Special report: Arabic ‘at risk of becoming foreign language in UAE’

Dr Muhamed Osman Al Khalil, an associate professor at New York University Abu Dhabi, said pupils are exposed to so much English they have difficulties in speaking even colloquial Arabic.

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Teachers are warning against Arabic becoming a foreign language in the UAE. Their concerns come as students are increasingly completing their education with poor speaking and writing skills. In Abu Dhabi public schools, Arabic is said to be the first language but pupils are taught some subjects in English. In private schools, the daily instruction is taught in the language of the curriculum. Teachers suggest that creativity is needed when teaching Arabic to get children enthused about learning the language.



1- UAE students being not fluent in Arabic ‘a worry’

2- Creativity needed when teaching Arabic


UAE students being not fluent in Arabic ‘a worry’

ABU DHABI // Arabic is in danger of becoming a foreign language as pupils complete their education with poor speaking and writing skills, experts warn.

“We have a generation of students from an Arab background who are not fluent in their mother tongue,” said Mazen Al Sheikh, director of Arabic at the American School of Dubai.

“Actually it’s English that’s their mother tongue. Arabic is becoming a second or third language.”

Dr Muhamed Al Khalil, director of Arabic studies at New York University Abu Dhabi, said pupils leaving school without written Arabic skills was a worry.

“What concerns us most is the written form of the language but still they have difficulty even speaking in colloquial Arabic.

“They have been exposed to English so much that they find it easier to converse with you in English than switch to Arabic, even colloquially.

“That’s not in all cases but there is a tendency among students, especially those from private schools, and we’re beginning to see this in public schools also.”

In schools regulated by the Ministry of Education – all public schools outside of Abu Dhabi – pupils are taught in Arabic.

In Abu Dhabi public schools Arabic is said to be the first language but pupils are taught maths, science, art and music in English, the Abu Dhabi Education Council says.

Adec’s Arabic Curricula Division is starting projects to boost learning in public schools.

The programmes include “those concerning the adoption of standards for teaching the subject, training teachers through learning outputs and use of various learning resources”, Adec said.

“Adec is committed to the leaders’ directives to give Arabic the attention it deserves, to improve its teaching methods, and to benefit from the methods used in teaching English to better Arabic teaching methods.

“The ACD also issued the parents’ guide to teaching their children the Arabic language in addition to other educational tools.”

In private schools, where Emiratis made up 34.7 per cent of enrolment last academic year, all pupils are required by law to study Arabic and Muslim pupils must take Islamic studies.

But most of the daily instruction is taught in the language of the school’s curriculum.

“If you’re teaching in English in the UAE, you are getting the students to acquire knowledge in English, think about it in English and ultimately to produce it in English, and that effectively turns Arabic into a foreign language,” said Dr Al Khalil.

“Because language is tied to the national identity of a country, and once you turn your own language into a foreign language, it starts impacting your identity and there are so many implications for this.”

A recent report by Dubai’s Knowledge and Human Development Authority found shortcomings in Arabic instruction in private schools.

“Almost three-quarters of schools had shortcomings in Arabic as a first and additional language,” the Inspection of Private Schools 2013-2014 Key Findings report says.

“In some, there was a slight improvement in speaking and listening but little improvement in reading and writing.

“Approaches to teaching and learning in Arabic were too often repetitive and did not motivate or engage students.”

The Arabic Language Advisory Council’s education, youth and media committee reported that 18 per cent of pupils in private schools and 3 per cent in public schools performed “less than acceptably” in Arabic in 2009, while excelling in English.


Creativity needed when teaching Arabic

DUBAI // Teachers say Arabic needs to be taught in more imaginative ways to get children enthused about learning the language.

“Unfortunately, most Arabic teachers are still coming from a very traditional background of how Arabic should be learnt and taught,” said Mazen Al Sheikh, director of Arabic language at the American School of Dubai.

“It’s the didactic model, it’s the lecturing model, it’s the grammar-based model, it’s the hugely testing-dependent model – it depends on tests and grades, rather than skills.”

Instead of making students memorise how to conjugate verbs, teachers need to be more creative and engaging in delivering their lessons, said Mr Al Sheikh, who is among the presenters at the upcoming First Annual Arabic Conference.

The conference, which is being organised by education consulting firm Know.Do.Serve.Learn, takes place at the Collegiate American School on Saturday and aims to help Arabic teachers improve their classroom skills.

Dr Mohammad Salameh, head of Arabic for Jumeirah English Speaking School, agreed, adding that it is important to make learning Arabic fun.

“The problem with Arabic is students don’t like Arabic because it’s not fun. They just sit and listen to a lecture all the time, so it’s really boring,” said Dr Salameh.

“This is always my concern about Arabic teachers. You should make the lesson fun. You should involve everyone in a nice way.”

Dr Salameh will present ways to use technology in engaging students to appreciate and practice Arabic.

“In this age now everyone is using technology. Kids are attached to their devices all the time, so why don’t we use this advantage to make them study in a fun way?” said Dr Salameh.

Registration for the conference, which will be conducted mostly in Arabic, will end on March 5.