The status quo
It is a common complaint that the state of the Arabic language is at an all-time low. Teachers complain about the lack of motivation from students, while students complain about the material. Teaching methods are outdated, but not as much at the material we have to work with. Even with the most modern teaching methods and approaches, teachers cannot escape the fact that they are expected to teach the equivalent of Latin in the European world, whilst their students and the world around them are using local vernaculars in their everyday lives.
So the elephant in the room remains. Publishers, teachers, even parents, all help maintain the charade of Standard Arabic, particularly at schools and for children’s entertainment. Sadly, this includes children’s cartoons and books. When will we wake up and realise that this is harming, not protecting the language? The lament about the state of the Arabic language has become stale. It needs a fresh perspective and new ideas about reenergising language teaching and learning. We need to start with the production of high-quality children’s books and television programmes, in local Arabic vernaculars. We need to realise the importance of early oracy and literacy in the mother tongue. Only then will we begin to straighten the path to Standard Arabic proficiency.
What can we do?
Standard Arabic can still be taught in schools, but as a literary language. Curricula should become more focused and relevant to the practical uses of Standard Arabic. This would free up time and space to explore local vernacular cultural output and production.
Early literacy studies have time and again shown the importance of mother tongue literacy as well as oracy. This fact can no longer be neglected or ignored in the conversation about Arabic language acquisition and mother tongue literacy.
As a Cambridge academic and entrepreneur, I look for new ways to solve the social problems of our times. I support unapologetically the use of Arabic vernaculars in the Arabic language classroom. My own complaint has become about the lack of high-quality, modern teaching materials. There is also a complete lack of mother-tongue, i.e. vernacular Arabic, teaching materials. Not to mention the lack of early years books and television programmes.
Children’s entertainment (including books, songs and animated films), has become forcibly produced in Standard Arabic. There is an explicit avoidance of any such production in local vernaculars. Examples such as the Arabic version of Sesame Street and Disney/Pixar animated films, used to be produced in or dubbed into Egyptian Arabic. Recently we have seen their production shift to Standard Arabic. This has understandably caused upset amongst children and parents alike. An alternative solution would be to produce or dub such popular and high-quality productions into a number of Arabic vernaculars, alongside the option of Standard Arabic. This would give consumers more choice rather than taking them backwards and offering less choice.
We at Kalamna have taken the leap towards revolutionising the way Arabic is taught. We have taken the lead in teaching spoken, vernacular Arabic to young children. They gain a solid foundation of familiar vocabulary and structures. Their confidence in Arabic is built up in a fun and engaging way. They are later prepared for proficiency in Standard Arabic when they are older and able to read and write. The result is we have highly engaged and motivated students, who value Arabic and come back every week to keep it up! If you would like to take the lead with us then our upcoming Arabic Class Masterclass for teachers and parents is the event for you! Click here for more details and to register.