“The learner is able to “breathe” the culture in almost every page”: The need for effective Arabic teaching materials

The importance of good teaching material in Arabic cannot be overstated if future generations are going to (proficiently) learn and use the Arabic language well. It is without doubt an imperative that we have good materials (and of course teachers) such that can support the excellent teachers out there working hard to find resources in order to creatively teach the language. What do I mean by good materials? I mean books, textbooks, worksheets and online provisions that support student learning of this (ancient majestic) language who live and have grown up in a modern fast-paced era that we live in today. I do not need to lament (again) over the sorry state of some current Arabic curricula, especially for native Arabic speakers, that fills the classrooms around the world. There is a clear consensus by teachers, educators and policy makers that something needs to be done about these materials and I have written about these previously here on the blog.

In this post, I put up the text of an interview I conducted with Laila Familiar at New Laila FamiliarYork University at Abu Dhabi who specialises in the design and development of instructional materials for Arabic as a Foreign Language. She is project manager of Khallina, a website dedicated to the teaching and learning of Arab culture(s) through open source audiovisuals. She is also the editor of Sayyidi wa Habibi (2013) and Saaq al-Bambuu (forthcoming 2016) for learners of Arabic, and the translator of La Tía Safeyya y el Monasterio (2000), a novel by Egyptian author Bahaa Taher.

I was initially attracted to the website, not just because of the playful title, but the bringing together of culture and language learning at the same time. I was intrigued because of the resources available online and the variety of material available on the website. Scholars in the field of anthropology, child development and linguistics acknowledge that when children acquire language they also simultaneously acquire the cultural rules (culture) of that/those language(s). This is known as language socialisation and is one the main frameworks I use for my research when investigating how parents and families teach and transmit Arabic to the next generation (see work by Elinor Ochs and Bambi Schieffelin (1984) an excellent introduction).   So to combine the learning of culture and that of language, even at this late or rather superficial level, I think may make a difference so that students better understand the relationship between Arab culture and the language. If conducted well this can be seen as second or secondary socialisation, whereby these cultural and linguistic norms are learned after one’s first language socialisation. Why is this a good thing? The process of acquiring the language is easier if the student can have access to the culture and cultural significance(s) behind words and expressions. With access to culture and cultural keywords, phrases or concepts sometimes the vocabulary is remembered (retained) better, as are sentence structures, and the ability for the student to at least attempt speaking in the target language (the language they are learning). Below is the interview in which I ask Laila general questions, some background information about Khallina and then we talk about the actual teaching of Arabic

  1. Tell me a bit about Khallina, and why it was set up?

khallina logo Laila interviewKhallina was born from realizing that mainstream Arabic textbooks do not address current Arab cultural trends in a way that can keep learners engaged. Nowadays, students constantly use the Internet and watch videos online. So I wanted to create a learning tool that could be attractive to students and that could be easily updated and adapted. One of the things I most like about Khallina is that it showcases authentic Arab cultural manifestations, and that videos and worksheets are constantly updated.

  1. Tell me about yourself and your work in Arabic language/culture please.

I have been teaching Arabic as a foreign language for 15 years, and before that I taught Spanish for some years too. One of the things that surprised me when I did my transition into the Arabic classroom, is the type of teaching materials available to the instructor and the learner. When you compare the Arabic resources to those available in European languages, you find an important gap at many levels. Their textbooks are usually loaded with cultural input, the learner is able to “breathe” the culture in almost every page. When I say culture I refer to what is known as the big C Culture and the small c culture. In Arabic textbooks the focus is usually on the classical side of the big C; we like to highlight important figures and works from the Middle Ages. On the contrary, modern and contemporary fine arts, literature, or music are not usually addressed. With regards to the small c, Arabic textbooks offer some “formal” aspects like basic greetings and social expressions. But most concepts related to the realm of the small c (body language, humour, hobbies, behaviour, dialect, etc), is left to the teacher because this has more to do with teaching the colloquial register of the language. The small c is a concept in constant change, so it makes it harder for printed textbooks to keep up with up-to-date cultural input.

  1. Why do you think it is important for learners of Arabic to also learn about the Arab culture?

I think culture is a great tool to keep learners hooked to Arabic, it brings them closer to the people and it humanises everything surrounding the Arab culture. A student cannot only interact with Arabs to only talk about politics and current events, they need to be able to perform other social tasks and engage in various daily life situations, like watching a soccer game or eating together, talking about the Arts, singing, etc.arab culture 1

  1. So how would Khallina benefit me, if I were a teacher or student?

If you are a teacher, Khallina offers you ready-made teaching materials to take into the classroom. You just need to select the proficiency level that best represents your students, and select a cultural topic that interests them. Each module comes with a detailed Lesson Plan (placed under the Teacher Portal) that explains the cultural objectives and how to use the videos and materials posted under each module. What I like about Khallina is that, by offering several topics at the same level, decisions can be taken collaboratively with students.

If you are an independent learner, Khallina is a window into the Arab culture(s), even if you don’t know much Arabic; and it can contribute to having richer and more fulfilling interactions with Arabs.

  1. How did you choose which materials to include and why that specific material?

In the year 2011 we conducted a survey among Arabic students in several US universities. We received over 200 responses from learners at different proficiency levels to know what aspects of the Arab culture they are interested in. The results were fascinating and the themes you currently see on Khallina reflect real students’ interests. Currently we are developing new content based on the same principle. We have for example two Modules coming out soon, one about Egyptian humourist Bassem Youssef (Advanced level) and another one on Empowering Women (Intermediate level).

  1. Do you think students learning Arabic should also be familiar with Arabic dialects?

Absolutely. Not only to interact effectively with Arabs, but to understand their culture. As we know, language and culture go hand in hand. In fact, many cultural manifestations and practices require a linguistic engagement that most of the time happens in dialect. Depriving students of Arabic of learning a dialect is like teaching a person to swim using only one arm.

  1. Do you advocate the writing of dialect? If so why?

Instructors should not be advocates for dialects over Modern Standard Arabic, or vice versa. Our job is to show students how language is being used, not how we WANT it to be used. Arabs write sometimes in dialect, so we must expose our students to that from the beginning. The best one can do is to teach descriptively, not prescriptively.

  1. Is it correct to assume that the website acts to provide some kind of cultural experience and language use especially for those students not able to travel to the Middle East?

arab culture 2It certainly helps bringing the Arab world closer to the learner. Unfortunately, most Arabic students drop out after their first semester or year of Arabic; and many others don’t have the opportunity to travel to an Arab country until years later. Culture is one of those things that stays inside you for a long time; maybe forever. You may not remember how to say “I miss you” in the foreign language you studied, but you will always remember a song or a social tradition you saw, even if it was once.

  1. How do you see the future of Arabic teaching and learning?

On one hand, the teaching and learning of foreign languages is moving fast towards incorporating technology and online tools, and Arabic is no exception. Apps are being developed, online platforms to connect learners with instructors or native speakers around the globe, websites with fresh learning material; this is already happening in Arabic. Of course, the existence of these apps and tools does not always guarantee quality, but it reflects the need and necessity of developing resources tailored to the needs of different types of learners. The challenge for developers is how to update and adapt themselves to the market’s demands, especially if you are going to charge for the service.arabic teaching

On the other hand, new textbooks and approaches are being developed and published every year although, unfortunately, some are poorly designed and produced. Most Arabic practitioners see the need to explore new paths and move in a new direction that can teach authentic language while providing a well-rounded knowledge of Arab culture, but the real issue is that we still haven’t connected research-based language acquisition theory to the development of teaching materials. There is a clear mismatch between applied linguistics research and textbooks, but some efforts are starting to surface. Corpus Linguistics, for example, is emerging as an essential tool in providing authentic linguistic input especially when it comes to learning vocabulary, and it is essential that we apply these tools if we want to produce quality teaching materials that can help produce learners who are capable of communicating effectively. One final aspect that is worth mentioning is the visuals; most books available today in the market lack the necessary appeal to attract students of Arabic (the consumers). The future lies, then, in purposeful collaborations between material designers, researchers and publishers.

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This interview raised a number of issues for me, most notably, the obvious weakness in current Arabic teaching materials: the failure to apply theories of language acquisition to the teaching of Arabic. It doesn’t mean all theories should be adopted arabic teaching appbecause knowledge is ever-evolving and one theory that may be seen as acceptable today may change tomorrow. But the point is: adapt some theory and try it out on students and keep tailoring it until it works. I would of course be ignorant if I said that (proper) learning of Arabic falls solely on the teacher, schools and textbooks. It does not; the home and society also play a huge role especially in attitudes towards language. However the school does occupy an important role in the formal learning of language.

I personally think that because the Arabic language is closely connected to the Qur’an and the great canon of Arabic literature it has created speakers and learners who are constantly in awe of the language. Instead of turning this “awe” into something effective when it comes to teaching and transmitting the language, people seem stuck. This makes teaching Arabic even harder for teachers especially in modern times where the Arabic language is no longer the language of power that it used to be. There is a battle between preserving what is beautiful and unique about the Arabic language and actually effectively teaching the Arabic language. Currently the state of curricula, including by the way some of the technological material, is not up to standard and fails both the native speaker and the non-native speaker student. We need more materials and platforms like Khallina and as Laila said more collaborations between interested parties. This is very important for the future of the Arabic language. Not wanting to make this post any longer, it is also important that parents, families and society check their language attitudes towards the Arabic language because that may have a foundational role to play in all this.

I would like to thank Laila again for taking time out of her busy schedule to do this interview with me. I am sure Khallina will grow from strength to strength and offer the much-needed culturally-rich Arabic teaching material which most of the Arabic curricula currently lack.

 

 

 

(Note: Once again I have not been paid to promote this website by Khallina)

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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

 

“We Arabs are killing Arabic”: a view shared by many

Going to the Emirates is always fun especially during the fasting month; aside from family and friends just the linguistic situation is so fascinating that as a linguist I always find it hard not to notice it. Every time I go to the Emirates I notice something new and I usually like to annoy my fellow colleagues at the universities over there by asking them what they think of new initiatives to teach or preserve Arabic both on part of the government and non-governmental organisations.  On this occasion I noticed two initiatives launching one in Dubai and one in Doha, Qatar and it was good because I was in Doha after I left Dubai and so got the chance to hear about both first hand. In this post I will discuss the Dubai initiative.

I was informed that some government departs were helping their employees (Emiratis and other Arabic speaking workers) to improve their Arabic.  They call the series ‘قل و لا تقل’ which roughly translates as ‘Say, and don’t say’ something like: say this….but do not say this because it is wrong. This title is popular and there is a TV series that has the same title, the format is that each show has a theme, each week the presenter shows examples of how people misuse words or phrases and then shows the correct usage. It is all in classical Arabic and aims to improve the use of words amongst native speakers who have along the way picked up bad habits in their language use. 

Coming back to the initiative in Dubai, employees will be presented with about 200 small ‘letters’/ ‘messages’ over a long period of time, in how to correctly use words or phrases that are misused these days. I think it’s good that this is happening and that there is an awareness that people are not using language as it should be used (I know descriptivists are shouting at me right now, I am not usually prescriptivist but I think that if meanings are distorted and eventually changed people need to be told ‘how to speak’ it’s all part of language preservation!). The initiative was an idea of one person and now it has taken off and many employees will have access to these, only time will tell how successful or not it has been.

As I always say, people need to feel that their language is worth learning how to speak. I call for a strong education system (in my recent publication) that promotes the good learning and teaching of the Arabic language to students in their young age.   Without language being made important in education how can anyone be expected to speak language correctly, everything around them is in English or broken English, or Urdu or Hindi – here of course it is specific to the Emirates. Language learning and mastering needs motivation and incentives, otherwise speakers will not see the importance of the language and that’s why we are where we are. The calls that Arabic is dying, being lost, marginalized, discarded and all this in a land where Arabic is the language even of the date palm and desert!

Below is an article (without editing) addressing this issue, slightly dated but I think not much has changed in Emirates. Maybe in another post I will write about the struggles Emiratis are having now as adults in reading Arabic texts and the measures they are taking to ensure their children do not suffer the same fate.  Language fascinates me and as a sociolinguistic the way people interact with their language on a social level will keep me intrigued forever.

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We Arabs are killing Arabic

The purity and originality of Arabic is at stake, especially when it comes to youngsters

By Muna Ahmed

“Lol, I don’t know how to read Arabic. Please write in English or use the (Maarab, Arabic in English app).

My mom is busy and she cannot translate what you are writing,” said my 13-year-old niece, when I started chatting with her on the Blackberry.

“Here, we don’t accept any document which is not typed in Arabic.

It is against the rules. Please go and get it typed in Arabic, only then I will be able to process it for you,” said an Emirati staff at the Dubai Traffic Prosecution who attended my call.

These are two opposite views of two girls whom I came in touch with in the past couple of days.

It was nice to hear the Traffic Prosecution staff stressing the importance of the Arabic language and that they don’t accept any other language other than Arabic, as per the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE’s Vice-President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.

On the other hand, the sad part is that the new generation of Arabs are not very interested or keen to preserve their own language. The openness to the world has changed their lives to a very large extent. The majority of them today use the “Maarab” to communicate, and these are mainly those who go to private schools.

This will lead to a serious problem where the identity of the Arabic language will be lost.

This is a disaster as it will lead to the loss of purity and originality of Arabic, especially when it comes to youngsters who are in the process of learning their mother tongue.

I believe that Maarab was first created by those who did not have an Arabic application on their computer many years ago, and who did not know how to speak or write in English. Today, the majority of teenagers use Maarab to communicate.

They only know how to speak Arabic, and most of the time without correct grammar and usage. If this is the situation today, then I fear imagining how it will be 10 or 15 years from today?

And the shocking part is that many Arabs show off the fact that they don’t know how to read or write their own mother tongue. Parents of these children send them to a British or American Standard school, where English is the basic language for studies, and they also talk to them in English at home.

When I go out with my friends, they are surprised that my three-year-old son Saood doesn’t speak English. They try to persuade me to change this and start talking to him in English at a young age to strengthen his English.

They even go to the extent to say that Arabic is not important anymore and that I shouldn’t speak to my son in Arabic in front of others, as this means that I am not modernised.

It’s a pity. Arabic is the language of the Holy Quran, and I wonder how these children will grow to become true Muslims if they don’t know how to read the Holy Book which is the base of their religion? I don’t say that English is not important. It is very important, but it should not take the place of one’s mother tongue.

————end of article

It’s great that Muna speaks to her son in Arabic, though this is not the place to discuss bilingualism in-depth; I’ll say that his English will be better than those children who learn English first and not Arabic. That is true in this instance because for one’s English to be ‘perfect’ they should really learn it from a native, whereas here these people themselves have not mastered English! So Muna teaching her son Arabic is wonderful because his Arabic, even though its spoken, will give him a grounding in his mother tongue. After this grounding he will master English is school at the hands of natives, which is usually the case in the Emirates.  

Your views and thoughts are most welcome! In the next post I hope to discuss a new initiative started last month in Doha, Qatar to improve Arabic content on Twitter, how it started and its overall aims and progress so far.

Source: http://www.emirates247.com/columns/analysis/we-arabs-are-killing-arabic-2010-08-01-1.273429

 

Arabic making a strong presence on facebook: A strong future?

It was no surprise that sooner or later Arabic speaking users of Facebook would find a way of creatively using their language to communicate amongst themselves. When Facebook launched the Arabic platform for people to use many in the internet world did not think it was going to be as popular as English. Well, now the below article illustrates that Arabic is fast over taking English as the primary language of Facebook in the Middle East. This is a good and positive step forward and is something I have been watching closely, it’s great that there is an increased presence of the language. However, my worry is the content (not in the topic sense) and quality of language might not be as positive as its increased presence. I think it was two weeks ago that the presence of Arabic on the internet was discussed in a conference in Amman, Jordan. One of the most important remarks made (and later tweeted) was that yes the content of Arabic is increasing on the internet but that does not mean the increased content/availability reflects proficiency or a good command of the language. Ok, this is Facebook so grammar is not something that perhaps needs to be adhered to with such precision as would be expected, for example in an article. But who said spelling needs to be ignored, or the simple feminine/masculine distinction and agreement? And even worse the distinction between the similar sounding letters (emphatic vs. non-emphatic) changing this changes the word and meaning and yet these mistakes are being made and sooner or later they will stick. It’s all good to have a space in which one does not need to stress over precise grammar application,  but if such laid back attitude continues, then Arabic might be in trouble. Recently, I read that 70% of Arabic content (non-Facebook) was coming out of the ever-wonderful and beautiful country of Jordan (shout out to Jordan the second time they are mentioned on this blog for their efforts to promote Arabic), and much of it is very professional that’s a huge positive. But even then at that conference I mentioned above, they were still critical of themselves and they suggested more precision in Arabic language use was needed. For many reasons, and one was that this would set the standard and example of how Arabic ought to be written for internet purposes.

The article below, is written well and presents nothing new in the use of Arabic online- but perhaps it novelty is that it is specifically about Facebook and not just social network sites in general. Lately, I have become slightly, to say annoyed maybe is understatement let’s say I disagree with the whole take on the role Facebook played (still plays) in the Arab Spring (not necessarily in ref. to the below article).  I have noticed in the last six months, that there are many people who see themselves as experts in the Arab Spring, and they all decided that if it was not for Facebook/Twitter that the awakening would never have taken place! Honestly, truly, how very irresponsible to make such assured claims and comments, not only is it unprofessional but patronising to those people who are seeking a new future. Facebook (and social networking in general) assisted and was perhaps a good tool but it did not play such a huge role as is often made out. One wonders all those days that the internet was not available in Egypt, did the people not continue? Please research, please ask, then seek to understand before making such claims, this is what we learn when learning knowledge- right? Or am I confused? Integrity in research and writing is important even in the blogging, twitter online world or even in reference to people we have not met!

The article also makes an important point that the internet is still only available to those who can afford it and most importantly who are literate not just in writing and reading but in how a computer works. Overall, it was enjoyable to read an up to date piece on the Arabic language on the internet enjoy reading.————————-without editing

Arabic becoming the language of Facebook (Written by Arieh O’Sullivan
Published Thursday, July 07, 2011)

Study sees local language overtaking English in the Mideast by the end of the year

Since it was launched in 2009, use of the Arabic Facebook interface has skyrocketed to reach some 10 million users today. At the moment, they represent about a third of all Facebook users in the Arab world, but it’s expected that within a year Arabic will overtake English to become the most popular Facebook language in the region.

Spot On Public Relations, a Middle Eastern publicity agency specializing in on-line social media, found that two times as many people log on to Facebook in the Middle East and North Africa than purchase a daily newspaper.“What’s fascinating for us is not Facebook’s overall growth in the Middle East but its growth in Arabic,” Alexander McNabb, director of Spot On PR told The Media Line.

According to their study, Arabic Facebook has grown about 175% a year, double the overall rate of the mushrooming use of Facebook worldwide. In some countries, like Algeria, it grew a whopping 423% annually.

“Until recently, many marketers pretty much took for granted that the region’s Facebook users were English-speaking Arabs or expatriates, using Facebook in English and representing a fairly elite group of on-line consumers. It has become apparent that this is now far from being true,” the study found. “We can expect Arabic to become the most popular Facebook langue in the region within a year.” The Arabic platform’s 10 million users make up about 35% of the region’s Facebook subscribers, up from 24% in May 2010.

“The new phenomenon we are seeing is the growth in Arabic language usage, which in some parts of the region is truly phenomenal,” McNabb said. According to their figures, 56% of Facebook users in Egypt (3.8 million) opt for the Arabic language version. In the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, 41% use Arabic and in Saudi Arabia it’s 61%. By contrast, Morocco has 17% recorded Arabic users and at the bottom of the list is the United Arab Emirates, with its big expatriate population, with just 10%.

Social media is widely regarded as having played a crucial role in the Arab Spring, helping to organize protests and giving a voice to oppositions under autocratic regimes. According to the MENA Facebook Digest, the Middle East and North Africa is home to approximately 10% of the world’s Facebook users with some 56 million subscribers. This includes some 19 million who joined during the past year, a growth rate of 51%.

“The Arabic language adoption is a sign that it is getting popularized and more and more people are getting online and they are using tools like Facebook to communicate,” McNabb said

“Today, twice as many people in the Middle East are logged on to Facebook than buying a newspaper. If you want to get the reach across the region to people, if you are promoting products or services then you have to advertise in 274 newspapers to reach the Middle East and North Africa,” he said. “Or you can use just one platform. And the daddy of the all in the region right now is of course Facebook.”

“What’s really helping make the case is the whole Arab Spring and role of online media in that has really woken people up who otherwise have just been saying this isn’t worth taking seriously and that is was just a fad.” Nabil Dajani, chairman of the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences and a professor of communications at the American University in Beirut, was dismissive about the impact of Facebook in the Middle East.

“Facebook and the Internet are really for the elites,” Dajani told The Media Line. “My assessment is that in the Arab world the Internet is still mainly being used among the upper-middle and upper classes and universities.”

“True the number of Internet cafes is increasing, but let’s not forget that illiteracy is still high and that Internet access is difficult and expensive.” Dajani said the eclipse of traditional newspapers has been long in the making, but he argued that this had little to do with the Internet in general and Facebook in particular.

“Newspaper readership has been dwindling for a long time because they have focused on politics and people are fed up with that. They want information about the average citizen and their problems and things they are concerned with. That is not available in newspapers so they don’t buy it. It’s not because of Facebook.”

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Source: http://www.themedialine.org/news/news_detail.asp?NewsID=32646

‘Say it in Arabic, please’: Arabic language rights restored?

The year is moving fast it’s already July and I am becoming busier and busier by the day, the more writing I do the more there is to do…well can’t complain at least it doesn’t put me off linguistics. Just means that I don’t have time to write longer posts. I have an Arabic article I will translate about language and the human need to talk- will do it as soon as I can. It would be wrong of me to put it up if I am not happy that would be a true injustice to the author.  Ramadhan (fasting month) is due next month very excited as always and looking forward to the spiritual experience as usual.

 It was refereshing the other day to come across an article in the Gulf News about the experience of a non-Arabic speaker learning Arabic in the Gulf. I say refreshing because I usually quote native Arabic speakers and their feelings, anxieties and fears about the current and future situation of the Arabic language. What struck me about this article was his insistence that since the Gulf states have Arabic as their native tongue it then becomes incumbent upon non-native speakers living there to learn the Arabic.

He also notes and outlines the current situation of the Arabic language, in that English is preferred over Arabic and that perhaps the Arabs might lose their language one day. Of course he then goes through the importance of Arabic language, and what it would mean to lose that language. In talking about his experience of learning Arabic, he writes a description of Arabic language that I have not read in a long while. It shows his true admiration for the Arabic language and his appreciation of what it would mean were we to lose this language.

The article ends with his reflection on the danger of Arabic being lost, I chose to put this article here because I felt that it was up to date, from the ground and seems authentic in all that he writes. Have a read below as usual no changes to the original.  

————— without editing

Ancient languages are part of collective human heritage and a testament to mankind’s long journey. Don’t let them die.Language is perhaps the most precious, most beautiful gift after intellect that God granted man. In fact, language is the medium of expression of our intellect. Language is perhaps the most significant invention of our ancestors, even more important than the wheel that was invented nearly 6,000 years ago in ancient Iraq and is considered the beginning of human civilisation. For the wheel couldn’t have come about without man’s ability to think and express himself.

Languages have always and endlessly fascinated me. How they come into being, how they evolve with their speakers and how they relate to each other. How babies form pictures of people, things and places in their embryonic minds and express them in incomprehensible sounds is an endlessly fascinating process. Those incomprehensible sounds though must have formed building blocks of our languages.

One of the first things I wanted to do after landing in Dubai, besides buying my own car, was to learn Arabic. But it’s one of those pious resolutions that are easy to make and hard to follow for one reason or another.

Still, having lived and worked in the Gulf for so many years, it’s a real shame if our understanding of the Arabs doesn’t go beyond shawarma (Arabic sandwich wrap), shisha (hubble-bubble or hookah) and shopping malls.

The trouble is, you could live and work in the UAE for years and decades without ever bothering or requiring to learn the local language. Which is what most expatriates do. They live, work and move all their lives in limited spheres of their own communities without ever trying to understand the host country or society.

That is no excuse for not learning Arabic though. So when an opportunity to do so presented itself recently, I gratefully grabbed it. Given the lazy hours of my current job, I couldn’t have hoped for a better chance to quench a lifelong thirst for the glorious language that the Arabs believe — and many linguists agree — to be the mother of all languages.

The past couple of months learning the basics of Arabic with the help of my irrepressibly cheerful Egyptian teacher have been an enriching experience. In a class of 40, most ‘students’ are from Europe and increasingly remind me of that classic BBC comedy, Mind Your Language. And it’s immensely instructive to see Europeans go to great pains to master a language that is so different from theirs.

Different shades

I kind of believed I had a thing for languages and convinced myself that picking up Arabic would be as easy as learning English or Urdu. Especially when I am already familiar with the Arabic script, the language of the Quran, as most Muslims are. Besides, my mother tongue, Urdu, is based on the same script and is heavily indebted to Arabic, just as it is to Persian and Sanskrit, in terms of vocabulary. So I thought I could pick up Arabic in no time, if not master it. Boy, was I wrong!

Arabic is not just an ancient, rich language, it is easily the most complex and nuanced one I’ve ever come across. Every new lesson has been humbling, illuminating the distant boundaries of my infinite ignorance.Unlike in English, in Arabic every object and everything, living or inanimate, has a gender and sentences are formed accordingly. The whole sentence structure changes with each pronoun and helping verb.

More important, the written and spoken Arabic are totally different species. It’s not just the dialect that changes from region to region but words acquire totally different shades of meaning and interpretation.Then there’s its rich repertoire of vocabulary built and accumulated over thousands of years in a region that has been the cradle of world civilization. No other language, with the exception of Sanskrit perhaps, can boast of a literary heritage as great as that of Arabic. The Arabic language and literature have directly or indirectly contributed to all great literature in languages around the world.

It is a shame then like so many great languages from the East, Arabic has been in a steady decline. As much as I love Queen’s English, I have to say this: The growth of English as global lingua franca has come at the expense of great languages like Arabic.

Thanks to the ascendency of Western civilisation and Mac cultural invasion, more and more people are abandoning their ancestral languages for English.As a result, ancient languages have been dying at an unprecedented rate. Indeed, we may be living in a century that could prove decisive for the future of hundreds of languages. It’s feared that by the end of this century or the next, seven thousand of world’s languages could be reduced to just about 600.

It’s all the more alarming in ancient societies of Asia, Latin America and Africa. In America, most languages of native Indians, its original inhabitants, are already dead. Last year, with the death of Boa Senior in India’s Andaman Islands, the last surviving speaker of Bo, one of Asia’s oldest languages, died an unwept death. And there are many others out there that face a similar fate.

Languages are part of our collective heritage and a testament to and chronicle of mankind’s long journey. They must not be allowed to die, especially not by those who have inherited it and are born with it. Especially not a divine language like Arabic. 

Aijaz Zaka Syed is a widely published commentator. Follow him on twitter/aijazzakasyed.

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Very thorough despite the fact that he is not a linguist, he understands what we call language conservation and maintenance, happy reading!

Source: http://gulfnews.com/opinions/columnists/say-it-in-arabic-please-1.830807