Call to make Arabic language of instruction: The struggle continues

Classroom Chairs

I am putting below an article published today in the Gulf Times, as usual without editing from myself. It is not the first time I am discussing this topic on the blog, but since it has come up again and this time discussed seriously in a meeting, it deserves discussion again. I think there will always be a struggle between English and Arabic unless and until the education system can come up with a solution so that young people will be at ease to use both languages to serve their needs and at the same time maintain their culture. The main person quoted in the article is Professor Fatima Badry an expert from the American University of Sharjah, passionate about Arabic, and worried about its future. What I like about this article is that all claims made are based on her research and knowledge of the situation of Arabic as it really is, it is not influenced by baseless emotions of nationalism or Arabism this is as real as it gets… something has to be done and soon. At least here one solution is being suggested we just have to wait and see what will happen in the next few years, something I intend to follow closely.


“Educational institutes must maintain mother tongue as a primary language to help retain its place, professor says”. By Iman Sherif, Staff Reporter- Published: 00:00 October 4, 2011

Abu Dhabi: The dominance of English language on almost every aspect is non debatable. It has become the international communication language for commerce, banking, internet, travel and politics.

The widespread use of English, however, introduces a cultural challenge — how to propel the UAE as a leader in the global market, and at the same time, retain the Arabic identity when the majority of the younger generation refuses to communicate in their mother tongue.

“English is the language of globalisation and international communication. Therefore, we need to have our students reach proficiency,” said Fatima Badry, professor at the American University of Sharjah.

So, schools educate in English, and parents speak with their children in English to help them prepare for a competitive world. Arabic is reserved for traditional studies such Arabic literature or Islamic studies. In doing so, “we are downgrading Arabic in the eyes of our children who become apprehensive of using it and focus instead on the language that will help them integrate in the workplace or society,” she added.

“Should this trend continue for a couple more decades, Arabic will be a language with limited use,” said Fatima. The problem is not unique to the UAE. English is the most common second language worldwide. However, there are ways to help reduce the risk of making it extinct. Looking at Europe, nations retain strong heritage bonds while they integrate in a global arena. The mother tongue is what people use when they communicate with other natives, but English is usually the second language used when people are communicating with non natives.

One of the ways to achieve both objectives is to ensure that Arabic maintains equality in schools, as an instruction/teaching language, parallel to English.

“We must maintain Arabic and English as languages of instruction; even if we have to appoint two teachers for a class,” she said. She said the best teacher to teach in a bilingual situation is a bilingual teacher. She said: “We can achieve dual education reaching proficiency in English Language without downgrading the prestigious value of the Arabic language.”

“By making Arabic the language of instruction in class, we are enforcing it as a primary language,” said Fatima. Conversely, if we fail to do so, we are telling the students that it is a language of authenticity and heritage, but not of science and internationalism; and by doing so, devaluing the language and limiting its use,” she added.


The points made are important and realistic because Professor Fatima is on the ground and witnesses the degeneration of Arabic language in the UAE. When a country calls for their mother tongue to be a language of instruction, it not only shocks but leads one to wonder, how and why did you get here in the first place? Arabic is not the only language to be going through this, as mentioned above, it is a global problem as a result of globalization. It is sad but true and even more worrying if a major language like Arabic with millions of speakers is suffering the same fate as other languages with less speakers.

To achieve a well-balanced, effective and successful bi-lingual education system is a true challenge. It needs commitment, clearly defined goals, people to believe in its importance and both students and teachers to work consciously towards it. Is the UAE ready for that? Are the teachers and more importantly parents ready for that? The students will go with whatever the system tells them to do, but if teachers are not convinced and parents not aware it is difficult to meet the desired objectives.

Having two teachers in the same class is a desperate measure and shows how dire the situation really is. I cannot imagine having two teachers at once in the same classroom giving me instructions in two very different languages!

Why all the fuss? You might be thinking. English is the language of industry, business, education and so Arabic should just adapt right? Wrong! Arabic can adapt but not at the expense of its language, culture and consequently identity of speakers. France, Germany, or Switzerland, for example, are all at the forefront of education and industry yet their citizens are fluent in their respective mother tongues and are brilliant in English too. How? Well sorry to make it sound so simple.. by working very hard and very seriously in the field of education and language policy. Clear, do-able, and having committed teachers and education department.

Do not misread this as an attack on the UAE, rather it is an observation made. Can the UAE do it? Yes of course they can and the fact that this subject is brought up again and again is an indication that they are serious in doing something about this. It might not be fair to compare such a young country like the UAE to a more established one like France, but at least hopefully the UAE can take countries like this as role-models. With some adjustments to suit Arab lifestyle and culture the same can be achieved, Arabic language can re-gain its rightful place among its native speakers. The Chinese model is a good one, I know personally from my friends that they learn English much later in their lives, but that their mother tongue is the medium of instruction rather than English. One only has to look at the intelligence and contribution the Chinese play in today’s world to know that learning about the world in one’s mother tongue is not a bad idea. They use English as and when they need to, their culture is in tact and plays a major role in the lives of Chinese speakers, nothing lost but much gained.

The UAE and others can do the same, the future seems bright and let’s hope we will all be witnesses to that success. Thanks for reading, comments most definitely welcome.


23 thoughts on “Call to make Arabic language of instruction: The struggle continues

  1. Marianna

    I’d like to thank you for the particular efforts you have created in writing this post. I ahve learned mcuh from the post, I never knew the UAE had such problems when I visit ther I think everyone speaks Arabic well. Keep enlightening us.

  2. Fascinating. For a curious outsider this certainly falls into the “who knew?” category. Really makes me want to go and investigate the situation in person. Thanks, once again.

  3. Leo thanks for stopping by! I’m glad the post was informative, I hope one day you can go in person and investigate that will be marvellous, given your love for languages and your artistic experience.

  4. Kassandara S

    Hi thanks for your enlightening article once again I really enjoyed it. Oh I also really like the Arabizi video thanks for the sharing. I will be talking about this in my next class, I am sure my students will appreciate a real case of language preservation or pre-emption of death through such efforts. At least things are being done by those who fear their language to be in danger, like the Twitter thing. Though it has to be said that Arabic is no where near that stage I think, it is still a major language in the world and ever more popular among non-natives. But I get your point in other posts on the blog, that the worry is among natural native speakers…. interesting. Education is one place in which language needs to be tuaght well otherwise people will lose theirs. In Italy we always study in Italian, even though my English is superb now, I always goes back to my Italian it’s what makes me real…. Keep us posted on nay the new development thank you.

    1. Thanks for your kind words. I am glad it will contribute to your class hopefully in a positive way :-). Yes, education is an important place for language learning, happy that I made sense and your experience can support it. Keep reading thank you

  5. Rabia Lochlan

    I love this blog! How come I never knew about this project going on, on Twitter and I tweet? Because it was in Arabic!? Thanks for bringing to light such interesting things about Arabic language and how it is used. I taught in Qatar for over 5 years and this year returned to Australia,and I have to say that it would be better if Arabs could communicate in Arabic rather than English. This goes for their education too, even with 2 tutors at once! I am not against non-English speakers using English, I just think that from my experience they are better off with Arabic, they can express themselves better and I think they are more sincere in that language. In English they assume a different character which I always disliked. Most did feel that yes they contributed to spoiling Arabic and that they thought their country should do more to help with their Arabic learning. Keep up the good work and I like the updates superb!

    1. Wow, thanks for sharing your opinion based on your extensive experience, and having been on the ground you really have a good idea, perhaps a better one than myself. Thanks for the kind words and taking time to jot something down I really appreciate it.

  6. Suli

    Thanks for the enlightening post as usual, this post has made me get my Arabic books out again and arrange with my tutor for a lesson starting next week. Thanks for inspiring me, I needed that, I just want to be part of the preservation for Arabic language, keep up your love, coz you writing this blog with love and passion.

    1. Hello Sulihat, thanks for the email, thanks for stopping by and reading and commenting. It’s great that the post inspired you to re-start your Arabic, sometimes we procrastinate and just need that ‘something’ to push us back to where we need to be. So glad and honoured that Arabizi was the reason, keep us posted on your progress, very best wishes.

  7. I don’t understand this mentality of forcing English down the throats of Arabs.
    Look, if you lose your language you lose your heritage and you lose yourself. Not even your enemy will then respect you.

    As a non-Arab, I think it is incredibly sad to see this trend towards English and away from Arabic. English is a nice language and obviously useful-but I’d rather speak fluent Arabic and no English at all. Qur’an was revealed in Arabic; the language is so incredibly beautiful in many different ways. My advice would be to tell Arabs to protect their language and culture. The French-a people who have a history and culture which is not as rich as that of the Arabs’-do everything in Canada to protect their language but what are the majority of Arabs doing?

    1. Thank you for the comment, I can see your point. I think the struggle right now is between learning English for the sake of advancement and keeping Arabic for cultural purposes! The Canadian example is a good one and you could also include some Spanish communities in America and how they work to maintain their language. I think they would take your advise very well- it’s just the how now thanks!

  8. Penelope R

    Hi thanks for the post, I have to say as a student of Arabic language, I fail to understand why they would ignore Arabic and get to this problematic point! I have struggled with the alphabet, the words, the dictionary and I am enjoying the language- how native speakers can neglect it (even in the name of advancement) I fail to understand. It seems to me they are all confused, I grew up in France, and did not start learning English until I was in secondary school, and my English has improved even more now with my studies here in Washington. I never suffered with studies in English, I love my accent and I can write English well. I can read French philosophies, poetry etc… without French I’d lose myself- I am proud of being a French lady. How do Arabs live without confidence in their formal use of Arabic, I know they can speak their slang, but the formal is what reaches your heart and what you must read with. Sorry I went on a bit there, just confused why that has to be the situation- long live Arabic and it’s hardworking speakers 🙂

    1. Thank you for the comment, and sharing your view on this complex situation, and your personal experience, it adds to the idea that you can learn more than one language and very well too!

  9. Halima

    Thank you so very much for this post, I totally agree with you on the points you made. As a teacher having two teachers, speaking two different languages, in one classroom would be a nightmare. When I read that suggestion made by the expert in the report, I thought to myself the situation must be really really bad. Languages are only made strong by their passionate and strong speakers but without speakers Arabic will be history. I mean here, as I am sure you mean, the classical, standard Arabic forget the slang we speak that has been there forever, but the classic will leave us and we will be the biggest losers. How else will we claim to be Arabs? Through bell-dancers and shisha- smokers what a shame!!

    1. Thanks Halima for the comment. Yes a language needs speakers otherwise who will carry it onto the next generations, definately not books! I see your passion for this issue, I think belly-dancers and shisha are a small part of being Arab and still does not represent every kind of Arab, but the language, of course that is a strong tie to being an Arab!

  10. Pingback: Could the world’s 5th language be in danger? » The Language Hunter

  11. KatiaQ

    Thanks for this insightful writing I rely enjoyed it very much, I just came to it now! Rely I am spending some time reading over the akives they seems good thanks ones again Arabizi 🙂

  12. Nasrin

    Thanks Fatma for this insightful post, I love your blog, for a researcher like myself this is superb! Thanks for taking the time out and I wish you all the best. Arabic language is key to the Arab people, thank you for making this the focus of most of the posts appreciated.

  13. May Jabri

    Your website and the information contained are truly remarkable and very informative! With a background in academics and English language teaching, I just started managing an Arabic learning program which is exceptional, and innovative, using the latest in foreign langauge teaching methodologies! It’s online and involves synchronous and asynchronous sessions! If you’re interested in learning more about it, please contact me!

Leave a Reply Thank you

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s