7th APRIL 2015 - Vol.XXXVIII No.018

The language phenomena

Earlier in the week I received a call from a representative of one of the loyalty cards I am a member of, who asked me whether I could be interviewed for an internal programme they were filming.

I had no problem with being asked questions on air, or me being filmed, my only worry was in what language will this interview be taking place?

When I was told it was in Arabic, panic and anxiety began to kick in.

Yes I am an Arab and yes Arabic is my mother tongue but to be honest I am more at ease with English!

Do not ask me why, but more often than not I feel more comfortable communicating in English.

According to the Arab Youth Survey 2015, released in Dubai recently 36 per cent of young Arabs use English as a language communication tool instead of Arabic on a daily basis.

The phenomenon is particularly prevalent in the GCC where 56pc of youth say they use English more than Arabic, versus 24pc in non-GCC countries.

As a result, two in three (63pc) are concerned about the declining use of Arabic with a fairly even split between GCC (61pc) and non-GCC (65pc).

Who or what is responsible for this situation? Fingers are often pointed at private schools and universities for not enabling the dissemination of Arabic with the same fervour as is done for the English language.

This is because most private schools, especially those that follow international curricula, teach all the subjects in English while devoting only two classes per week to Arabic.

At a recent dinner with friends, my husband was asked, if, after 20 odd years in the region and being married to an Arab, whether he can now speak or understand the language.

Our Australian friend was rather surprised and somewhat disappointed to hear that the answer was 'no.'

I tried not to sound too defensive in my answer when I said that most Arabs in the region quickly answer in English when any attempt by a foreigner is made to speak Arabic.

This made learning the language that much more difficult...and then of course there are the dozen or so different dialects!

The UAE's Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA) inspections in 2013-2014 found that almost three-quarters of schools had shortcomings in Arabic as a first and additional language due to old teaching methods.

Youth in the GCC believe the Arabic language is losing its significance - 54pc of them believe this, while 43pc in non-GCC countries feel the same way about Arabic.

Overall, two in three (63pc) youth in the region are concerned about the declining use of Arabic.

Dr Shaikh Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, has stressed that human development and the promotion of scientific and cognitive abilities of people was a priority for the UAE.

Not so long ago, an initiative, the first-of-its-kind in the Arab world, was launched, to support smart education in Arabic for students in Sharjah, which involved the free distribution of tablets to students and teachers at all schools in the emirate.

The tablets include educational programmes and innovative applications in Arabic.

No one in the world speaks Arabic as a native language. The 350 million people spread across the 22 Arab states learn this language in school in the same way they might learn French or English.

All Arabs know Arabic, but an Algerian speaks Algerian, a Libyan speaks Libyan and an Egyptian speaks Egyptian. None of these is "proper" Arabic.

At the end of the day, native tongue is - and some linguists may wish to differ - a language that sets the definition of who you are. Yes I may be somewhat uncomfortable in conducting interviews with my native tongue, and yes I do feel more at ease speaking English, but my native tongue is in actual fact what defines one's identity.

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