From left: Fatima Badry, Mahra Hilal Al Matuei, Director, Regional Centre for Educational Planning, Sharjah, Dr Ahmad Eid Al Mansouri, Director of Dubai Educational District, and Dr Abdullah M. Al Amiri, Advisor to the Minister of Education, during a discussion. Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/Gulf News

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.