Friday, July 20, 2012

Teaching Arabic In Public Schools? Arabs May Need It More Than We Do!

It seems that it becomes a hot topic of conversation when A Harlem Elementary School Offers Arabic Lessons:
Starting in the next school year, about 200 P.S. 368 students in second through fifth grade will be able to take Arabic language and culture classes twice a week in 45-minute sessions. They will cover a variety of subjects, including math, science and social studies as well as food, music and art.
There are fears that this is another example of one-sided infiltration by a Muslim extremists, many of whom openly express a desire to spread Sharia globally.

Without weighing in on either side of the issue, I offer the following article from Al Arabiya,which decries that the cultural and educational deficit in the Muslim world is so severe that Arabs read an average of 6 pages a year, study reveals.

The following paragraph in particular caught me eye:
Other factors to consider in the decline of reading can be attributed to people shunning the Arabic language in favor of English. Noura Farouq, a teacher based in the UAE, told The National in April that she has seen a decline in appreciation of Arabic in her 20 year career. “Students do not see the importance of learning their mother tongue. Their parents put a lot of emphasis on English as they think it will further their careers, so they tend to develop an indifferent attitude towards Arabic.”
The fact is, there is only so much blame you can ascribe to English. The Arab method of instruction is the real culprit. The New York Times reported back in 2006 that the Arab method of instruction inhibits understanding of Arabic. The article tells of the Muslim Center of New York, where students from 7 to 14 years old spend the entire day from 8am to 5pm, including the summer, just memorizing the Qur'an.

And what makes memorizing in Arabic so challenging?:
Making the work even more difficult, the students, for the most part, do not understand what they are reciting. Muslims believe the Koran was spoken to the prophet Muhammad by the angel Gabriel in Arabic. Because it is seen as the literal word of God, the use of translations is frowned upon. Students know how to pronounce the words but mostly do not know what they mean.
Going one step further, Raphael Patai, in The Arab Mind, writes that the difficulty in understanding the Qur'an extends not only to the non-Arab Muslims, but to Arabs themselves:
The unschooled, who form the majority in most Arab countries, speak a local, colloquial dialect which is so different from literary Arabic as to make it appear almost a foreign language...They have their own language, which is adequate for all their needs and which is the only tongue they know, apart from a few verses from the Koran which are in literary Arabic, and which make them aware of the existence of a literary language that is greatly different from their own idiom (p.196. Emphasis added)
As far as the educated Arabs who can understand the classical Arabic of the Qur'an:
Even among the educated Arabs, the knowledge of the literary language is primarily a passive one. they know it well enough to understand it, enjoy it, come under its magnetic influence; but they do not know it well enough to speak it with any degree of fluency.
Keep in mind that Patai's book was first published in 1972, and has been republished, with new material, since. But the New York Times article seems to indicate  and Al Arabiya article verifies that the problems Patai described about the Arab literacy in classic Arabic still exists.

At this point, if these schools that are teaching Arabic really want to teach a language that is up and coming in the world, maybe they should consider Chinese.

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