Did you know? The benefits of learning Arabic well at a young age can be career-enhancing
14 February 2021| Last updated on 15 February 2021
SISD’s European heritage is evident throughout its academic structure...
Not only is it in the use of the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum, but also in its bilingual English/German and English/French streams.
In the past, SISD incorporated several weekly sessions of Arabic language instruction into each stream, as per every school in the UAE. But this September, the school will be introducing a brand-new bilingual stream: English/Arabic, for their Pre-KG to KG2 students. Following SISD's successful bilingual English / French and English / German programmes, this new programme will also adopt a similar approach to the teaching of languages, including a co-teaching approach from KG1.
The school has recognised the growing demand from Arab and non-Arab speaking parents for their children to be immersed in the Classic Arabic language and culture from an early age, and not to just learn it as an “add-on” language. The new programme has been designed to appeal to all families living in the UAE, local Emirati families, expat Arab families and expat non-Arab families who all value the importance of the language.
Opening doors with Arabic
Some parents, especially parents of non-Arabic students, have shied away from Arabic language instruction, citing the difficulty and inconsistency of the language, as well as a lack of opportunities offered by the language. Educator and academic management expert Aimon Sabawi, writing for SchoolsCompared.com, illustrates some of the arguments he has heard:
"Traditionally, whenever they could, many families would take a hard pass letting their children study Arabic with any seriousness (“Just go through the motions, it’s not important”). Why? More often than not, it was parental empathy with the struggles (and tears) non-Arab children face learning a very difficult language.
Some parents think that other subjects under the STEAM and English umbrella are more relevant, useful and important. Some think that if a second language is taught, at least it should be French, Spanish or German which will “obviously” be so much more useful."
However, these sorts of arguments are hardly reflective of the full reality, as Sabawi goes on to describe.
“First of all, educators are in consensus that one of the best ways to get over the difficulty of the Arabic language barrier is to deeply and meaningfully weave both the language and the culture into the curriculum, not merely as a “less important” subject. Arabic Departments need to be well-funded, and staffed with well-trained instructors who have the credentials and the bilingual background necessary to teach the language.”
This is something that SISD recognises, and in fact is the reason why the English/Arabic stream puts so much emphasis on cultural immersion as well as having qualified Arabic Early Years instructors paired with English-speaking assistants.
The school knows that learning Arabic alongside English necessarily means treating Arabic with respect, and planning their curricula with Arabic in mind, not just shoehorning it as an unrelated extra class.
Career advantages of learning Arabic at a young age
Secondly, Arabic-language proficiency is far from a “waste of time.” Sabawi lists just some of the biggest career advantages that knowing Arabic can provide:
- Media and Translation: Career opportunities in both are widespread in the MENA region.
- Law and Accountancy: Arabic speakers in Law are valued globally in both professions. You will not find a top London Accountancy or Legal firm, for example, without an Arabic speaker.
- Aviation: Emirates is arguably the best airline in the world. Arabic language speakers have extraordinary global opportunities in countless careers from Engineering and flying planes to Marketing and Tourism.”
- Intelligence Services: Arabic is one of the most sought after languages by intelligence agencies worldwide, including both MI5 and the CIA.
- Gaming: Children engage an average of three times longer with video games than their own parents. Love it or hate it, the gaming industry has become a major industry – and one commanding high salaries, particularly in the GCC. This has led to a huge drive for Arabic voice-over talent to adapt international bestsellers to the Gulf market.
And this doesn’t take into account the growing international business in the UAE and the rest of the Arabic-speaking region, where multilingual employees and businesspeople are going to be in very high demand because they are capable of engaging in English and Arabic with international clients.
SISD's English/Arabic Stream
Learning in the English/Arabic bilingual stream isn’t just about being taught the usual subjects in both languages. From an early age, SISD's students will be immersed in Arabic culture, as Amina El Difrawi, the school's Head of Early Years, puts it: “The programme will also be enriched by UAE and Arab customs, traditions, heritage, and will include Classical Arabic language arts, music, story-telling and lots more.”
Students will gain access to a wealth of Arabic resources, starting with an Arabic Early Years specialist who will be guiding their instruction at every turn. They’ll also get several Arabic books and language learning apps and platforms that will help them learn the language.
SISD will be providing additional Islamic classes and storytelling sessions for students who would like to supplement their learning of the language, which they can take after normal classes.
All of this will be in service of enriching children’s immersion in and appreciation of the Arabic language and culture.