Given that the Arabic language plays an important part in shaping the UAE’s national character and faces many threats in an Anglophonic world, efforts to preserve it are badly needed.
As reported yesterday, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development and the head of the Arabic Language Advisory Council, told the Federal National Council (FNC) that the ministry was working on a law to preserve Arabic, in line with the recommendations made by the FNC’s education, youth and media committee.
Whether or not we need a law to achieve this goal is open to debate. But everyone will agree that preserving the Arabic language is critical. Arabic is our national language and a key component of our identity. Classical Arabic is the language of the Quran and knowledge of it opens up a treasure trove of rich literature redolent of the history and culture of the region.
But the threat to Arabic isn’t necessarily from other languages, especially English. The low quality of Arabic instruction in UAE schools has a big role in the decreasing use of Arabic language. Arabic instruction in both public and private schools suffers from inadequate resources and rather dull methods of teaching, which fail to fire the student’s imagination or instil a desire to continue to study the language. Education authorities ought to work on improving teaching methods in public schools and ensuring that teachers are trained in ways to make classes more interesting and effective. They should also work with private institutions to improve standards of Arabic instruction. This is particularly important as many Emiratis now opt for a private education for their children.
Improving Arabic teaching standards does not mean neglecting the English language. This is the lingua franca of today’s interconnected world, an essential language for the business of commerce and geopolitics. Science is one of the subjects that’s better taught in English.
The UAE will benefit from a solidly bilingual system that offers both languages in schools and universities and leaves parents and students to make their own choice.