Cool factor boost needed to ensure Arabic’s survival

The need to make Arabic 'cool' was discussed at the International Conference for Arabic Language in Dubai on Thursday.

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DUBAI // It was the language of early astronomy and navigation; of deep, rich poetry and timeless tales.

Now Arabic also has to become “cool”, experts say, to ensure its survival through today’s pupils.

“They think English is cool and Arabic has nothing to do with being modern and being cool,” Yehiya Mohamed, assistant professor of Arabic at Georgetown University in Qatar, told the International Conference for Arabic Language in Dubai Thursday.

“We live in a completely westernised culture so students are not proud of their identity and culture.

“That, I guess, is the most challenging: to make students proud of their own culture and traditions, and their own language.

“There is no language that is better than other languages. It’s like they like hamburger more than shawarma. It’s just like that.”

Prof Mohamed was one of about 1,500 educators and researchers at the annual three-day forum, the opening of which was attended by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and the Ruler of Dubai, and other dignitaries.

Prof Mohamed said Arabic curriculums at schools needed to be changed to appeal to younger people and better engage them.

“We live in a different world. It’s not the classical and traditional ways,” he said. “Students are now using Facebook and the social networks, it’s become part of their lives.

“We should just catch and meet their expectations. If the students don’t have fun, you can’t expect any great goals.

“Arabic teachers, they’re just frozen in some period and they don’t like to go forward.

“They teach classical Arabic and that makes students think why do we study if we don’t use, we don’t understand. Why study structure? I’m not familiar with it and no one uses it.”

Dr Ali Abdulla Mosa, the conference’s coordinator general, said: “The purpose of this is just to allow people who are speaking Arabic to rethink about the language losing its place.

“Arabic used to be the language of the world, it used to be the language of science, technology, history, many sciences were born in the Arabic language.

“But now, because of so many historical facts, the Arabic language is shrinking and is losing its place.”

Organised by the Arabic Language International Council and Unesco, the conference features 75 panel sessions on promoting and preserving the language.

One discussion focused on producing more Arabic-language cartoons to be broadcast on TV, as opposed to running poorly translated western shows.

They also called on developing Arabic technology to be used as teaching tools in the classroom and more national textbooks.

Dr Naima Hassan, an Emirati professor and poet, said educators must do all they could to cultivate a love of Arabic among students.

“Arabic is a very, very, very important language because it is the language of the Quran,” Dr Hassan said. “For Muslims, this is very important.

“Next it’s pure, it’s very nice when you read poetry, when you read a story. It is an old culture so we must care about this.”

Randa Awaad, a Jordanian who teaches Arabic to high-school pupils in Muscat, said language was key to promoting national pride.

“That’s why I call my classes heritage language,” Mrs Awaad said. “Me and the parents, we help each other to keep the Arabic language for this generation because they use English a lot.

“It’s not an easy job but I get them to like the Arabic language. And some of them they write poems and literature, Arabic songs sometimes.

“Before, they didn’t know anything about Arabic culture and I get them to be proud of their identity because, I tell them, even if you go to study in America you have to be yourself – Omani or Lebanese or Jordanian or whatever. “You have to be proud of your identity.”