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Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Problem With the Arab World's Love Affair With English

From Fortune:

Marhaba and hello. In March, I visited the Mohammed bin Rashid School of Communications at the American University in Dubai, where I sit on the advisory board with prominent regional business leaders. After some students presented reports to us in fluent English, I was surprised to hear my fellow board members say bluntly that their native language is "in crisis."

It turns out English is fast becoming the only language of a new generation of educated Arabs.

This isn't a good thing for the region or the rest of the world. (I'll get to that in a moment.) The journalism school at the AUD is the only modern program in the Middle East that allows students to study in Arabic. Still, many students arrive poorly versed in written Arabic and the formal spoken language and require refresher Arabic language courses.

Literacy in the Gulf States is 98%, according to Unesco. But that literacy is increasingly in English, not Arabic.

This English bias starts early, with children in private "model" schools in the United Arab Emirates studying their full curriculum, including math and science, in English. But state schools are pushing a pro-English agenda too. Professor Patricia Abu Wardeh, who has lived in the UAE for 16 years and in the region for more than three decades, laments that the UAE's government-sponsored Zayed University offers no major in Arabic.

The trend appears to be taking hold regionwide. In Saudi Arabia, many upper-middle-class families speak English at home -- not just at work -- because, as one knowledgeable source told me, parents fear Arabic isn't sophisticated.

One Emirati CEO told me his own children do not speak Arabic fluently. He said he put them in English schools to help ensure they'd have great career prospects. But now he says he regrets that his children don't feel comfortable speaking the language of their forefathers.

As you probably well know by now, I make no bones about the fact that I'm in the pocket for her and her network. Putting that aside, this is a decent article which highlights the growing language disparity in the Arab world. Your thoughts.

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