2013 a good year for Arabic?

2013And so we enter a new year, and with it hopes and wishes that the world becomes a better place for people to live in. Welcome to new readers and thanks to those readers who comment, contribute or send in email with suggestions and constructive criticisms- I really appreciate them all, thank you. This short post is a review of the initiatives, activities, conferences and efforts to promote or re-instate Arabic language as the legitimate and proper language of native Arabic speakers in their home countries during 2013. These efforts are of course directly linked to the belief (of some) policy makers, educators and speakers in Arabic speaking countries who bemoan the danger they believe Arabic language finds itself in.

In looking over some of these fears and anxieties, take for example, the case of educators and teachers in the UAE who complained that many students prefer to use English as opposed to Arabic even in non-education/school settings.This of course is nothing new and definitely pre-dates 2013, but it’s a fear and complaint that is raised again and again. The teachers were further horrified because it was the parents who were demanding that their children be excused from the classes. Why? Because the parents argued that the children did not need formal instruction in Arabic since the language os instruction at university (the non-Arabic based ones) is English, (read more here).

The other anxiety in the UAE is the number of foreign non-Arabic speaking workers who outnumber the native Arabic speakers, which obviously makes it difficult to converse in Arabic in public. The writer of this article is frustrated with the difficult situation that the UAE needs foreigners to build its country and yet the price it may have to pay is the loss of the Arabic language (read more here).

As a way of discussing the issues surrounding the current state of the Arabic language in Arabic speaking countries, a conference was organised in Mid-2013 in Dubai. It was the Second International Conference on Arabic Language, organised by the International Council for Arabic Language in cooperation with Unesco, the Association of Arab Universities and the Arab Bureau of Education for the Gulf States. The conference panelists discussed the state of the Arabic language in many of the Arab countries and many agreed that the curricula used for teaching needed urgent attention. Some of the experts blamed globalisation, others the pervasive use and nature the English language is taking on in these countries, and apparently the use of Arabizi (Roman characters and Arabic numbers) in speech and text, and other dangers were also discussed (read more here).

The other anxiety in the UAE is the low numbers of children who are able to read and write in Arabic without difficulty. The concern was so serious that an initiative was taken to present these concerns to a minister and presented as a case that needed to be addressed urgently. But, I must say this is not true just in the UAE, there are other countries in which students do not know how to read Arabic either (read more here). There are also students (together with their families) who do not see the benefit in mastering how to read and write Arabic and deliberately refuse to take the classes or care about their proficiency (it is their linguistic right, and I think any meaningful research into the so-called demise of Arabic language as a result of neglect from its speakers must also take this group into consideration when studying the topic!).

A panel of researchers were appointed at the end of 2012-April 2013 to understand the issues and challenges facing Arabic in the UAE by the Dubai government. The researchers all agreed that the Arabic language is not dead but that it needs better and more innovative teaching styles in order to revive an interest of the language within the students and their parents. So far I think this is a more productive manner through which to gauge the situation of the Arabic language, by way of study and research and to then produce a manageable plan by which teachers and educators can work (read more here). It would be great to see the notes/ papers presented at the conference or the report itself to understand how this study was carried out during those six months.

Again in response to the fears and once again based on some research it was announced in Dubai that the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) would oversee and ensure that all Arabic teachers employed in Dubai were of a high standard. This means teachers are to be assessed throughly for their knowledge of the language and their teaching methods (read more here). It sounds like a good idea and it would be great to see what the outcome will be in 5 years from now, would they have ensured that all teachers are at the same high standard? How would they measure the impact of this new initiative?

The Sharjah Government has also set out plans for improving the acquisition and maintenance of Arabic language for its native speakers. This will be achieved through supplying each student and teacher in the emirate of Sharjah with a tablet, according to the article this is initiative is the first of its kind in the Arab world (read more here). This seems like a good idea and perhaps a creative step away from the old traditional text books that relied on rote learning, again this is another initiative the needs to be looked at closely there may be a solution in it- who knows?

Finally, the creative twofour54 in Abu Dhabi aims to revive Sesame Street in Arabic, they hope and claim that this will help and promote the Arabic language and make it fun for the children. See that article here, I am working to get a comment directly from them about this initiative and I hope to write about it soon.

The Taghreedaat initiative that I have written about many times before have worked very hard in 2013 to make as much online content as possible available in Arabic. This year they ventured with help of volunteers to arabize: Whatsapp, TED (and in 2014 they will have special segment at the TED Global in Arabic for the first time in the history of TED), Khan Academy, and GameLoft among other online content. So it seems that 2013 was yet another busy year for policy makers, academics and educators who believe Arabic deserves a place in this modern and rapidly developing world, and more importantly in the lives of future native Arabic speakers. I chose these particular aspects about the Arabic language to give an overview of the fears, but more importantly the initiatives suggested to overcome and address those fears. Some of these anxieties are baseless whilst others have research as evidence, in all more research needs doing to understand the sociolinguistic situation of the Arabic language among its native speakers.

My next blog post will be an interview with an Arabic language teacher (but what kind? You’ll have to wait and see) so watch out for it, and my first review on Arabizi books is about to go up as well. Thanks for reading, and comments are welcome especially from those countries I have not mentioned.

Sources:

http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/arabic-language-is-losing-ground

http://www.thenational.ae/thenationalconversation/comment/foreign-workforce-poses-challenge-to-arabic-language

http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/heritage/alarm-bells-over-future-of-arabic-language

http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/education/poor-literacy-in-arabic-is-the-new-disability-in-the-uae-fnc-told

http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/education/tough-new-tests-for-prospective-arabic-teachers-in-dubai

http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/education/smart-education-for-arabic-language-1.1234641

Arabic deserves a better chance of survival: The need to change perceptions

The teaching of the Arabic language or the education policy on teaching Arabic is often criticised for its rigid and removed approach in the way language is taught to native speakers of Arabic. It is often difficult for a child to leave the classroom and apply their learned Arabic with those he/she meets (of course there are reasons for this which we have discussed in other previous posts due to other factors, but the fact remains that the language policy needs to change). In the post below the author identities many important issues that affect Arabic language proficiency among native speakers and he predicts that Arabic language will die out soon if Arabic does not go beyond the classroom door and social attitudes do not change. It is pasted below without editing……
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Arabic will die out if it is locked up in classrooms

In his inaugural address to parliament last December, the Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri kept mispronouncing words and whole phrases in Arabic, smirking the entire time.

Not only did the Georgetown-educated, English-speaking Mr Hariri laugh at his mistakes, but he also cackled when Nabih Berri, the speaker of parliament, asked him if he needed someone to help him out.

Being bad at Arabic is almost like being bad at an obscure sport, say croquet: no one particularly cares if you fail to grasp the quaint and overly complex techniques needed for mastery of the subject.

In Lebanon, French is the language of the learned and the sophisticated. The same is true in Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and other former French colonies in the Arab world. Failing to speak proper French in those countries is a handicap in professional and social life.

In some circles, it is fashionable to make mistakes in modern standard Arabic and rather chic to be unacquainted with the meaning of a word or expression. In Morocco, the French word francisant, (French-educated) has a positive connotation. If you are francisant, it does not matter if you cannot speak Arabic. The preposterous part is that a so-called Arabist does not get away with the same glory-in-incompetence should their French leave something to be desired.

Fluency in French and English in the Middle East and North Africa has come to imply intelligence, erudition and even affluence, even if that person struggles with Arabic.

Many Arabs feel that speaking modern standard Arabic, the form of the language taught at school, is something of a burdensome, if not embarrassing, endeavour. It is not the local dialect that they use at home and on the street, which they speak with ease.

Proficiency in Arabic, proper grammar, conjugation and a broad use of vocabulary are seen as the sole purview of language geeks. It is bizarre that they are looked down upon, while those Arabs who spent time ploughing through Chaucer and Coleridge, Rabelais and Pascal to become proficient in English and French are respected.

What has happened that once-proud Arabs, who once would kill or be killed for a single verse of poetry, gauge their level of intelligence by how little they know of their mother tongue? Perhaps, it is because true Arabic is no longer their mother tongue.

It is an obvious, if little known fact that modern standard Arabic is no longer anybody’s mother tongue. No one in the world speaks it as a native language. The 350 million people spread across the 22 Arab states learn this language in school in the same way they might learn French or English. They make horrendous mistakes when they write, read or speak it. Even many Arab Muslim senior citizens can barely understand a sentence of a Friday sermon because the preacher delivers his lecture in modern standard Arabic.

All Arabs know Arabic, but a Tunisian speaks Tunisian, a Libyan speaks Libyan, and an Egyptian speaks Egyptian. None of these is “proper” Arabic. Countless Arabs find that their friends from Morocco and Algeria may as well be speaking Greek when they speak in their native dialects.

True, these derivative languages bear a close resemblance to Arabic, but they are not, strictly speaking, Arabic. The extent to which they differ from pure Arabic is far greater than the comparitively minor difference between Kenyan and Scottish English.

A native tongue is – and some linguists may wish to differ – a language that you speak fluently. It is a language that defines who you are. No one faults an American or a Briton for the differences in their use of the English language. It is just how they speak and their distinct dialect defines them.

Arabs should not be asked to speak like the 10th-century poet Abu Tayyib al Mutanabbi. No one should expect English speakers to speak like Milton either. It is futile and fails to serve the ultimate purpose of language: ease of communication.

Languages die when they become stagnant. Latin has almost died out precisely because it was locked up in church bookshelves. Arabic, with its elasticity, rhetorical treasures and axiomatic wealth may suffer the same fate if its use is restricted to the classroom, the mosque, and the halls of government.

Arabic deserves a greater chance of survival than what it is currently being offered. Occasional events celebrating it will not push it into every day life. The language must get back in touch with the most mundane aspects of our lives. It must be allowed to grow and change, given room to breathe and stretch its legs out on the streets. Otherwise it will shrivel and die.

If you’re an Arab, ask yourself: how do you say “zipper” in your supposed mother tongue?

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I don’t think there is anything for me to add to the article, except to say that these issues he has brought up will always affect Arabic language if nothing is done to help the situation and improve it. It may seem negative and very pessimistic but anyone who speaks Arabic knows that everything raised in the article is precise and not exaggerated- Arabs no longer feel proud of their own language! But those who do, are few and love it with a passion that pushes them to master it. But if they were to bring this passion to their friends they would be ridiculed and their only option may be to join an old Arabic club- which is mostly boring, archaic and very uninteresting.  A language is not an object that can be fixed and mended from the outside, it needs nurturing and fixing from the inside, in this case by its speakers so that it can become a language of everyday use. I mean here not a code-switched, code-mixed, ungrammatical version of Arabic, but a grammatical version- one where a speaker can write without fear and can speak without mistakes. This does not mean I am against ‘ammiyyah (spoken Arabic) that would be denying an important part of Arabic speakers’ linguistic identities, I just think if one claims to speak a language they should work to master it in its important versions. We will always talk about this for a long time to come….. Comments are welcome as always…. thanks for stopping by.

Naming rights: Why star names will always be in Arabic

I have finally found some time to write-up this post that I have been thinking about for a while now since being shown a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson, an American astrophysicist and Director of the Hayden Planetarium discussing something I had never given much thought to. Something that he calls “naming rights” the idea of who has the right to name something, in their language and more importantly to name it first? Why do they have that right? And how does language fit into all of that? It is a loaded idea both politically and linguistically but it is something that illustrates the ubiquitous and ever-important nature that language carries more than just simple communicative messages (like the ball is green for example). By simply naming something in one language and not in another and by virtue of people using that same name to refer to it regardless of their language is an indicator of how human civilisation works and is built and again more importantly how language is an indicator of the power of knowledge and discovery. As DeGrasse says, “if you get there first you get to name it first” and others have to accommodate themselves, he gives two simple examples: first, the internet and that it was the Americans who exploited its use first and so they get to have the  default web address of .com but all other countries are forced to use other endings such as,  .co.uk/ .ae/ .fr/ .au/ and so on. Secondly, he  says that because the British were the first to make the postage stamp we until today are the only country who do not have to say where the stamp originates from, whereas all others must indicate country of origin. That’s naming rights, it’s about getting there first and doing it well so that it stands the test of time, and no one can take that away from its original creators.

DeGrasse mentions in the clip that almost 2/3 of all star names are in fact in Arabic! The numbers we use today (in English and most languages) are referred to as “Arabic numerals” and there is whole host of English words that originated from Arabicto not only English but many other world languages! How? and Why? That is the question. DeGrasse points out important reasons of why not only Arab scholars but more importantly why Arabic language was once a language of inquiry, reasoning, genius and innovation and also offers his explanation of why it no longer is.

At the beginning of the video he correctly reminds the audience that there are many cultures in the world that excelled and superseded other nations in one subject or another, but that there comes a time when they reach a peak and then sometimes it drops off and other times they manage to hang on. But what he is interested in is what allows for that to take place? Of course I will not transcribe the whole video but I think the reasons are important to dwell over. He points out that between 800AD and 1100 AD Baghdad was the centre of knowledge and learning because it opened its doors up to all people, Christians, Jews, doubters (atheists/agnostics) and everybody was allowed to excel regardless of their background and this according to him is what made that time so unique, fertile and we still feel the effects of that success today. For example the discovery of the zero, algebra, algorithm, establishment of advanced hospitals (where some were diseases specific something unprecedented at the time) and many other contributions (see http://www.1001inventions.com/ or videos on that here).

Why am I talking about this on Arabizi? Simple really because many Arab scholars of today are not sure how to get Arabic language to be one of advancement, education, knowledge or simply to be one of practical use by its speakers. Which is something I discuss a lot here on Arabizi, is it diglossia, it is the English language, is it the dialects, or is it poor education that has put the Arabic language in this situation? In that 300 year period in Baghdad they questioned everything with a curious mind and welcomed everyone –perhaps that is the solution? Use both English and Arabic in education (which some Gulf universities are implementing right now which is exciting) that way Arabic can be used academically and use English because it is undoubtedly the language of knowledge today, allow people regardless of their background to have access to all the appropriate facilities and maybe, just maybe we might see something changing in the current path that the Arabic language is taking. It will never be like Baghdad because we live in different times and different political and social environments but Arabic still has the ability to be a language of real inquiry and research in its own right. Naming rights are only for those languages whose speakers have excelled and benefitted humans in knowledge that’s it…you offer something your language is not only used but preserved…… what do you think? I will not spoil it by telling you what caused this so-called “golden-age” to end you’ll have to watch the video for that I’m afraid…but it was disastrous, completely uncalled for and detrimental to the Arabic and Islamic societies the world over and I dare say it has impeded and disabled these societies from looking at the pursuit of knowledge (for the benefit of human beings and even religious knowledge [which has its own crazy issues]) the way they once did in great Baghdad…….enjoy

If you have any comments to add please do so, it is controversial and some people may not like what he is saying but being open- minded is the first step to solving so-called problems right?  I’ll be posting next in September (guest post on humour and Arabic I have a treat in store for you)….Ramadhan (month of fasting) is round the corner please feel free to read my Ramadhan and Arabizi post here in the archives since its relevant right now…..thanks for reading.

Expatriates learn to talk Emirati with course in ‘Arabish’: A shift in the teaching of Arabic

View of Dubai just before sunset.

Image via Wikipedia

I think this is a step in the right direction though of course learning the standard or Classical Arabic is always important if the learner wants to become proficient in reading, wiring and other skills. I usually complain here on this blog about the lack of Arabic language classes most notably in the Gulf, but it seems that that is changing and the learning of Arabic is becoming a priority for many non-Arabic speakers. This is despite the fact that in the Emirates or in most Gulf countries one does not need to speak Arabic as English is the language used by all to communicate with one another in most public spaces.

Enjoy the following article it is without editing as usual—

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Amna Al Haddad
DUBAI //More than 40 expatriates can now converse in the local dialect after completing an Arabic class organised by an arts group.

“How to Speak Emirati”, a 12-week course of two-hour weekly classes, was conducted by Shaima Al Sayed and sponsored by Dubomedy Arts.

The course was the brainchild of Ms Al Sayed, who says expatriates often say they cannot speak to Emiratis and the “problem is that we have a lot of locals who are not comfortable speaking in English”.

“So, they don’t speak to you and you don’t speak Arabic, so that’s the wall,” she said. “Language becomes the barrier.”

The course was designed to teach students how to converse, rather than read or write, in Arabic.

“The idea was to create a personalised class, because the employee is different from the housewife and the teacher,” Ms Al Sayed said.

“The environment is different, so would be the words.” Ms Al Sayed asked students to send her material they would like to know about in English. Then she replied in Arabish – phonetic pronunciation in Arabic using Latin characters – so her students could read it.

“We use Arabish, chatting style, because it will help them as they want to talk, and not read and write at this stage. They want to communicate,” she said.

Ridade Bayik, 27, from Turkey, said the courses were helpful. Using Arabish, he wrote: “Law ana drst aktar, ana brmis Emirati eshal.”

Translation: “If I studied more, I would be able to speak Emirati more easily.”

Mr Bayik has lived in the UAE for 11 and a half years. He said learning the language of the country he lived in was invaluable.

“I use Arabic socially with friends who are very impressed with what I have achieved so far,” he said. “The language gives so much insight into the culture, customs and traditions of the country.”

Ms Al Sayed said expatriates often learnt other Arabic dialects but she thought it was important to learn the Emirati dialect.

She said she found expatriate Arabs would often correct the Arabic of others. “For example, one of my students said ‘ish-haluk’ [How are you?], but one Jordanian told one of my students ‘ish-haluk’ is wrong and it’s ‘shlonak’.

“I said, that’s Jordanian. That’s why I teach them how to say ‘Kaif el hal’ because it’s universal, but specify ‘ish-halik’ and ‘ish-halich’ is Emirati.”

Sohan D’Souza, 30, from India, said the course was hands-on and focused on conversational Arabic useful in daily situations.

“I think I gained a nominal level of competence and, just as important, a nominal level of comfort,” said Mr D’Souza, who has lived in the UAE for 24 years.

The course also proved beneficial to Emiratis, especially those who lived abroad or studied in private schools.

Ali Fikree, 34, an Emirati, said he had only a fair level of Arabic due to a lack of emphasis on the language in the private schools he attended.

Mr Fikree said the course could also help to erase some misconceptions about locals.

“It’s always interesting to hear about what other people think about us and it’s always fun to try and dispel the myths and folklore,” he said. “Personally, I think more expats should try this course out as it can truly bridge the preconceived gap that most expats have about Emiratis.”

Ms Al Sayed said the course also allowed students to ask questions about the culture.

“If we keep them in the dark, they create their own opinions and it might be something they don’t understand properly about our culture,” she said.

“If you don’t answer them, foreigners will go back to whatever picture they had and it may be negative.”

Ms Al Sayed will be taking part in a cultural festival at Dubai Mall, where she will be available to teach Emirati. The festival ends tomorrow.
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Source:

http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/expatriates-learn-to-talk-emirati-with-course-in-arabish

Reading Arabic ‘Different’ for the Brain, New Study Suggests

Well it’s been a few nice days and the weather is getting warmer here, which is always nice considering the amount of work I have to do! I came across a link to this post from a tweet earlier today and as usual thought I’d share it. The article is based on the findings of a PhD student (this year 2011 still fresh) who was investigating the areas of the brain used by Arabic readers….the findings are fascinating read on to see what they were..

——- Article without editing

ScienceDaily (May 19, 2011) — Arabic readers recognise words in a different way from readers of other languages, a new study suggests.

This doctoral research at the University of Leicester is analysing the reading differences of individuals as well as across languages — and has shown dissimilarities in how Arabic readers recognise words. Conducted by Abubaker Almabruk from the School of Psychology, the study has shown there are clear differences in how the right and left sides of the brain recognise Arabic words. Almabruk’s study is one of the first to examine the cognitive and physiological processes underlying word recognition and reading in Arabic, providing important insight into the effects of direction of reading, the form of the script and the construction of the language. His research reveals the intricacies of an everyday behaviour that most people find relatively easy and will help explain why some people find it difficult to read and provide insights into how these difficulties might be remedied. Almabruk commented: “Differences in left and right brain function influence the recognition of words each side of where a reader is looking on a page but only when these words are outside of central vision — this reveals both left/right brain specialisation for reading and evidence that the two halves of the brain collaborate when making sense of words in central vision. Native Arabic readers recognise Arabic words most efficiently when they fixate these words at their very centre.” “This shows that where we look in a word is very important for reading and the findings for Arabic are different from findings for English and other western languages, which are read most efficiently by looking at a location between the beginning and middle of the word.” On the possible causes for the reading differences, he said that “this might have happened because Arabic is read from right to left and words are formed from cursive text (i.e., the letters in Arabic naturally join together, even in printed formats, much like hand-written text in English).” Dr Kevin Paterson from the School of Psychology added: “Arabic is one of the oldest and most beautiful languages, and the second-most widely used language in the world, yet how it is read and understood has received surprisingly little attention. The experimental approach that Abubaker has taken in his research promises to reveal a huge amount about how this language and other languages are read and understood.” This research is being presented at the Festival of Postgraduate Research on Thursday, June 16. The annual one-day exhibition of postgraduate research offers organisations and the public the opportunity to meet the next generation of innovators and cutting-edge researchers. More than 50 University of Leicester students will explain the real world implications of their research in an engaging and accessible way. The event is open to the public and free to attend. More information at http://www2.le.ac.uk/offices/ssds/sd/pgrd/fpgr.

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Sometimes people imagine PhD students do crazy unimportant research well it seems this PhD student found a huge gap in the psychology of reading and filled it with excellent knowledge that was needed. Although Arabic language is popular for research students there are still so many areas to look into apart from literature, translations and politics. This new research, is one that gave attention to a neglected area in Arabic language studies; it claims that readers of Arabic read differently from readers of English or other western languages (i.e: Romanized orthography) and that this finding can determine for other researchers how people with reading difficulties can be helped. Researchers in fields such as speech therapy or those working with children/adults who suffer from dyslexia are always looking for specific real research and findings to help them to assist readers/speakers of languages other than English. As always I am wondering what it might mean for reading of Arabizi, reading Arabic words through Latin script mmm?! I am hoping to follow this research and hopefully get a copy of the thesis I am sure it will make good reading when I become less busy.

Source: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110518080109.htm

TEDxDubai: English language threatens Arabic!

I was away in Scotland this weekend and read this article in the Gulf News (whilst it rained for the whole day and night, you know what I was wishing for some Gulf sun!) and now that I am back I thought it is important to share this with my readers. What a claim, what a title and I can hear both supporter and critics screaming for and against these 4 words! What type of threat and why? Who says so and how? I’d like to hear what the readers think about this claim.

I am hoping to have some ‘free’ time in the next few weeks and post up a specific study of the situation of Arabic in the UAE. On that note, a while back I mentioned that I was writing a book chapter, well it’s out (this month)  and you can see the contents page & the introduction to the book here.  I discuss the sociolinguistic situation of Arabic in the Gulf countries based on experiences and opinions of Gulf students themselves. I also discuss some of the problems and reasons why Arabic language is seen to be under threat and I offer some solutions. I will not spoil the rest for you, if you do get the chance then get the book and read my chapter and those written by others in the book. This topic of Arabic being lost is a topic that intrigues many and causes concern for some, it is difficult to predict precisely what the fate of the Arabic language amongst its speakers will be. In this Gulf News article, the person making the claim has hands-on experience with what the state of Arabic is in the Middle East through her 30 years of teaching. 

I have pasted it below here, for you to read without editing: ————–

Dubai: English is taking over the world, says English teacher Patricia Ryan Abu Wardeh. And its status as a global language comes at the expense of other languages, she argues.After 30 years of teaching her native language in the Gulf, Abu Wardeh has come to the conclusion that while English is an important language, its status as a global language is overshadowing other languages, including Arabic.

These sentiments have built up over the years she has been teaching, but she has never made them public until given the opportunity by Technology, Entertainment, Design’s, (TED) Dubai affiliate, TEDxDubai.Abu Wardeh, who works at a university in the UAE, presented her ideas at a Dubai TEDx event. Her presentation is one of the few such talks in Dubai that has been posted on the global TED website.Her views gave way to a debate. Most people welcomed them but there was some strong opposition.

“The idea evolved over several years of teaching English and doing specialised assessments. I’ve seen so much change in that it has become an absolute must to have a high standard of general English to be able to enter any decent university,” she said.As she cited in her talk, the number of languages in the world is expected to fall from 6,000 today to 600 in 90 years. She attributes this to the dominant status of English.

Testing programme

She singled out English testing programmes for denying students from non-English speaking backgrounds the opportunity to study at the best universities in the world, which happen to be in English-speaking countries.”Who am I to say to this [non-English speaker]: thou shalt not continue on this path. Go back and try again,” she said, adding that she once worked for such a testing programme but decided to quit for ethical reasons.

It horrifies her that English teachers are allowed to make doctor-like decisions that can determine the fate of a student’s career. “It’s ridiculous,” she says.A system in which an English teacher can have the authority to turn down a “potentially brilliant” physicist, is deeply flawed, she notes. “It’s a very expensive process anyway, so you already dismiss two-thirds of the world’s population.”

While the testing entities say they are non-profit-making, Abu Wardeh claims language testing is nevertheless an industry.”They are making a lot of money for a lot of people,” she said. A global language that everyone can speak would be nice, she says, but the language is likely to be that of dominant powers and cultures, and will come at the expense of some of the endangered languages of the world.

This trend towards English at the expense of native languages is particularly worrying in the UAE. Abu Wardeh says she regularly asks her Emirati students what language they speak at home, and is often surprised to learn that it is English.”These people will speak to their own children in English. It only takes one generation [to lose a language],” she says.

No real gain

In other instances, she has found English teachers telling parents to speak to their children in English at home. Some of those parents are therefore forced to speak to their children in the broken English they know, resulting in a loss in Arabic skills and no real gain in English skills.

Dubai is exceptional in terms of the weakening status of Arabic in homes, she says, attributing the trend to the demographic make-up of the city.She places some of the responsibility on government authorities too. Most of the higher education institutions in the UAE use English as a language of instruction, which has led some to complain about the disappearance of Arabic from higher education.

“It’s purely pragmatic [to switch to English in the region] because they want to get on in the world and be global; I see that, but you shouldn’t lose what you’ve got,” she said.Abu Wardeh is one of the few people who spoke in Dubai and is featured on the TED website.

Others include her son Jameel, who brought the Axis of Evil comedy tour to Middle Eastern television screens, and Naif Al Mutawa, the Kuwaiti creator of the Islamic inspired The 99 comic book series that has now developed into an animated television series. Both Al Mutawa and the younger Abu Wardeh debuted with TED talks in Dubai.

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It is a natural course for languages to change and gain new vocabularies and concepts as the world advances. But to lose a language is so very sad, and as discussed previously on this blog there are efforts in place to document these dying languages. Abu Wardeh makes many good points in her speech and I think language planners and researchers into Arabic language need to take note of what she says, and perhaps it might be an idea to read more on her claims because here they are brief.

source: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/education/english-language-threatens-arabic-1.810984

The need for more books in Arabic- not just translations of foreign novels

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