x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Young Emiratis divided over calls to teach lessons in Arabic

Members of the Federal National Council have called for Arabic and not English to become the language of tuition in all government schools.

DUBAI // Young Emiratis are divided over calls to make Arabic the compulsory teaching language.

Members of the Federal National Council have called for Arabic to become the language of tuition in all government schools, while some experts have described teaching in English as a breach of the country's Constitution Article 7, which states that the federation's official language should be Arabic.

Many young people agreed that preserving Arabic was important to preserving the national identity, but some felt learning in English was beneficial because it prepared them for study at foreign universities.

"The UAE is an open country with many nationalities and proficiency in English is, therefore, important, especially for the sustainable development of the UAE," said Saed Al Janahi, a 23-year-old Emirati economic researcher for the Abu Dhabi government, who has a degree in economics from the UK.

"English is important because it is the global language and the language of success."

Mr Al Janahi, however, who went to a private school that taught in English, conceded that Arabic was important and that a balance between the two languages was needed.

"Arabic should always be an integral part of our lives, and it should be strengthened, but with a balance. There should be more Arabic language classes and universities should introduce Arabic literature classes."

A desire to preserve the Arabic language was also voiced by Khalid Al Ameri, a 29-year-old Emirati and an MBA student at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business, though he said this should not be done at the expense of English.

"I certainly believe that preserving the Arabic language is a big deal, as you are starting to see lots of kids growing up without a solid foundation in what is their mother tongue. But I think teaching everything in Arabic would make matters somewhat difficult for students looking to enter international universities, especially the US and UK, with exams like the SAT, TOEFL, and GMAT," said Mr Al Ameri, who went to a private school in Abu Dhabi and was taught mainly in English.

Zainab Al Mehdi, a 26-year-old graphic designer, said she would feel "isolated" if she were to study in Arabic at university. "If I studied my majors in Arabic I would not be able to talk about many things in my jobs," said Miss Al Mehdi, who obtained her degree from the American University of Sharjah.

However, Fadhel Al Mansouri, a 25-year-old UAE Air Force engineer who took his degree in the UK, said shifting to Arabic was essential. "We have a situation where many people speak two words of Arabic and the rest is in English or a mix of both," he said.

"A while back, people were ashamed to speak like this but in the past years, Arabisi [a casual mix between English and Arabic], has become the mode of communication and for many it has become associated with prestige and pride."

Hamad Al Rahoomi, a member of the FNC's education, youth, media and culture committee, which looks at enhancing people's Arabic, said the rejection by some youths of teaching in Arabic was indicative of a problem.

"A group of people who have grown up with English have come to believe that studying in English instead of their mother tongue is the normal thing and therefore they oppose any change," he said. "It is this we are seeking to address."

Otherwise, he said, future generations would pay the price and Arabic abilities would slowly be watered down as parents passed on less and less of the language.

"A lack of Arabic has repercussions on the religion, identity, affiliation and loyalty [to the nation]," he added.

wissa@thenational.ae