Dubai: In the 21st century, English has become almost the lingua franca of the world. In the Bay Area, children are often forced to learn English from an early age, and many speak near-perfect English with barely a hint of an accent. Just Google “English schools in Saudi Arabia” and you’ll find yourself inundated with thousands of results.
However, in the Arab world’s race to produce English speakers, some educators fear that they will be equally fluent in Standard Arabic, and that reason has been defeated. According to the CIA World Factbook, while adult literacy rates in most Gulf countries are as high as 94 percent, only about 73 percent of Egyptians can read and write, and in Morocco it’s only 68 percent.
While some believe that Arabic is no longer a prerequisite for finding a job, Dr Hanada Taha Thomure calls this a myth. “You need Arabic. A situation will surface at some point and you need to be able to use that language at work,” she told Arab News.
Thomure, an Arabic professor with years of experience, insists it is far from outdated. “Walk down the streets of Cairo or Beirut or any Arab country and you’ll hear this language. Our problem, I believe, has to do with policy.”
In addition to being a professor and board member at Zayed University Abu Dhabi, Thomure is also the Director of the Zai Centre, the university’s innovative research centre.
The Zai Center was launched on 18 December, which the United Nations has designated as World Arabic Language Day. The center plans to research how the language is taught around the world, identify best teaching practices, and provide tools to empower and support teachers. It is the first institution to study how Arabic is taught globally, with the goal of becoming the world’s first accreditation body for Arabic-language education by 2026.
The institute’s goals are multifaceted; it will oversee the creation of new Arabic-language programs for children and provide translations of English-only resources and academic journals. The Abu Dhabi Media Office released a statement describing the Zai Center as “Abu Dhabi’s vision for the preservation and development of the Arabic language”.
Thomure explained that the center is a grassroots movement that is unique in its modern teaching methods. Zai’s lessons include fun and exciting ways to engage students and provide guidance for parents to ensure their children improve their Arabic at home from an early age. Their upcoming digital platform will be a great resource for teachers.
The Zai Center is Zayed University’s first visible strategic shift to focus on applied research.
“Our goal is to advise how Arabic is best taught. The program also aims to help policymakers create the right policies and laws that affect how people perceive Arabic,” Thomure said. “We will be working with other researchers in various fields to see how we can support the teaching and learning of Arabic and ensure that parents, teachers and policy makers have the necessary and right tools to use the language properly.
“We found that in some places Arabic is not being taught in the best way. It is important to detect educational difficulties in children early. So is intervention. We will be able to detect, repair and test cognitive and memory skills to help students It’s a very cutting-edge approach; nobody’s done it before.
“You want people to see the relevance of language, its beauty, even its economic value in terms of possibilities and employment opportunities. Even if you are bilingual, your native language is the native language of your hometown. You will miss out on other people’s native language Nuance,” she said. “You might miss some sentences in the song or in the dialect. Every language is different. We combine verses from the Qur’an, expressions and accents; Will miss that.”
The Zai Center will collaborate with researchers in different fields to create tools to support and inspire a new generation of Arabic speakers. The center also plans to work with the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Center to create the first Arabic corpus for children, which will help identify the most commonly used Arabic words and standardized vocabulary.
The center has already signed partnerships with several organizations and institutions, including the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre, Queen Rania Foundation, Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashed Global Initiatives and the Arab Thought Foundation.
Promoting and supporting the Arabic language is a top priority for many governments. In 2020, the Ministry of Culture of Saudi Arabia established the King Salman Global Academy of Arabic to highlight the status of Arabic, activate its regional and global role, and enhance its value in expressing the depth of Arabic and Islamic culture and language.
The academy will work to promote Arabic cultural identity, and its activities include supporting Arabic-language applications, products and research in the Kingdom and the Arab and Islamic world.
“The King Salman Global Academy of Arabic has a name we all love to thank the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques – may Allah bless him – for his sincere efforts to serve the The enthusiasm of Saudi Arabia’s Minister of Culture, Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, explained that it will be a global academy that will serve the Arabic language and support its modern application, confirming that Saudi Arabia The leadership of the Arabic service in the language of the Qur’an.
Noura Al-Kaabi, UAE Minister of Culture and Youth and Chairman of the Zayed University Board of Trustees, said in December that the Arabic language is closely linked to “our heritage, our culture and our homeland”, adding that projects are being created to strengthen And to protect it is a national duty.
A report on the status and future of the Arabic language by the UAE Ministry of Culture and Youth, released in September, noted a clear lack of vision in Arabic language teaching. “Our aim is for the Zai Center to become a leader in its field and become the world’s first accreditation institution for Arabic-language education by 2026,” Al-Kaabi said.
The drive to spread the love of learning Arabic goes far beyond the establishment of the Zai centre. In September, Madrasa Arabic Lessons, an e-learning platform launched as part of the 2018 Mohammed bin Rashid Global Initiative, received the UNESCO King Sejong Prize for Literacy. With more than 3 million users across 50 countries, the program has tens of millions of lessons and hundreds of videos providing much-needed education during the COVID-19 pandemic that has shut schools for years.
In June, Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al-Qasimi, ruler of Sharjah Sheikh, addressed academic institutions, emphasizing a focus on developing new teaching methods to encourage young men and women to learn Arabic.
Al-Qasimi said: “Arabic is the language to which we belong in the Qur’an. It is the repository of our history, knowledge and culture. Far West, united under one language.”