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Does Arabic need to become ‘cool’?

Nowadays, with the world arguably more connected than it has ever been in the past, the rampant propagation of western culture appears to be leaving its mark in all four corners of the globe.

One result of this has been the proliferation of English-language music, TV shows, films, brands, slogans and all other facets of popular culture to areas of the world where English is not the primary language – or even a language at all – of most citizens.

Consequently, those growing up surrounded by English-speaking culture may find they are becoming increasingly disenchanted with their own language and heritage, as they are not as ‘cool’ as the western mother tongue.

A problem for Arabic

This state of affairs was recently highlighted by Yehiya Mohamed, assistant professor of Arabic at Georgetown University in Qatar, who told the International Conference for Arabic Language in Dubai on May 8th that Arabic-speaking kids think English is the ‘cool’ language and do not see what Arabic has to do with so-called cool, popular culture.

He said that with youngsters living in a “completely westernised culture”, they are no longer proud of their linguistic and cultural roots – something which he feels needs to be tackled in order for the Arabic language to survive and thrive, thenational.ae reports.

This is arguably all the more important as it was in fact Arabic that was once the language of astronomy, navigation, poetry and storytelling. Should today’s young Arabic speakers decide to favour English, not only are they turning their back on their mother tongue in the present, but also the thousands of years of history and heritage that it represents.

As Dr Ali Abdulla Mosa, the annual three-day conference’s coordinator general, explained: “Arabic used to be the language of the world. It used to be the language of science, technology and history. Many sciences were born in the Arabic language.” Now, he feels, it is “shrinking” and losing its place in the modern world.

What’s more, Arabic is vital for religion if anything else. Dr Naima Hassan, an Emirati professor and poet, outlined how it is indeed the language of the Qur’an, meaning its survival is fundamentally important to Muslims, if nothing else.

As translation and interpreting professionals, we echo Dr Hassan’s conclusion that Arabic is a “very, very, very important language”. Therefore, it is vital that teachers and language experts recognise what needs to be done to safeguard its future.

What’s the solution?

Professor Mohamed believes the curriculum in schools needs to be changed to engage the youngsters who are increasingly fixated on western, English-language culture.

He commented on how the modern world in which these students are living does not have as much of a place for tradition as many might like. For this reason, it is vital that education policy makers don’t bury their head in their sand to this reality and instead capitalise on it. Children must be able to see how what they are learning is relevant and applicable to their daily lives, and what is important and matters to them.

Such a need to factor cultural appeal into language learning was recently outlined by vice-chair of the Faculty of Modern Languages at the University of Oxford professor Katrin Kohl. Writing for the Guardian, she explained how English-speaking students were becoming increasingly apathetic towards learning modern foreign languages, as teaching syllabuses have been “stripped steadily of intellectual interest and cultural appeal”.

The expert believes that the relevant authorities are not adequately taking into consideration the fact that, due to English culture being so all-consuming, young people are becoming less likely to consider learning French an “essential skill”.

Therefore, to a large extent, it will arguably be up to educational authorities to tap into the younger generation’s priorities in a way that can make them appreciate the importance of both their own languages and those of other countries – and, ultimately, the survival of the world’s rich tapestry.

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