Please take part in my survey for Arabic-speaking bilinguals

Are you an Arabic speaker who also speaks other languages? If so, I would be very grateful if you took part in my survey for Arabic-speaking bilinguals. It is an in-depth survey that aims to understand how you as a bilingual learned your languages, what you think about those languages and how you use them in your everyday life (see more  details here).

This questionnaire is very important because it is the first of its kind to ask for such detail specifically to speakers of the Arabic language. I piloted the questionnaire last month and it is now ready to be completed. I made changes based on the suggestions offered to me by some wonderful volunteers who agreed to pilot it and spent a lot of time completing the questionnaire and filling out a detailed form with constructive feedback.

I have been given permission by the University of York to conduct this survey and I have all the ethical clearance required for this. If you would like to take part in this questionnaire please do so through this link (this can only be used once per person it has been programmed that way):

https://york.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_5ckZHrOL1PUARIV

Note: Once you start the survey you have 48 hours to complete it before it permanently deletes itself. 

 

thank you,

Fatma Said

 

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How’s Arabic doing? Some reflections

Arabic1It has been a long while since I last posted anything due to the most intensely busy 6 months I have had in a long time. So here is a belated happy 2015 to all my readers and a wish that this year will be better than the last in terms of peace and stability for humankind. Hello to new readers and a thank you to all those who wrote emails, I am slowly replying to as many as I can.

So where do I start with this short post? Well, 2014 was great for Arabic in may ways because I think for the first time there is a shift from mere talk to action especially in the Gulf countries (UAE, Oman & Kuwait in particular) to put into tangible terms (laws, conferences and plans) their worries about the future of the Arabic language. The UAE, as you would have seen from previous posts, suggested/passed laws to protect the Arabic language and it was an oft-recurring topic among ministers and broadcasters in and beyond the country. One may criticise and be sceptical about these laws and question the panic of the loss of a language with over 400 million speakers, but whatever your opinion I think the laws may help frame the issue in a new light. As a researcher it is often very difficult to quantify such a phenomenon and understand (at least in numbers and figures) how ordinary speakers view and react to such a topic/issue. The law will allow people to agree, disagree, form their own initiatives to support the law or criticise it, and all that is data, information that helps me and others like myself get a grip on real people’s feelings and uses of the Arabic language. As I said previously no law can protect a language, rather it is the speakers who can create any true change (if needed) in order to protect the language. The other thing I noticed, and that might be because for the last 5 years I’ve obsessed over the topic, is that young Native Arabic language speakers seem to be more open about their preferences for English (for reasons of education, work, international collaborations) and their emphasis that they are also committed to the Arabic language. I have met Arabic speakers (18-30) who are re-schooling themselves in Arabic and who as a result are able to read books in Arabic without much trouble (save with the help of a dictionary) and can articulate themselves better (especially in Standard Arabic) when they write. So it’s an interesting mix of how I was initially interested in the cries and calls to save Arabic language and how I now see people who really matter, those on the ground who can make a difference (or not) react to such a dialogue and what actions they take as individuals or what they say about the subject that ultimately contributes to the future of this situation. To say that this is fascinating for me as a sociolinguist is understatement, it is something I will continue to watch for the future.

What does 2015 promise for Arabic language? In terms of content I think it’s exciting that Sesame Street is being re-launched, the Arabic version is known as Iftah ya simsim and previously ran from 1979 until 1990. It is exciting that it is making a return and it will be the first time I will see it because by the time I was ready to watch the show it had been off-air for some years. I have however heard from those who watched the original version that it was a brilliant tool for entertainment but more importantly for the learning, reinforcement and use of the Arabic language. Children were exposed to the Arabic language for everyday use, words for items and of course for learning new things, which for many people (especially parents) offered another support tool for the Arabic language. I think it may fulfil the same roles it did previously, and given that now it will be aired in a new globalised, connected and computerised world I am excited to see the true impact of such a show. The cast from producers, puppeteers and actors are from across the Arab world with varied, interdisciplinary and interesting backgrounds in terms of both education and experience. So as soon as I hear/see anything about the impact of iftah ya simsim on the use of Arabic language I will without doubt write about it here (maybe even try to get an interview from someone in the production team). There are also more efforts to make as much of the internet content as possible available in Arabic, and overall more universities across the Gulf are offering courses that are taught entirely in Arabic and this is leading to a need for students to write in academic Arabic (maybe even unify terms, expressions and styles like we have in English). Let’s see how the rest of 2015 goes. iftah ya simsim

I want to end the post with an article I saw a few days ago published in the National about Arabic speaking students’ preference for using English (pasted below unchanged):

——————–start

An increasing number of Arab students say they are more comfortable speaking in English than their mother tongue.

Ayman Hussein, 25, is studying for a Masters in marketing and communications at Middlesex University. He was born in Sudan but says having been in the UAE since the age of three, he is now more comfortable with English.

“I would say that coming to the UAE is the reason for this,” he said. “I’ve never been to the US or Canada and yet my English is very strong and I say that’s because of growing up in the UAE.

“I can communicate well in Arabic and I don’t feel it’s a weakness, it’s a preference.”

Maha Hussein, 24, is a masters student at the University of Wollongong Dubai, studying media and communication.

Having lived in Canada and the US before moving to the UAE 12 years ago, the Libyan considers herself a native English speaker but she feels her Arabic skills are as strong.

“I would always choose to write assignments in English,” she said. “Going back to Libya makes me realise how important it is to speak and maintain Arabic because there’s no English there whatsoever.”

The reason her family moved to the UAE was to reconnect the children with Arabic.

“It’s easy to become too reliant on English and dismiss Arabic. I had Arab friends who sounded like five-year-olds and it was embarrassing,” she said.

Dr Afaf Al Bataineh, acting director of the Institute of Arabic Language at Zayed University, said: “The Arabic language has received extensive support from UAE leaders and policymakers.

“Most UAE and Arab families wish to teach children their national language. In fact, most families and young adults believe that Arabic is an essential part of their identity.”

However, he acknowledges that the diverse nature of the UAE poses challenges.

“As a result of the cosmopolitan nature of the cities in which we live today, and because of the multi ethnicities and nationalities that live side-by-side in the UAE, English has become the dominant language in the public sphere, trade, communication, entertainment and media.

“Hence, Arabic became no different than any other language. This means that individuals, families, schools, communities and the media must do more to consolidate the teaching, learning and use of Arabic.

Among Emirati students, Dr Al Bataineh said, the differences in their ability to speak and write are apparent.

“In general, students who study Arabic in public schools tend to have strong Arabic-language skills while students who study Arabic in private schools tend to struggle,” he said.

“The main challenge seems to be students’ inability to use Arabic for communication purposes effectively, particularly the written form.

“Most believe that Arabic is a difficult language to master and this difficulty is often attributed to inability to use the grammar correctly. Many students seem to be extremely weak in using Arabic for academic purposes and many complain that they received little training on how to structure the written forms.”

———————-end

It’s an interesting article because it focuses on speaker opinions and brings to the fore how the speakers themselves view their relationship with the Arabic language. I am used to reading articles that begin with a lamentation, a judgement and then endless quotations from scholars and academics followed by a conclusion. This article, by allowing students’ remarks to be presented right away shows that language use is in fact mediated by speaker preferences, social benefits such as ease and the ability/possibility to communicate with others as well as the social circumstance. One thing is for sure though Arabic language education needs to change (nothing new there) and students need to be supported and helped instead of being blamed for their lack of Arabic. It is not easy to create and implement a whole new system or improve an existing one without much effort and great upheaval.  Maybe as some have already suggested, a bilingual education model (for those who opt for it) could be effective because students without doubt need both English and Arabic. Who knows? Thanks for reading and as always comments are welcome.

“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