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

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

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

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

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

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A multilingual nation, where Arabic is not the victim

Christopher Morrow——–Jan 9, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://seg.sharethis.com/getSegment.php?purl=http%3A%2F%2Farabizi.wordpress.com%2Fwp-admin%2Fpost-new.php&jsref=&rnd=1326297828132

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

A number of books written in Arabian language.

Image via Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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My Books

Image by Jennerally via Flickr

Rym Ghazal—- Nov 24, 2011 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“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.

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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 teaching methods need to be upgraded

Books

Image by Rodrigo Galindez via Flickr

I am putting something here about the work one person is doing to promote the teaching of Arabic to children outside the Arab world. Here is the piece below, without editing as usual- enjoy.

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Jinanne Tabra is promoting Arabic learning among children living outside the Arab region .Doha-May 25, 2011: It is time to upgrade Arabic learning approaches among children as the current ones are “outdated” and “lacking fun elements” which can attract children to learn the language, said Jinanne Tabra, entrepreneur and founder of ARABOH.com.

Tabra, who used to find learning Arabic an “awful burden” during her school days, has started an internationally acclaimed project to help make Arabic easier and more interesting for children, particularly those living outside the Arab region.

“I believe that we do need to look for more effective methods for Arabic teaching in which fun should be a key element,” she said to students at her former school, Qatar Academy, a member of Qatar Foundation.

While still a business student at Carnegie Mellon University in Qatar – also a part of Qatar Foundation – Jinanne Tabra realized that Arabs living outside the Middle East had very few options for buying Arab language literature. So shortly after graduation, she founded Araboh.com, one of the first, and most successful, online bookstores dedicated to the Arabic language.

A graduate of business from Carnegie Mellon University‘s Qatar Foundation campus in 2008, CEO Middle East magazine named her as one of the “Top 30 under 30” and her company has become a vital resource for Arabs around the world.The online bookstore – which has sold thousands of books around the world and grown by 200% during the past three years – is now in the process of establishing a branch of her company in the US as part of an expansion plan for the company.

“I believe there is a need for the very best Arabic educational tools to be made available for every family living in non-Arab countries. I believe our children should feel proud to be Arabs and promote the true message of Arab peace throughout the world. I believe this has never been as important as it is today,” Tabra explained. Araboh.com is now visiting schools in Qatar and UAE and hosting Arabic language festivals to promote the language among children.

“We have high standards for books we are selling. They must be fun and attractive,” she said, describing the online bookstore that now delivers books to young Arabic learners in 50 countries around the world. Tabra describes her constant surprise at the achievement her bookstore has become, especially considering her dislike of learning and Arabic.

Born in the UK to a Scottish mother and Iraqi father, Tabra had very few resources for Arabic learning while growing up. She spent ten years in Scotland before her family moved to the Gulf.

“During these years I was struggling to learn Arabic with other Arab children, but the books were very boring and difficult to understand. I hated Arabic so much. The text books were boring and I was a slow reader,” Jinanne told the Qatar Academy grade five students. Jinanne, who maintains that studying at Qatar FoundationQatar Foundation has armed her with the attitude, knowledge and skills needed to achieve great things, stressed that she was not financially driven when she started her business.

“It was passion rather than business which led me to start this project. I was looking for a meaningful thing and seeking for a goal to pursue. And I found that Arabic was a worthwhile goal. I want to promote it to be the first language in the world,” she said.

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Brilliant achievement and I think she has realised something we all realised as young students learning Arabic- the resources were not so great. Filling this gap might actually help students better their Arabic language proficiency and perhaps even love the Arabic language. If one loves a language they then move on to do great things with that language like writing high quality books (and not just translations, no offence to translators they do an absolutely marvellous job) in all areas of reading not just literature. There is a real need to write self-help book in Arabic language by someone who understands the Arab lifestyle and way of being, translations are good but a book that uses examples the readers relate to in reality are always better.  I think she has begun something great and that the next 50 years are bright for Arabic publishing as the demand for good high quality works will ensure this.  I also think that the Arabic teachers in the Arab countries can also take tips on how to improve their resources, although here the intention was to make books for students outside the Arab world I think the region itself is in as much need of those much improved books too (and a renewed teaching style but that’s another topic for another day). There needs to be a change in the resources and in how the students are taught that way students all over the world can learn Arabic in a way that keeps them motivated. It’s all good…slowly but surely.

Source: http://www.zawya.com/story.cfm/sidZAWYA20110525122613