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The danger is not in the language but in people not using it

Is the Arabic language in danger?

  • Dr Sulaiman Al Jassim, VP of ZU addresses the audience during the Ankabut users meeting at Zayed University coImage Credit:
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Gulf News

Abu Dhabi: Numerous debates and discussions have surfaced among the educational and thinkers community recently on the strength and validity of the Arabic language for communication, whether within the nation or abroad. Additionally, students whether at schools or universities, seem to struggle learning their own mother tongue which complicates the issue. The general opinion is that the Arabic language is losing dominance as a communication tool, especially among the young generation.

“Forty per cent of the student body at Zayed University has difficulty in learning the Arabic Language,” said Dr Sulaiman Al Jassim, Vice-President of Zayed University, at a gathering with the Media last month.

At the Sultan Bin Zayed Centre for Cultural amd Media, Prof Mohammad Hasab Al Nabi, head of the education Department at Al Hosn University in his lecture titled “Challenges in learning Arabic Language in the 21st Century,” shared the findings of his study about the issue and attributed some of these challenges to multiple factors including curriculum, approaches in teaching and textbooks, that do not compete with the modern and attractive counterparts in teaching languages such as English or French.

“Arabic curriculum lacks systematisation and progression. It does not match the students’ ability to learn, nor does it take into consideration the interests of each phase of age in choosing literature. Additionally, Arabic teachers are still following methods of teaching based on memorisation that affects the students’ motivation in learning the language,” he explained.

Dr Al Nabi believes that absence of usage of the classical Arabic language in teaching enlarges the gap between the spoken language and the classical one. The fact that Arabs are learning foreign languages and the teaching of most subjects at schools and universities is in these languages, plays a role in them moving away from their mother tongue. What adds to the complex issue is that Arabs are speaking other languages at work rather than Arabic.

Nouh Saleh Al Hammadi, head of the Association of Protecting the Arabic Language, says, “The language exists, whether it is used or not. The usage is what makes it alive or puts it in danger. The danger is not in the language itself but in people not using it,”.

By not using the language, people move away from Arabic values and break up with history and the achievements of historic figures in the Arab nation, he says. “The new [Arab] generation is proud of accomplishments that belong to other nations. They are not aware of Arab achievements or of the great people in the history of the Arabs because they don’t, or can’t, read in Arabic,” he explains.

One of the reasons behind this problem is the educational system, a key component and foundation of the development of countries and civilisations. More specifically, reforming the Arabic curriculum and forming a network of qualified Arabic teachers are major moves that will reinvigorate the importance and value of the Arabic language, he believes.

Even television programmes for children and cartoons need to be included in the elements of improvements to ensure the younger generations are exposed to the language as early as possible, he says. Lack of exposure to the Arabic language is a root factor in its taking a back seat. There are other unmitigating factors like technology that are adding to the problem. “Internet and online readings are also major influences in moving generations away from the Arabic culture and heritage,” he says. “Most of the information available on the internet today is in English, and online books are mainly delivered in English. Having similar availability of information in Arabic will greatly improve the strength of the language among all generations,” he says.

Would teaching subjects like science and mathematics in Arabic make a difference? “Teaching different subjects in Arabic should be implemented in a phased approach,” responds Dr Al Hammadi. “The language of science and trade nowadays is English, so it is important not to attempt to force a generation too far too fast and cause a disconnect with the rest of the world.”

One of the most important revival techniques according to him is to inculcate a sense of pride in Arab youth regarding their mother tongue. Making them aware of the great historic achievements of the Arabs, will give the language back its glory and grandeur, he believes.

“The real danger is in the coming generations,” he says. “There is a great tribe in Iraq called Al Ta’i; [but today] all that the members of this tribe know is they were of Arab origin. This is what happens when we don’t use a language.”