Arabic under threat? The Middle East reacts to English influence

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.

One Comment on “Arabic under threat? The Middle East reacts to English influence”

  1. Arabic is attacked from several fronts. Just twenty years ago in Saudi Arabia we had clean pure arabic cartoons and kids programs in Fus-ha Arabic. There were also many educational programs like Iftah ya simsim which promoted Arabic as opposed to that nowadays we have many cartoons and programmings which are mostly in Egyptian dialects which use English words freely (Disney and MB3 are some of the biggest offenders) Also many cartoons aimed at kids are subtitled!! The strange thing is that even the local channels air these warped translations and there is no sign of programs like Iftah-ya simsim. They could rerun the old ones if they do not have the will to make new programs. Instead Parents like me who grew in the eighties (when it was strictly forbidden to corrupt the child’s language with another language and people were proud of their highly eloquent language) are searching the web for old programming to expose their children to just for the clean language.

    Arab countries at least should promote Arabic and refrain from airing foreign language programs aimed at little kids. Arab kids education should be controlled by local channels and not foreign channels like MB3 or Cartoon Network which are full of violence and mostly lack any moral value.

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