Law planned to preserve Arabic language in the UAE

A Federal National Council committee said the country lacked a unified plan to tackle the issue and blamed the absence of a law to protect the language.

ABU DHABI // Government plans for a law to preserve the Arabic language were confirmed at the FNC session on Tuesday.

Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development, agreed with members’ concerns about the diminishing use of the Arabic language.

Sheikh Nahyan is also head of the Arabic Language Advisory Council.

The council’s education, youth and media committee, which studied the declining use of the language and Arabic literacy skills, said a law was needed to protect the mother tongue.

The committee said it wanted Arabic to be the language of instruction in state schools, and for improved teaching of it in private schools.

The law could have implications for Government universities, which mostly teach in English.

A high-level schools administrator in Abu Dhabi, who was not at the session, had reservations.

“What concerns me is the universities and colleges that would be forced to deliver their content in Arabic when the content was written in English and delivered by people who are not necessarily Arabic speakers,” he said.

“I’m talking about engineering, architecture, law. Rather than bringing excellence you’re driving people offshore if the first language is going to be in Arabic.”

The committee also argued that classical Arabic was being replaced by local dialects among Emiratis, and that Arabic-language teachers were inadequate.

The diminished use of Arabic among pupils in public and private schools showed teachers needed training and teaching methods should be revised, the committee said.

It found that 18 per cent of pupils in private schools and 3 per cent in public schools were graded “less than acceptable” in Arabic in 2009, while they were excelling in English.

FNC members blamed teachers and said social media was exaggerating the problem as people preferred to use English online, and media outlets were using dialects rather than classic Arabic.

The committee found that youths were using Latin characters to write in Arabic on social media sites.

Faisal Al Teneiji (Ras Al Khaimah) said the problem was also present in private schools.

Mr Al Teneiji presented the council with examples of pupils being taught Arabic using Latin letters.

The committee concluded that the solution was for a law to be drawn up to preserve the Arabic language, and one that would require all federal, local and private entities to use spoken and written Arabic.

It added that Arabic needed to be the official first language of education in all institutes in the country.

Sheikh Nahyan agreed to all proposals and said a law was in the works.

He said the Arabic Language Advisory Council would work on all of the points raised by the FNC.

“We are completely convinced that the UAE can be a model for the whole world in preserving and protecting its mother tongue,” Sheikh Nahyan said.

“I hope you agree with me that teaching Arabic doesn’t mean we ignore other languages.

“I agree [with the FNC] that there is a need for a law to preserve the Arabic language, and ensure its use in public.”

* Additional reporting by Roberta Pennington