Arabic Also ‘Falling Behind’ in…Lebanon

Arabic spoken here...for now.

Now the Lebanese are trying to get in on the death-of-Arabic act. Apparently, my six-year-old knows more written Arabic than many Lebanese university students*, who are apparently unable to recite the alphabet.

According to an article in Middle East Online:

“Arabic is still very much alive as a language, but young people are moving farther and farther away from it,” said Suzanne Talhouk, who heads the organisation “Fael Ummer” (Imperative) which is running the campaign [to preserve Arabic in Lebanon].

Fael Ummer’s statement comes just days after a bleak report about the fate of Arabic in the Emirates and after “Arabic Booker”-winning author Bahaa Taher “agreed 100 percent” that the Arabic language is in decline.

“At my school it’s more cool to speak French. Arabic is looked down upon,” a high school student named Nathalie told the news service.

It doesn’t make one exactly comfortable that French in post-colonial Lebanon is “cooler” than Arabic. But English in post-colonial Egypt is also oft-regarded as cooler. Perhaps part of the problem is the “old-fashioned” way Arabic is taught, surmises Henri Awaiss:

“Also, students are bored because of the way classes are taught,” Awaiss, [head of the translation department of Saint Joseph University in Beirut] said. “We have to open the door to more creative teaching methods,” he said.

Talhouk says that the Lebanese by and large still know Arabic. But, she adds: “Arabic [in Lebanon] today is a sort of ‘Facebook Arabic’.”

The piece doesn’t cover what exactly Fael Ummar is doing to preserve literary Arabic,but Leila Barakat, manager of the World Book Capital program, said something I always like to hear: more and better books.

“We must support and encourage Arabic literature for young adults, which is today underdeveloped,” Barakat told the news service.


More from C. Keeler: “The Death of Arabic in Lebanon”