Arabic is one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world – which is why it may come as a surprise to hear that some traditionalist Arabs are concerned that the language is now under threat. In the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arabic speaking countries, some parents are growing concerned that the emphasis on learning English at an early age is coming at the expense of developing a rich and full knowledge of Arabic.
The rationale behind the shift towards English is that a strong knowledge of that language will best prepare students for advanced education and work in the emerging modern world, which is every day becoming more connected by rapidly international travel and instantaneous forms of communication. The Internet and cheap travel have combined to speed up the rise of English as the go-to language of choice for much international business. But it’s a trend that worries many conservative parents, who are concerned that their culture is being displaced and their children are growing up in a society which is losing its old values too rapidly.
The problem parents are most concerned about is not simply an emphasis on English language classes over Arabic, but the teaching of non-language subjects, such as mathematics, in English instead of the traditional Arabic. This is a step too far for some parents. In fact, according to one survey carried out in Abu Dhabi, a whopping 82% of parents were opposed to the teaching of science and maths in English instead of Arabic.
In Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, the pilgrimage to Mecca is seen as an opportunity to spread Arabic. Arabic teachers attempt to spread the language to non-Arabic speaking Muslims who visit the holy city.
However other developments indicate Arabic is not as under threat as some conservatives seem to think. For instance, Arabic recently featured for the first time as a language at the Pope’s general audience – a sign of greater solidarity and tolerance between the Catholic and Muslim worlds amidst growing tensions in the Middle East.