The Federal National Council recently discussed a proposal for all government schools to teach subjects in Arabic, rather than in English.
To me, that seems like creating a problem, rather than solving one.
Learning English is necessary if students are to avoid becoming lost in our constantly developing and culturally diverse corner of the world. The strength of English is its use as a lingua franca. With it we can talk to just about everyone – from teachers and colleagues to friends, acquaintances and even waiters at the restaurant – and be confident they will understand us.
Learning English for this reason does not denigrate in any way the Arabic language, which remains a cornerstone of our identity, for religious reasons as well as historical ones.
This quote (here), from The National’s columnist Khalid Al Ameri, is particularly insightful: “The Arabic language is precious, and with globalisation, we must hold on to it. Our children must learn it thoroughly, as it is one of the factors that differentiates us from the rest of the world, that allows us to remember who we are and shape who we will be going forward.
“However, if we are to continue to empower the citizens of the UAE, it must be through the English language. English is a global language that cuts across cultural barriers, and we need that now more than ever. Even though brilliance speaks every language in the world, the world speaks only one.”
Mastering both languages is essential for our youth – but this does not mean that enhancing Arabic tuition should be at the expense of English.
What Arabic teachers should do is learn from the way English is taught. When I was at school, Arabic classes involved little interaction. The subject was taught by rote, with teachers emphasising the need to memorise rules and vocab rather than practising them. We would copy off a black board and fill in our notebooks, but there were few opportunities to use the language by writing essays or making presentations.
English classes were different. We would take part in numerous activities designed to teach us grammar, writing and vocabulary, and I found that being forced to use and interact in the language made it far easier to pick up.
So perhaps, before we try to replace English as the lingua franca, the first thing we should do is find out the reasons for its success. Trying to replicate that success would be the real lesson worth learning, whatever language you’re speaking.