(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) Did you know that 4,000 words in Spanish derive from the Arabic language? The Arabic language actually helped influence many languages around the world, including English, French and German. So today, on UN Arabic Language Day, it makes sense to shed light on the official language of the UAE and the Holy Quran.
Despite more than 80 per cent of the UAE population comprising expatriates, the majority of which are non-Arabic speaking, the government has put a huge emphasis on the need to develop the language to instill a national identity within the country.
With more than a dozen language institutes in Dubai, Arabic continues to be the leading language course taken up by residents here. And though English may be the predominant international language of business across the city, expatriates are showing a keen interest in getting to know the mother tongue of their second home.
"All together, we have about 500 new student registrations for long and short-term Arabic lessons. We teach English, French, Spanish, German and Chinese Mandarin too, but Arabic is still the number one language as we specialise in it," Khaled Boudemagh, managing director at Golden Age Institute, told Khaleej Times.
At Eton Institute, it has taught over 11,500 students Arabic over the last 12 years while at the Pomegranate Institute, Marie-Alex Saaeva, learning and development director/co-founder, said since opening its doors two years ago, it has taught "785 students through Arabic classes".
"Arabic classes are our most sought-after course because they combine the cultural aspect that is required when people are speaking to Arabs. When you speak to people in their mother tongue, you speak to their heart. Another reason is that at our institute we teach you the modern standard Arabic, which is understood by everyone who speaks Arabic, not only the Arabs."
Generally, in order to know the basics of Arabic, Saaeva and Khaled said one requires "between 30 and 40 hours of lessons".
"What you would be able to do with this is introduce yourself, create simple sentences, ask questions such as name, age, nationality, phone number. In order to have a simple fluent conversation, you would require around 100-150 hours of classes," Saaeva said.
Arabic is the only language that has not been affected by changes through centuries. Additionally, Khaled said there are five major groups of dialects: Egyptian Arabic, Maghrebi Arabic, Levantine Arabic, Mesopotamian Arabic and Gulf Arabic. And within those, there are many sub-dialects. "The features of this language are unique, yes. The script is written from right to left. And what you speak is what you write, there are no surprises. It only has three sounds or vowels too. So while it may seem difficult, Arabic is actually very straightforward."
Schools in UAE make efforts to promote 'language of the future'
The UAE government is undertaking several initiatives to protect Arabic as the country's principal language, especially in schools. And Fabio d'Emilio, service delivery and publishing director for Pearson Middle East, said it fully supports that.
"We believe it is important to keep Arabic as part of the core curriculum in schools here. From a practical perspective, Arabic is the official language of over 20 countries, and there are well over 300 million native speakers of the language. It's also one of the six official languages of the United Nations and the language of the Holy Quran."
With lots being undertaken to promote Arabic, he said "it will remain the language of the future, as well as of science and innovation".
To fulfil the compliancy regulations set by the Knowledge and Human Development Authority (KHDA), Arabic must be taught at some grades in schools here.
"Grade 1-3 have to teach a minimum of 240 minutes per week; Grade 4-6, 200 minutes; and Grade 7-12, 160 minutes. At Gems National School for Boys, we have an enhanced bilingual programme from FS1 to Year 2 too, and we teach approximately 50 per cent of the curriculum in Arabic and 50 per cent in English. This is around 50 per cent more Arabic teaching than other private schools in those years," Jonathan Dey, CEO and principal of GEMS Al Barsha National School - Boys, said.
But while teaching Arabic to a multicultural student base is great promotion for the language, one of the great difficulties is that schools teach the Modern Standard Arabic (MSA).
"This is the challenge in a global city such as Dubai with so many home dialects. A Lebanese or Jordanian student will find MSA easier - simply because their dialect is very close to MSA. But the Emirati Khaliji dialect is quite different. So even though this is a mother tongue language for all Arabic students, learning MSA in local, private and international schools remains a challenge for many pupils as they do not get an immersion in the language at home as well as school."
Types of Arabic languages
>Classical Arabic - Language written in centuries-old books such as the Holy Quran.
>Modern Standard Arabic (MSA) - Language of writing, education, administration
>Colloquial Arabic - Its own spoken Arabic dialect
KT NANO EDIT
Going back to the roots
It's a pity that the world knows so little about the history of Arab land and its rich culture and learnings. Most of it wasn't documented well and has been lost in time. The efforts of the leadership to encourage the young to reconnect with their roots will reinvigorate their interest in the language, and do a world of good to the region. It's important to know how long we have come to see how far we can go. A deeper understanding of the history can instill pride and confidence.