linguists like Claude Hagege, languages are not simply a collection of words. They are living, breathing organisms holding the connections and associations that define a culture. When a language becomes extinct, the culture in which it lived is lost too”

(from: http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8311000/8311069.stm)

Comments are welcome as usual thank you for reading ……..the source for the article is: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/a-multilingual-nation-where-arabic-is-not-the-victim

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Another struggle: what happened to our Arabic? Just open a book to find out

A number of books written in Arabian language.

Image via Wikipedia

 In keeping with the theme of the last post, reading and publishing, I came across this article about (yes you guessed it) the situation of Arabic language in the publishing world. What’s nice about it is that, the writer is an author herself and so brings to the article experience and so much reality with regards to the struggle and challenges Arabic language faces, in addition to readers’ perceptions and preferences. I have just returned from the UAE after a conference and whilst I was there, I had the chance to attend the 30th Sharjah International Book Fair (it ends tomorrow). It was a wonderful experience and I could not choose what to buy and what to leave. Visitors were spoilt for choice, we had small seminars going on, workshops, book signings (which were so great because I got a chance to meet people I only read), cookery shows, open mic sessions and of course the activities they had for kids. The motto of the fair is “For the love of the written word” and the aim is to get people to love reading, I think it might just work, I was amazed to see so many children enjoying themselves around books, yes I know that’s normal, but these were Arabic books! There has always been this struggle on behalf of teachers and parents to get their children interested in reading Arabic books.  But after seeing the atmosphere in the book fair, I had the feeling that perhaps the attitudes towards reading books in Arabic were changing. And that younger children have a better relationship with Arabic books than their older counterparts maybe?! Without doubt, there is a boom in the Arabic language publishing industry as a whole, and more specifically within the UAE children’s books are flourishing and the demand is becoming ever higher as parents know that they can realise their dreams of their children becoming competent readers in both Arabic and English.  It was such a good atmosphere to be in, books from all over the world in English, Arabic, Hindi, German, French…etc..it seems that Sharjah has placed itself firmly on the map of culture and education, a place I suspect already becoming synonymous with advancement, something other cities only dream of.

In the article below, Rym Ghazal discusses the challenges facing Arabic language, in the sense that younger readers prefer to read in English rather than Arabic. She goes as far as saying that if her book had been published in Arabic (which it is by Kalimat Publishing House, UAE) and English- the young people would pick the English version. There are many reasons for this preference and many we have discussed on this blog in the past. However, I think one major reason is the education system and language of instruction. In reference to the UAE specifically, the majority of children attend private schools that teach either the American or British curriculum. Therefore, it makes sense to instruct in English, to use books in English and when it comes to reading books- well it’s done in English of course! How then do we expect students of those schools to easily pick up a book in Arabic and read it? It is a tall order and something unrealistic to say the least. 

 Even for those of us who can read Arabic competently and are confident to pick up books in Arabic in many genres; poetry, fact/fiction, short stories, novels and newspapers, still needed training to do it. We still needed to understand how to ‘understand’ written Arabic in its many forms. We needed to understand the meanings of one word in different situations, just like we were taught to do the same in English. The ability to read is taught, nurtured and consistent efforts are made to keep up the reading. It is not true that every literate individual is a reader, becoming a reader is a choice made by the individual (a topic for another post).

The writer does identify one issue that is problematic, and that is what type of Arabic to use when writing. Do we use Classical, Modern Standard (there are people who do not differentiate between the two) spoken Arabic? But which spoken Arabic? Egyptian, Levantine, Saudi, Yemeni, Omani, oh but even here which variety the urban or bedouin? You see the matter is somewhat complicated and can prove a challenge in the publishing world. I would personally say that Standard/ Classical Arabic is what should be used, and it always has been(though I am no publishing expert). But why now is there a problem? Simple, no one studies Classical/Standard Arabic as they used to, consequently they have no competence or confidence in doing so. Therefore those who can read English do so, those who cannot- do not read. This is of course in reference to some Arab countries and not all of them. There needs to be a direct relationship between the level of Arabic taught in schools the level of Arabic in the books written for children. Some of these books dubbed as ‘for children’ use such advanced Arabic, and their topics are not written with children in mind- so how can we expect children to read them? Having said that, I did see a change in this habit at the book fair, I skimmed through books that were fun, interesting and ‘child-centered’. In addition to it I saw books written with all vowel and case markings (this means that the Arabic letters are accompanied by small marks to tell the reader how to pronounce the letters), this helps the child in reading correctly whilst enjoying the story. I think that when this is achieved by all publishers, then children will not find it difficult to pick up a book in Arabic and read it with pleasure. This topic can go on and on, but I should stop….below is the article void of any editing on my part as usual- enjoy!  

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My Books

Image by Jennerally via Flickr

Rym Ghazal—- Nov 24, 2011 

On a typical lazy Friday afternoon, Fahd, Fares, Sami and Nour decide to investigate the rumours about a haunted palace just a 100 kilometres away from their homes.

Little did they know that this trip would change each of their lives forever as they came face to face with something far more frightening than a few mischievous jinn.

Inspired by my visit to a real “haunted” palace in UAE, this is a quick synopsis of my new book Maskoon, or Haunted, published in Arabic for Arab young people by Kalimat. It took me a few seconds to write up those sentences in English – and a whole day (because I refused to use Google Translate) to write the same synopsis in Arabic. It took so long, and I introduced so many grammatical errors, that a translator was assigned to help me.

I can’t describe the shame I felt, with a family tree filled with poets and writers, and even an ancestor whose eloquence and writing was famous in a royal court. How did it happen that I, who spent my childhood in strict Arabic-language Islamic schools in Saudi Arabia and wrote pages and pages of Arabic poetry and letters, cannot do it anymore and feel more comfortable writing and speaking in English?

Ironically, I only learnt English from movies, and spoke like the actor Humphrey Bogart for the longest time, before a college friend made fun of me. The reason I ventured into this project was because of something I overheard my younger brother and his friends, all teenagers, complain about: there are no books in Arabic that appeal to them

“Arabic books are boring, and hard to read. They are just too preachy,” was the consensus.

As a consequence, the young generation, and many others, just read English books and our Arabic has slowly deteriorated. Now my brother’s group speaks “bad Arabic” filled with grammatical errors and loan words from other languages.

One of the biggest issues I have noticed is that Arabs perceive the Arabic language as “sacred” because it is the language of the Holy Quran. Immediately after my “horror/ fantasy” book came out, my conservative friends slammed me for writing in this genre in Arabic. “This stuff should be written in English, not Arabic. I hope they release a fatwa against you and using Arabic to write horror!” one friend messaged me.

I sent her a copy, and asked her to first read it before condemning it just because it is based on imagination. But it exposed a very thorny issue that other authors of Arabic books have shared with me.

“How does one find a balance between using classical Arabic, and the Arabic that the young are now speaking, without compromising the integrity of the language itself?” asked a prominent Emirati author who also writes for young people.

It is a struggle finding the “right Arabic” that will reach our younger generations.

This was the greatest challenge in writing my book. I ran it by friends who have teenagers to see their reactions. I was surprised at just how basic their Arabic was, and even the most common words caused confusion and disrupted the flow of their imagination as they read. So we ended up changing entire paragraphs to make it as easier to read.

Coming from a mixed background, I told myself that because my mother is not Arab, maybe that was the reason why Arabic wasn’t fully maintained in our home. But I found the same weakening of the language in homes where both parents are Arabs.

This really is a serious problem. How will future Arabs understand the oldest and perhaps the most difficult text out there: the Quran?

More and more Arabs are losing their intellectual strength as they lose fluency of their own native language. The sad reality is that, given the choice, if an English version of my book is next to the Arabic one, it will be picked up first. I have done it myself numerous times when I felt I just didn’t have time to read an Arabic book. But it is just more than my book that is at stake.

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Childrens' booksGood points made here and there is much work to do in this field with regards to the Arabic language. There are opportunities, and there are some important publishing houses addressing many of her concerns. Arabic books will be much easier to read and own when we have more authors who understand the art of writing and their audiences needs. It is difficult but not impossible and I look forward to the day that I can write a post saying that these challenges have been overcome and that Arabic publishing, is strong with its unique Arabian character and readers old and young  are simply spoilt for choice on what to read :)….

Source: http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/what-happened-to-our-arabic-just-open-a-book-to-find-out