Mother-tongue Arabic speakers who lack proficiency in the written language now have a new Arabic textbook specially designed for them, rather than for non-native speakers.
The author, Yehia Abdel-Mobdy Mohamed, said some Arab students are unable to read or write correctly because they were educated in schools “dominated by foreign languages and Western education systems”.
Others, he said, grew up in families which “consider Arabic the language of farmers, the poor, and students at public schools”.
Mohamed, an associate professor at Georgetown University in Qatar, said such students learned Modern Standard Arabic because they lacked the skills to study the classical form.
Spoken Arabic varies from one country to another, to such an extent that a Moroccan cannot easily understand a Kuwaiti, for example.
Classical written Arabic, the language of the Qur’an, is the same throughout the Islamic world, but it takes years of study to master it. Modern Standard Arabic, a simplified form, was devised in the 19th century as more and more people became literate. It is used in books and newspapers and by television news readers in all Arab countries.
The textbook has two main objectives: “to provide students with content that helps them understand the most important issues in the Arab world” and “to enhance students’ language skills through materials and texts.”Yehia Abdel-Mobdy Mohamed
An associate professor of Arabic at Georgetown University in Qatar
‘Inheritors of the Language’
Mohamed is a graduate of Cairo University’s Faculty of Arts with a Ph.D. in Semitic linguistic studies. He joined Georgetown University in Qatar in 2007 and helped found its Arabic language programme. He previously taught at the University of Maryland, George Washington University, and Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
His textbook, “Reading the Arab World,” published by Routledge, aims to enhance the linguistic and cultural knowledge of Arab students who are not fluent in Arabic. The book calls them “the inheritors of the language in the Arab world”.
In a Zoom interview, Mohamed told Al-Fanar Media that the textbook has two main objectives. It contains dozens of audio, visual and written texts from various sources so as “to provide students with content that helps them understand the most important issues in the Arab world,” he said.
The second aim “is to enhance students’ language skills through materials and texts, followed by exercises and activities that focus on understanding and enriching their vocabularies and expressions in each unit.”
The book covers a range of topics, including the feminist movement, religious and secular extremism, education reform in the Arab world, and the question of Arab identity.
Mohamed, who is accredited by the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, says traditional books for non-Arabic speakers do not meet the linguistic needs of Arab students.
Muntasir Al-Hamad, an associate professor at the Arabic for Non-Native Speakers Center at Qatar University, agrees that there is “a big problem in most Arabic textbooks, due to the lack of a teaching treatment”. These books also fail to specify a target group, he said, “which makes them unsuitable for teaching in the classroom”.
“No institution in the Arab region has managed to design a strong internationally recognised Arabic language test that is approved by official institutions in the West, such as the well-known TOEFL and IELTS exams for English.”Muntasir Al-Hamad
An associate professor at the Arabic for Non-Native Speakers Center at Qatar University
In a Zoom interview with Al-Fanar Media, Al-Hamad said most Arabic university teachers “have not studied teaching and education methodologies” required to develop what they learned at universities.
Al-Hamad, who previously worked as a lecturer of Arabic and Oriental studies at Manchester Metropolitan University, in the United Kingdom, says that Mohamed’s textbook addresses the problem of poor language policy planning in Arab countries.
A large number of “language inheritors” use Arabic only at home, he said. Meanwhile, there is a serious decline in the public use of the mother tongue, despite it being the official language of all Arab countries.
Language policies should include making Arabic obligatory in school curricula, laws, regulations, and street signs, he said. But the lack of planning makes the investment of Arabic, as human capital, “nonexistent,” whereas English-language centres generate millions of dollars.
“No institution in the Arab region has managed to design a strong internationally recognised Arabic-language test that is approved by official institutions in the West, such as the well-known TOEFL and IELTS exams for English,” Al-Hamad said.
“Many official institutions in the Arab countries have become highly dependent on foreign languages, as a first language in practice and action,” he said. “Eventually, the foreign language has become part of the linguistic and expressive backbone.”
English Seen as Class Advancement
Mohamed noted a cultural shift towards the use of English by many Arab families, as a sign of what he called “class advancement”.
[Enjoying this article? Subscribe to our free newsletter.]
“In the capitalist societies we live in today, people look to those who speak English as the finest and best,” he said. “They consider Arabic the language of farmers, the poor, and students at public schools.”
“We need to change people’s culture, to make them realise themselves and their language,” he concluded. “We need to closely follow up the implementation of language policies approved by Arab countries.”