Parents need help saving the Arabic language

Parents need help saving the Arabic language

Modern methods are increasingly widespread in the teaching of Arabic. (AFP)

During the summer holidays, I enrolled my 5-year-old son in an Arabic-speaking camp, one of the few solely dedicated to the language. Like many Emirati and Arabic-speaking parents, I struggled for a long time to teach my son his native language, and enrolling him in the camp was my desperate attempt to remedy the situation.
The summer ended and my son had a fantastic learning experience, except where it was most important: learning Arabic. It was frustrating, for both of us, because of the increasing demands placed on parents and children when it comes to learning the language. However, after careful consideration, I have realized that this social pressure is nothing but an excuse for a system that for years has failed to preserve and strengthen the language in Arab society. and Islamic.
Before continuing, I must say that it is not for me that I am writing an article on the importance of the Arabic language — in English.
First, our schools do not master the Arabic language. Most private schools teach in English and have almost exclusively English-speaking staff. The students learn the fundamentals in English, the activities are practiced in English and the books are generally written in English. Arabic lessons are limited to three or four times a week, or even less. Parents also think that the Arabic curriculum is outdated and rigid compared to others. They therefore face the difficult choice of compromising on a school’s excellence in other aspects if they want to enroll their children in schools that place more emphasis on teaching Arabic.
Those who graduate from Arabic-speaking public or private schools face the daunting challenge of enrolling in universities in the country that are predominantly English-speaking. These students overcome hurdle after hurdle and then enter a job market in which it is almost compulsory to speak English.
It is also fair to say that learning Arabic in our culture today means learning two somewhat different languages: the classical language and the colloquial variant. Try teaching a 5 year old the word “spoon” in its classical form versus the Emirati dialect. I can assure you that they are not the same.
The overall result is that parents are expected to prioritize English from the start, believing that fluency in the language will advance their children’s future careers more than fluency in Arabic.
How can we expect our children to grow up learning and loving the language if everything they are exposed to is in English? Globalization and the use of English as the main language of the Internet have led to the decline of other languages, including Arabic, which is losing ground at an alarming rate. Today our children grow up watching “Peppa Pig” and “Paw Patrol”. They read the Harry Potter books and play with their Marvel figurines. They connect to YouTube and its content mainly in English. They think in English and only translate into their mother tongue when necessary. With the widespread use of smartphones, they communicate through TikTok and WhatsApp. Most technological and scientific advancements are supported in languages ​​other than Arabic.
There is also a dearth of Arabic content, including educational and entertainment, on the Internet. According to Google, Arabic accounts for only 3% of global content online.
It is crucial to understand that promoting and preserving the Arabic language is not just about the dialect you speak. A language is an ocean of colored tides. It is the culture and the values ​​that it celebrates, the folklore, the history and its urban tales. These are the proverbs handed down by grandparents and the music we hum in the morning. It’s not just a set of alphabets but rather an immersive experience of poetry and emotions. This is our path to preserving our national identity and street language.
Much like the global mental health debate, the responsibility to preserve Arabic falls on all of us rather than the enabling environment. It is easy to expect the individual to bear the burden of burnout and depression instead of reducing long working hours, prioritizing their office environment and promoting work systems flexible. The general rhetoric has been to recommend “practicing gratitude and meditation” or “detox from social media”. The idea is similar in that it once again puts the focus back on the individual when in reality it is the system that needs to be changed.

It takes a whole system to ensure that our children speak the language and preserve our national identity.

Asma I. Abdulmalik

The Arab world is witnessing a growing awareness of the importance of employing modern methods in teaching Arabic. Despite many attempts in recent years to meet this challenge, it seems that the Arabic language is disappearing with each generation. At the risk of sounding defeatist, we must accept that this is a huge challenge that requires immediate and serious action by all parties involved. Stop ostracizing parents for their failure and realize that it takes a whole system to ensure our children speak the language and preserve our national identity.

  • Asma I. Abdulmalik is an Emirati civil servant and writer interested in gender and development issues. Twitter: @AsmaIMalik

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