x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Mum's the word for learning Arabic in UAE

Expatriate parents at Gems schools are being encouraged to take Arabic lessons in the hope that they will be able to help their children with homework.

Mohammed El Maghrabi, the head of the Arabic department (right) teaching expat parents basic Arabic at Gems World Academy in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Mohammed El Maghrabi, the head of the Arabic department (right) teaching expat parents basic Arabic at Gems World Academy in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // Cheryl Klaeer let out a small "hooray" when she managed to write her name in Arabic for the first time yesterday.

The mother of two from the United States was taking part in a free hour-long lesson at her children's school, Gems World Academy (GWA).

Gems, the largest education provider in the country, is offering the lessons to parents at 29 schools in their group with the aim of enhancing pupils' interest in the subject and improving their grasp of the language.

"It has been proven that the more parents are engaged in the academic process, the more progress pupils make," said Maysoon Dwairi, senior consultant for schools operated by Gems.

It is hoped the effort will address the Knowledge and Human Development Authority's dissatisfaction with the progress private school pupils have being making in the Arabic language over the years.

In a report compiled by the Dubai School Inspection Bureau last year, officials noted very little improvement in the way pupils were picking up the language.

According to their report, the majority of students learning Arabic as an additional language were achieving only acceptable levels of attainment despite several years of study.

"Their progress often slows after the elementary years," said inspectors.

In the past two weeks 500 Arabic classes have been hosted at Gems schools - some as an after-school activity and others as an invitation to sit in on the children's lessons.

Yesterday's lesson at GWA was hosted by Mohammed El Maghrabi, the head of the Arabic department.

He began with a colour-coded chart of consonants accompanied by their English pronunciation.

"Some letters are naughty letters," Mr El Maghrabi joked, trying to put the nervous group of parents at ease. "You cannot add anything to the end of those letters. But we will talk about it later."

After an explanation of the challenges of right-to-left script and how to pronounce the consonants, they moved on to vowels.

"There are three short vowels: A, E and O; Fatha, Kasra and Dhama," he said, before making them repeat the letters several times.

Every time they successfully read out a word, he commended them with a hearty "mabrook" (well done).

Ms Klaeer, who moved to Dubai in August, said she enjoyed the activity based learning. "I hear Arabic all the time but unfortunately cannot follow it. At least now I know how to read and write my name."

Luise Sohns, who has two children, one in Grade 3 and the other in Grade 6, said all other attempts to pick up the language had failed.

"I've been here for a year and half and have still not learnt any Arabic," said Ms Sohns, who is from Denmark. "This has definitely encouraged me to continue learning."

Mr El Maghrabi said the parents' involvement would almost certainly translate into better learning among their children.

"We send work home but when parents do not know anything about the language, they cannot help," he said.

"We can get children interested by making the parents interested and excited about the language."

Ms Dwairi said they were constantly training the teachers to apply new international methods of teaching Arabic. "Teachers are also trained to teach the language within the local context and link it to the culture of the UAE."

She said while non-Arab parents had shown a lot of enthusiasm for the courses, Arab parents were averse to the idea.

"We need to encourage them more as they now see English as the dominant language," she said. "They sometimes do not use it at home either. People have to realise that if you lose the language, you are going far away from your culture and roots."