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

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

العربية: لوحة التوقّف في دولة الإمارات العربية...

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call to make Arabic language of instruction: The struggle continues

Classroom Chairs

I am putting below an article published today in the Gulf Times, as usual without editing from myself. It is not the first time I am discussing this topic on the blog, but since it has come up again and this time discussed seriously in a meeting, it deserves discussion again. I think there will always be a struggle between English and Arabic unless and until the education system can come up with a solution so that young people will be at ease to use both languages to serve their needs and at the same time maintain their culture. The main person quoted in the article is Professor Fatima Badry an expert from the American University of Sharjah, passionate about Arabic, and worried about its future. What I like about this article is that all claims made are based on her research and knowledge of the situation of Arabic as it really is, it is not influenced by baseless emotions of nationalism or Arabism this is as real as it gets… something has to be done and soon. At least here one solution is being suggested we just have to wait and see what will happen in the next few years, something I intend to follow closely.

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“Educational institutes must maintain mother tongue as a primary language to help retain its place, professor says”. By Iman Sherif, Staff Reporter- Published: 00:00 October 4, 2011

Abu Dhabi: The dominance of English language on almost every aspect is non debatable. It has become the international communication language for commerce, banking, internet, travel and politics.

The widespread use of English, however, introduces a cultural challenge — how to propel the UAE as a leader in the global market, and at the same time, retain the Arabic identity when the majority of the younger generation refuses to communicate in their mother tongue.

“English is the language of globalisation and international communication. Therefore, we need to have our students reach proficiency,” said Fatima Badry, professor at the American University of Sharjah.

So, schools educate in English, and parents speak with their children in English to help them prepare for a competitive world. Arabic is reserved for traditional studies such Arabic literature or Islamic studies. In doing so, “we are downgrading Arabic in the eyes of our children who become apprehensive of using it and focus instead on the language that will help them integrate in the workplace or society,” she added.

“Should this trend continue for a couple more decades, Arabic will be a language with limited use,” said Fatima. The problem is not unique to the UAE. English is the most common second language worldwide. However, there are ways to help reduce the risk of making it extinct. Looking at Europe, nations retain strong heritage bonds while they integrate in a global arena. The mother tongue is what people use when they communicate with other natives, but English is usually the second language used when people are communicating with non natives.

One of the ways to achieve both objectives is to ensure that Arabic maintains equality in schools, as an instruction/teaching language, parallel to English.

“We must maintain Arabic and English as languages of instruction; even if we have to appoint two teachers for a class,” she said. She said the best teacher to teach in a bilingual situation is a bilingual teacher. She said: “We can achieve dual education reaching proficiency in English Language without downgrading the prestigious value of the Arabic language.”

“By making Arabic the language of instruction in class, we are enforcing it as a primary language,” said Fatima. Conversely, if we fail to do so, we are telling the students that it is a language of authenticity and heritage, but not of science and internationalism; and by doing so, devaluing the language and limiting its use,” she added.

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The points made are important and realistic because Professor Fatima is on the ground and witnesses the degeneration of Arabic language in the UAE. When a country calls for their mother tongue to be a language of instruction, it not only shocks but leads one to wonder, how and why did you get here in the first place? Arabic is not the only language to be going through this, as mentioned above, it is a global problem as a result of globalization. It is sad but true and even more worrying if a major language like Arabic with millions of speakers is suffering the same fate as other languages with less speakers.

To achieve a well-balanced, effective and successful bi-lingual education system is a true challenge. It needs commitment, clearly defined goals, people to believe in its importance and both students and teachers to work consciously towards it. Is the UAE ready for that? Are the teachers and more importantly parents ready for that? The students will go with whatever the system tells them to do, but if teachers are not convinced and parents not aware it is difficult to meet the desired objectives.

Having two teachers in the same class is a desperate measure and shows how dire the situation really is. I cannot imagine having two teachers at once in the same classroom giving me instructions in two very different languages!

Why all the fuss? You might be thinking. English is the language of industry, business, education and so Arabic should just adapt right? Wrong! Arabic can adapt but not at the expense of its language, culture and consequently identity of speakers. France, Germany, or Switzerland, for example, are all at the forefront of education and industry yet their citizens are fluent in their respective mother tongues and are brilliant in English too. How? Well sorry to make it sound so simple.. by working very hard and very seriously in the field of education and language policy. Clear, do-able, and having committed teachers and education department.

Do not misread this as an attack on the UAE, rather it is an observation made. Can the UAE do it? Yes of course they can and the fact that this subject is brought up again and again is an indication that they are serious in doing something about this. It might not be fair to compare such a young country like the UAE to a more established one like France, but at least hopefully the UAE can take countries like this as role-models. With some adjustments to suit Arab lifestyle and culture the same can be achieved, Arabic language can re-gain its rightful place among its native speakers. The Chinese model is a good one, I know personally from my friends that they learn English much later in their lives, but that their mother tongue is the medium of instruction rather than English. One only has to look at the intelligence and contribution the Chinese play in today’s world to know that learning about the world in one’s mother tongue is not a bad idea. They use English as and when they need to, their culture is in tact and plays a major role in the lives of Chinese speakers, nothing lost but much gained.

The UAE and others can do the same, the future seems bright and let’s hope we will all be witnesses to that success. Thanks for reading, comments most definitely welcome.

Source: http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/education/call-to-make-arabic-language-of-instruction-1.884445

“Arabic: a window to the Arabian soul” according to the Saudi Gazette

Elaborate Window

Image by sheilaellen via Flickr

What a fascinating title, ‘Arabic: a window  into the Arabian soul’! A direct reminder of the relativity theory of language, that I often bring up time and again- is language a reflection of who we are? This article caught my attention a while ago and I am posting it here for you to enjoy it, it was quite long and so I have selected the most relevant parts; but as always you can click on the link that will take you back to the original. The writer specifically focuses in the linguistic disadvantage of the expatriates living in Arab speaking countries and yet do not speak Arabic. In his view they are missing something great, a world view only seen through the Arab eyes and linguistic brain. It is not so linguistic as it is a documentation of the social-linguistic situation in Saudi Arabia and how Arabic language is under-taught. Here is the article:

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Arabic: a window to the Arabian soul

Amal Al-Sibai

Marhaban: Greetings. Shukran: Thank you.
You already know what these two words mean. The Arabic vocabulary of the majority of expatriates living and working in the Kingdom is limited to only a handful of words. Isn’t it odd that so many people live here for 10-plus years without learning the Arabic language?
It is embarrassing to walk into a small, local restaurant and not be able to order because the men there speak Arabic only. It is frustrating to drive around and try to reach your destination where street sign posts are written in Arabic only. Although a plethora of institutes exist in Jeddah that teach English to adult males, there is only one place besides Berlitz that offers Arabic classes.
A group of proactive men saw the need for expats to be introduced to the Saudi culture, go on tours of historical sites in Jeddah, and to learn the Arabic language. And they decided to feed that growing need. As a result, Jeddah Cultural Exchange Center was founded.
The Administration Manager, Christopher John Malvar, elaborated on why it is becoming increasingly important to learn Arabic. He said, “Companies are encouraging their employees to learn Arabic to facilitate their businesses here. Our students learn to read and write memos in Arabic, send e-mails, take notes at meetings, and communicate with the locals. By learning Arabic, they get ahead in their professional careers. Our students are able to read restaurant menus, road signs, and newspapers, make hotel reservations, and communicate with hospital staff. The skills they gain at CEC builds their confidence and breaks the barrier that alienates them from the local community. If you want to learn about a culture, you need to learn the language.”
The group at CEC conducted some research to find other Arabic teaching institutes in Jeddah and found none. Dialing 905 and requesting an Arabic language institute is equally futile. One survey showed that, worldwide, Arabic is one of the top most sought after languages. Since more than 50% of Jeddah’s population are expats, the city should provide more centers to teach Arabic to this large mass of people.

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At least there are calls for language centres to cater for non-Arabic speakers, as I always say there are some linguistic environments that baffle me, and this is one of them. Usually linguists study what encourages people to learn a language, or the rate at which a language is learned, I think here someone needs to study how a language may not be learned!  I am sure we will see and hear more about topics such as these…. I better go back to my writing the word document is calling me…have a nice weekend all and I’ll post soon.

Source:

http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfmmethod=home.regcon&contentID=2011030995447

Arabic language day- A Twitter perspective

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

After more than 200 tweets I decided to post something on the fact that  it is Arabic day today ON TWITTER, so I thought I’d share the news. Speakers of the Arabic language celebrate their language on this day [though I have not checked out the origins of the day yet] and they make it an issue to raise awareness about different issues surrounding the Arabic language.

The things people are doing today is, for example, all twitter users are writing only in Arabic and are apologising to their non-Arabic speaking followers for their use of Arabic only, for example- Dear Non-Arabic speakers/readers tweeps: Today is #ArabicDay so please tolerate the Arabic tweets for the day 🙂 .. Have a wonderful day 🙂

I think most people are tweeting in Classical Arabic only- which is great because you get to see people’s language skills. There are excellent quotes about Arabic as a language, as an item that defines a people, a people who are proud to be speakers of Arabic.  SO what happens now is that someone makes a cup of tea and tweets that in Classical Arabic with all the right grammar and diacritics I’ll paste it here for readers of Arabic-ما أجمل اللغة العربية , قمت باعداد كوباً من الشاى he writes here- how beautiful Arabic language is, I have made a cup of tea… and it’s all grammatically correct. Another example- في طريق العودة للمنزل #Arabicday— trans- on my way back home.. Which makes me wonder how would they have written it if they were not making an Arabic emphasis?  In English perhaps.

The issue of identity comes up in the tweets aswell اللغة هوية ….اللغة حضارة …. #ArabicDay trans– language is identity….language is civilization. It seems language is seen as a marker of identity by this speaker and as a  foundation of civilization and culture. An issue that is often discussed in Linguistics in how does language reflect identity and so on.  There are also other tweets that demand everything to be written in Arabic and not with English letters or what they call Franco-Arabic [which I think is what we refer to as Arabizi] they think that it spoils Arabic and English interesting.

The most interesting aspect of these  tweets and wall posts is not in the praise of Arabic language- no- it is actually in how the speakers are critical of their neglect of Arabic. They criticise themselves and how they are not using Arabic as much s they should be- but the nice bit is that it is all in Classical Arabic…which really emphasises their point.

The criticisms or points that people point out are the same ones we have discussed here on the blog. So I’ll try my best to sift the best ones, it’s hard when there are 93 tweets a minutes going up. Here is one from a Saudi tweeter; criticizing the choice of universities in not using Arabic as a language of instruction for Arab students, especially if it is a subject like Computing and he sees this as wasting the life of the student whilst his Arabic could have improved.

 #arabicday المناهج الجامعيه في كثير اصبحت بلغه غير لغتنا .. يضيع عمر الطالب في الجامعه يدرس الماده على انها لغه اضافيه وهي ماده كمبيوتر مثلا

Another critical one- يقول أحد المستشرقين : ليس على وجه الأرض لغة لها من الروعة والعظمة ماللغة العربية=#ArabicDay

ولكن ليس على وجه الأرض أمة تسعى بوعي أو بدون وعي لتدمير لغتها كالأمة العربية —he says ‘one of the Orientalists [someone who writes on Arabic issues but might not be an Arab themselves] says- There is not a language on the face of the earth with such beauty and greatness like Arabic, but there is not a nation on the face of the earth that consciously or unconsciously works to destroy its own language like the Arab nation’. WOW- it is a heavy statement to make and there are those who agree with him and others do not.  One can see the passion with which such tweets are delivered, he went out of his way to find and type up this quote…seriousness here.

I will not make this a very long post it was just something I thought I’d share for those interested and since it is in line with the blog’s topics. Generally, Arabic speakers feel that they are neglectful of their language and they feel that they have to do something about it.  I wonder if this will become a permanent day each year….

Source- Twitter [if you have an account you can go in and see]

Book review of Identity and Language: Spanish at the crossroads with other languages

Peace and greetings! I am a bit busy now with some work, but I know I said I will post another bit on the preservation of Arabic by the scholars of Qur’an and hadith, I did not forget, and will do so soon! I am quickly posting a book review I completed last summer and it has just come out. If you would like to read it then you can do so here:

Equinox journal:  Bilingualism and Identity. Spanish at the crossroads with other languages.

The book is about language and identity of Spanish speakers, when they speak a second language and how they show their Spanish identity- anyway I’ll let you read it for yourself.

Enjoy!