Urgent need to address declining Arab language skills among youth
Parents blame video games, TV for declining Arabic skills
Today is Arabic Language Day, but the language’s declining popularity among youth in the UAE is causing concern.
Some mothers even say that English language cartoons and online video games have the same effect on their children’s Arabic skills as gorging on fast food has on their physical health.
At least one teacher hopes the return of Arabic exams at primary schools will begin to address the declining levels of proficiency among pupils.
The Government is also rolling out the Bil Arabi initiative to address the issue. It will feature a year-long series of events and activities in the UAE and abroad, encouraging the use of Arabic by pupils and the general public.
For the past few years, public primary schools relied on quizzes and midterm tests instead of official exams to grade pupils, said Rabaa Khalil, an Arabic teacher at Yas School.
This meant they all passed, even those who did not know how to read or write.
“But this year the exams have been brought back, and that will motivate the parents to make their children study so they can pass,” Mrs Khalil said.
“The return of exams will raise pupils’ grades in Arabic. Pupils are also neglecting Arabic because the staff at the school are all non-Arabic speakers.
“I am an Arabic teacher and I am forced to learn English so I can communicate with the principal.”
With English tending to rule the roost at schools, it is no wonder children use it as their primary language, Mrs Khalil said.
“Only 5 per cent know how to write [in Arabic].
“When I used to teach high school, some 12th graders barely knew how to spell, despite all the technologies and smart boards. We need solutions for this issue,” she said.
Arabic language competitions, such as those previously held by the Abu Dhabi Educational Council, would have a greater effect than the contests the schools currently run, she said. According to Fatena Abullateef Al Dajani, an Arabic language supervisor at Horizon Private School, pupils have become obsessed with online and video games, which are all in English.
“When we started to notice this, about three years ago, we launched a number of projects to bring back the love of Arabic,” she said.
The projects include: a 10-minute Arabic reading session every morning; sending a story book home with pupils every week and testing their comprehension; and enrolling them in reading challenges across the UAE.
“Also, Quran memorisation contests help a lot, because memorising the Quran enriches their Arabic language massively. We even involve the parents and grandparents, we invite them to the school library to read with their children,” she said.
Rawan Fawaz, a 27-year-old mother from Palestine, said she was alarmed by her seven-year-old’s lack of Arabic skills.
“His older brother – who is nine – is much better because he used to watch cartoons dubbed into classical Arabic, so when he started talking he spoke proper Arabic.
“Now he can understand the language much easier than his brother.
“I don’t know what happened in the past five years. It seems like everything changed in schools.
“The children don’t understand anything any more,” the mother of three said. “All the films, animation and video games that they are engaged in are in English, that is why they have forgotten about Arabic. And the types of children’s programmes popular nowadays are not deep humanitarian stories like the ones we used to watch, they are all silly and increase the child’s level of stupidity.”
She will be enrolling her sons in a Quran school during the winter break to improve their Arabic skills, she said.