Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 November 2019

UAE Portrait of a Nation: Star Emirati teacher fights to preserve Arabic language

Laila Alyammahi said the subject risks serious decline among younger generations

Laila Alyammahi with some of her students. Reem Mohammed / The National
Laila Alyammahi with some of her students. Reem Mohammed / The National

One of the UAE’s top Arabic teachers has called on schools, parents and libraries to devote more time to helping children learn the language.

Laila Alyammahi, 46, said her native tongue risked becoming entirely alien to younger generations unless more was done to combat its decline.

The popular teacher, who won the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi's award for best teacher in the Gulf, said new ways to revitalise the language were needed.

Many Emirati pupils are now speaking broken Arabic and some of them feel ashamed to speak it. Classical Arabic language is fading away, we all should work to keep it alive

Laila Alyammahi

She said the decline of Arabic had become so significant in some areas of the country that some pupils were “ashamed” to speak it.

“Classical Arabic language is fading away among the new generations and we all should work and find solutions to keep it alive,” she told The National.

“It is our beloved language that represents our heritage and culture, and who we are as Arabs.

“My teachers encouraged me to love my language and be proud of it. Now it’s my turn to help [pupils] improve their Arabic speaking and writing skills.”

Ms Alyammahi told how she graduated with a degree in Arabic literature from UAE University in 1996.

Immediately after finishing her degree she started work as an Arabic teacher at Murbah Secondary School for Girls in Fujairah.

Since then she has worked tirelessly to improve Arabic teaching in classrooms, constantly inventing new methods to grab pupils’ attention.

Earlier this year, she was awarded the second ever Mohamed bin Zayed Award for Best GCC Teacher at a UAE forum dedicated to raising teaching standards.

“Choosing to study Arabic literature after graduating from high school was one of the easiest decision I have ever made,” she said.

Sheikh Saif bin Zayed, Minister of Interior, hands Laila Alyammahi the Mohamed bin Zayed Award for Best GCC Teacher. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Sheikh Saif bin Zayed hands Laila Alyammahi the Mohamed bin Zayed Award for Best GCC Teacher last month. Chris Whiteoak / The National

“I grew up with a passion for reading and writing Arabic. I used to save money to buy books to read instead of buying other stuff like the rest of my friends.”

Ms Alyammahi went on to describe the various techniques she used to help encourage children to take an interest in the language.

She said parents and libraries also had a part to play in the process, with schools stocking more Arabic books and mothers and fathers reading to their children.

“I had to find different ways to make pupils enjoy the language such as role-plays, book clubs, illustrations or even games,” said Ms Alyammahi.

“I also organised many initiatives to promote Arabic language and find talented pupils inside and outside the school.

“More efforts should be made to develop the schools libraries and see what books interest [pupils] more.

“I also recommend families establish a library to create a reading culture and always visit the book fairs.

“Children imitate their parents and when they see them holding a book they will develop a reading habit.

“That is very important as reading will expand children’s imagination and develop their vocabularies.”

Ms Alyammahi described winning the Mohamed bin Zayed Award for Best GCC Teacher as an overwhelming gesture.

But she warned the battle to persuade more children of the importance of their native language was far from over, and complacency risked losing existing gains.

“I have a goal in my life and it revolves around making pupils, and children in general, enjoy the classical Arabic language,” she said.

“Many Emirati pupils are now speaking broken Arabic and some of them feel ashamed to speak it.

“I can’t blame the children for that as it is the role of the parents and teachers. There are many parents who communicate with their children in English and there are also teachers that don’t speak standard Arabic in class.

“They use their own dialects which affects the children’s language skills negatively.”

Updated: November 7, 2019 09:43 AM

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