Students Reflect on Potential New Law to Preserve Arabic Language

The official language of the UAE is Arabic, but given the diversity of the country's population and its large emphasis on foreign investment, English ...

The official language of the UAE is Arabic, but given the diversity of the country's population and its large emphasis on foreign investment, English has frequently been used as the language of wider communication.
It has since become a vital part of the UAE’s educational system. In 2009, a survey revealed that 18 per cent of Emirati students in private schools and 3 per cent in public schools had been evaluated as being “less than acceptable” in their proficiency in Arabic, despite excelling in English.
In light of growing concerns over Arabic's diminishing prominence in youth education, officials confirmed plans for a law to preserve Arabic at a Federal National Council session last November. News of these plans recently garnered more attention when Abu Dhabi University students made headlines this month for demanding more lessons taught in Arabic.
In November, the council's youth, education and media committee had stated that Arabic needed to be the official first language of education in all learning institutions in the country. It is unclear how NYU Abu Dhabi would potentially align with this stipulation. If passed, however, a law could result in public institutions having Arabic as the primary language of instruction, while private schools introduce more intensive Arabic instruction.
The article on the Council's plans noted that a law would also "require all federal, local and private entities to use spoken and written Arabic."
Among NYUAD students, reactions to such a potential law have varied. Emirati freshman Dana Al Hosani said that Arabic has been lost from Emirati culture and is now commonly viewed as little more than a school subject.
"I think the number one thing is that because we’re only about ten percent of the population, and the rest are expats, we don’t expect them to speak in Arabic," commented Hosani. "So then all of our communication is always in English."
"I know, for example, that a lot of kids grow up with their nannies, and their nannies speak English," she added. "So therefore their first language becomes English. Even communicating with other people, texting, typing — it’s all in English."
Freshman Hayat Al Hassan, another Emirati student, believes that a possible solution to the diminishing use of Arabic could be found within the household.
"Every parent needs to realize the importance of the Arabic language. I mean, there's no harm in teaching them other languages, be it English, French, Spanish or whichever other language. But it shouldn't be at the cost of the Arabic language," said Hassan.
When asked about her thoughts on whether the possible change would be effective in protecting Arabic, Hassan said that studying everything in Arabic would definitely help increase its use and importance, but that there may be an unwanted cost.
"Studying English in school, with science and math, especially … makes it easier when we go to university," she said. "For example, studying science in Arabic would require translating all the terms in English when you go to undergraduate or graduate schools. So many other benefits of studying in an English system would not be available if we studied everything in Arabic."
Freshman John Scaccia, who is currently studying Arabic, understood proposed changes to revive Arabic in schools.
“I feel like there definitely needs to be something done about the Arabic teaching in primary and secondary school right now, because [non-locals] who have grown up in the UAE … they don’t know any Arabic, [even though] they studied it, and that’s really bad,” said Scaccia. “I feel like it could possibly be the right step."
However, Scaccia saw possible consequences among the country's diverse population.
“At this point, English has basically become this global language for business and a lot of other things. [Switching to Arabic-taught subjects] could deter certain others from studying in the UAE, maybe, if they’re not from an Arabic background," he said. "So that’s a potential problem.”
According to freshman Maryam Al Hammadi, Emiratis need to pay more attention to the Arabic language and hold their mother tongue in higher regard.
“Right now, people have this perception that you don’t really need Arabic to get by in the UAE, but I personally think that you do. To fully be able to understand this place and to fully be able to serve your country and everything, you need to know Arabic. Its an essential part of our culture; it's an essential part of our identity,” said Al Hammadi.
Shamma Faisal Al Bastaki is a contributing writer. Email her at
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