Would full Arabic immersion help?

Would immersion help the way Arabic is taught? Jaime Puebla / The National
Would immersion help the way Arabic is taught? Jaime Puebla / The National

Most people who have tried to learn a new language can attest to the benefits of immersion courses, where one has no option but to use one’s new vocabulary to get by. One paradox of the UAE’s large and diverse expatriate population is that despite Arabic being the national language, English is ubiquitous as the mode of communication between different linguistic groups. English is so common that immersion programmes might be the best option for those who seek to gain proficiency in Arabic.

The shortcomings of Arabic instruction in our schools are well known. As we reported this week, school principals and teachers accept that while the quality and methodology of the way most subjects are taught have been subject to revolutionary improvements, too much of Arabic instruction remains mired in rote learning. Although this is changing, with priority being put on improving Arabic instruction, it is little surprise that for most students, Arabic proficiency is lagging. But speaking it brings obvious benefits, both personally and for social cohesion.

The deficiencies of instruction exacerbate the extra challenges implicit in teaching Arabic in this country. While in most countries, tuition in the local language would begin from the earliest years of school, students in all age groups will enter the education system when their parents take up jobs in the UAE. It means entry-level courses need to cater for all ages and bolsters the case for immersion learning.

What could such immersion look like? This is where the innovation comes in. It could be small-scale – perhaps schools could allocate a day when only Arabic may be spoken. Or “immersion camps” could be run, building on the Emirati cultural events and exhibitions that appear at, for example, Qasr Al Hosn or the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair. A two-day camp in the desert, during which only Arabic could be used, would certainly help young people speak the language. (For the less-proficient, it would be a chance for their parents to enjoy the silence.) Through such tactics, real progress can be made.

Published: September 25, 2016 04:00 AM