“Mom … I hate Arabic! It is difficult and it’s not nice,” my 6-year-old daughter keeps saying every time we sit to do the Arabic homework. And the reply always comes as: “It’s your native language, you should be proud of it.”“It’s difficult and not nice.” That is a serious statement reflecting the actual situation of the Arabic language and culture within the mindsets of our children who are striving to be global citizens.
Why has Arabic become difficult and unattractive to the millennial? Why should we care to reinforce it within a globalized high-tech world? And how can we do it?
As our native language, Arabic is critical to our identity and maintaining it essential for our children to value our culture and heritage and strengthen our ties to family and community members. As a language, Arabic is one of the greatest languages of the world. It’s the native language of 22 countries, spoken by more than 250 million people. It’s the fifth most spoken language in the world after Chinese, Spanish, English and Hindi respectively. It is not just a mere language, but rather a whole culture that dates back to more than 1,500 years, being the most popular of the Semitic languages and one of the greatest civilizations of humanity.
Arabic has whole words made up of sounds that the mouth doesn’t make in other languages. Given the fact that it is written from right to left, one should thus learn to write it across the paper by pushing the pen rather than pulling it as is the case in other languages.
Due to its beauty, richness and old age, Arabic has influenced world cultures and civilizations for centuries, while contributing to the development of sciences, culture and societies, notably through its great philosophers, mathematicians and poets.
Arabic and its associated culture are both pertinent to the global landscape, yet Arabic is seriously threatened by globalizing forces that promote a simpler universal language and a digital world that is exponentially growing, imposing socio-political and economic changes.
Yes, Arabic is in danger of obsolescence, but there are several steps to reviving it, while at the same time dispelling the myths about it and about the cultures it embodies – which deserve respect and recognition of their value.
The first challenge is thus to be able to revive interest in the language and then develop a learning methodology that is attractive and simplistic – especially at the early stages of learning – based on discovery learning and more centered on communicative skills. Providing innovative and comprehensive material for acquiring the Arabic language and culture is key for its revival in a fast growing high-tech world.
A local initiative yet very successful and improvising is worth highlighting here. That is Dar Onboz, an award winning publishing house that aims to produce books tailored to children and youth, introducing them to the world of Arabic culture and traditions while attracting them to the acquisition of the Arabic language in a very smooth, inspirational and artistic way. From the production of books, art, music and films to storytelling and animations, Dar Onboz “creators,” Nadine Touma and Sivine Ariss, encourage our children to love the Arabic language, believing “in books as a tool for change and in playing as a form of growth.”
In another context, living in a “cyberworld” whereby everyone is interconnected with the whole world, gives us both a golden opportunity and a challenge, to not only survive but also promote and boost the spread of Arabic and Arab culture as a key for revitalization and global development.
As Chris Vein wrote in the U.K. Guardian, “less than 1 percent of total global online content is in Arabic and less than 0.2 percent of global digital content is hosted in the MENA region despite the fact that native Arabic speakers constitutes 4.5 percent of the world population.” This is related to many constraints, from the high cost of connectivity in the region and the low investment in the digital infrastructure, to the overwhelming socio-economic and political issues that impede Arab nations growth.
Nevertheless, enhancing digital Arabic content can be a cure for many of our problems while diversifying the economy and opening for new opportunities in the region. Access to high-speed connectivity is crucial for working in the 21st-century world, with benefits for creativity, information sharing, businesses and education across all industries and sectors.
According to Arab Media Outlook, more than 60 percent of Arabic speakers favor internet browsing in Arabic since most don’t speak English. The success of development programs by international bodies like the EU and the World Bank – aimed at the extreme poor and bottom of society – also relies on making their eknowledge accessible in Arabic as it is the target audience’s native language.
According to Vein, there are “four times more Facebook subscribers under the age of 30 in the Arab world than there are registered university students.” This creates the prospect for outreach to a large section of people and boost education and knowledge acquisition through online courses or similar initiatives.
It’s time to remove the negative attitudes toward our language and our culture by being ambassadors of it in every possible field. It all begins from within, once we believe in our identity and ourselves.
Dima El Hassan is director of programs at the Hariri Foundation for Sustainable Human Development.