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Are young Arabs snubbing the Arabic language?

Lebanese school children arrange Arabic alphabets during an all-day Arabic language festival entitled ‘We Are Our Language’ in Beirut, Lebanon. (File photo: AP)

The current state of the Arabic language has been the concern of many talk shows and discussions recently. The mother tongue in 22 countries of the MENA region and one of the six official languages in the United Nations, Arabic is among the most common languages in the world.

With the advent of globalization and universal media, holding on to a native language has been challenging for several reasons. Classical Arabic is no exception. Much criticism has been leveled that Arabic is being marginalized in education.

Columnist Ali Moussa wrote that many teachers are not qualified to teach Arabic. Not only are they not specialized in teaching Arabic, but they are treating it as a light subject as opposed to weightier classes. Many teachers tend to speak to students in dialects rather than classical Arabic. He criticized the curriculums in national plans for not giving the Arabic language enough importance.

One reader commented that the Ministry of Education in Saudi Arabia should look into this issue because many students are doing poorly in school due to their weak capability in communicating in classical Arabic.

Moussa further stated that many neglect the fact that Arabic is tied to the national identity of many people.

In an interview with a major news network this year, experts discussed the importance of language as the core of one’s identity. While different dialects are prevalent, Professor of Linguistics Abdelsalam Al-Masaddi of Tunisia said Arabic should not be a dying language to avoid a fragmented Arab world.

Speaking to Saudi Gazette, Duha Akkad, who teaches at King Abdulaziz University, said, “Arabic language has been weakened gradually since the early 20th century during which foreign languages from colonial powers penetrated the Arab world. They eventually took over and acted as formal languages in education, work and government.”

Furthermore, she said, Arabic is important to Muslims because it is the language of the Qur’an. According to the latest Pew research statistics, there are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, constituting 23 percent of the global population.

Akkad says, “Translations of the Qur’anic text can be detached from the real meaning in Arabic. Many Arabs also don’t understand their language correctly. As a result, many Muslims are misinterpreting their religion and seeking wrong alternatives in extremist and misguided ideologies.”

She said, over the years, the norm has become for high achievers and the elite to fill certain jobs, such as doctors, engineers and scientists. Consequently, it has been common for colleges teaching Arabic literature to lower their admission requirements.

“As a result, graduates who later on become teachers do not teach new generations the proper use of classical Arabic. For example, they teach dialects and neglect the accurate use of grammar.”

One university professor in Riyadh said he struggles to make his students like Arabic literature. He added he tried to make his lectures lively by summoning contemporary Saudi poets and writers as well as inviting students to the literary club.

Many agree that the Arabic language has been undermined over time in the media. Akkad said, “It is now becoming common to see improper or poor use of classical Arabic in newspapers, television and radio whereas in the past it was considered shameful.”

In a BBC interview, Hassan Al-Shafei, president of the Arabic Language Academy in Cairo, stated that dialects are overcoming classical Arabic and that this is evident in social media, television and commercials. According to recent study that was presented at World Arabic Language Day, the use of Arabic on the Internet is decreasing and is currently at less than 1 percent. The use of English, however, is rapidly increasing and its share of online usage is approximately 55 percent.

“Classical Arabic should be reinforced and fortified in primary school. That stage is the most important to build a strong foundation for students and future generations,” Akkad said. “It should also be enforced in the media.”
 

This article was first published in the Saudi Gazette on Oct. 16, 2015.

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Last Update: Friday, 16 October 2015 KSA 11:45 - GMT 08:45
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Are young Arabs snubbing the Arabic language?
With the advent of globalization and universal media, holding on to a native language has been challenging for several reasons
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