Fight to revitalise Arabic language learning begins with children’s books

April 9th, 2020 by When Maitha Al Khayat was a young pupil, she often stood at the back of the classroom, during Arabic lessons, hoping she would not be chosen to read out loud. Now an acclaimed children’s book author, she said she struggled to stay engaged because the classes were overly focused on grammar and they studied books that were inappropriate for some pupils' reading levels. "The focus was not on promoting reading,” said Ms Al Khayat, 41, from Ras al Khaimah. “It was on promoting principles.” Around the same time, Hanada Taha Thomure, 52, began her career teaching Arabic to year three pupils in Beirut, Lebanon, and was struck by the absence of children’s books in the classroom. While English classrooms brimmed with imaginative, approachable children’s literature that catered to every reading level, diverse libraries were conspicuously missing in Arabic classrooms. “Arabic is supposed to be taught like any other language – you immerse children in it, you make them love it, you read to them in it, you have them read in it,” said Dr Thomure, a professor at Zayed University. These early experiences were formative for Ms Al Khayat, Dr Thomure and a growing group of authors, publishers and educators who are focused on modernising Arabic language teaching through children’s books. Last year, Dr Thomure and Shereen Kreidieh authored a study – “Arabic children's literature: Glitzy production, disciplinary content” published by Issues in Educational Research – where they examined award-winning children’s literature from recent years. “It's all educational, educational, educational. There's nothing wrong with that, it's wonderful. But children's literature is mostly to entertain, to make children love books,” Dr Thomure said. Counterproductively, the books designed to teach actually drive children away from learning how to read because they do not inspire a love of language. Both Dr Thomure and Ms Al Khayat advocate for levelled books or guided readers: books that were written intentionally to help children learn certain letters or words but with a heavy dose of whimsy and word play. Read more: The National

How English words entered Arabic through the British empire in Iraq

November 2nd, 2018 by The British “Mesopotamian Campaign” of the First World War took almost three years to get to Baghdad – and the occupying force faced many challenges once it arrived. In fact, Britain’s overwhelming predominance over Iraq from 1917 to 1947 was a time of rough and violent political and economic “communication”. But the large number of English “loan words” in the Iraqi dialect of Arabic suggests that the communication was not always defensive. More importantly, the quality of borrowed words and the way they are twisted to fit Iraqi usage reflect the fact that Iraqis were fascinated by the language and culture of their occupiers, whom they ironically nicknamed “Abu Naji” after the commonly held belief that Iraqi monarch Ghazi bin Faisal had been murdered at the behest of the British by his driver, Abu Naji, in a faked car accident. However, while I can clearly identify many words as English in origin – for example, biskit, tȏrch, rādīȏ, shȏrt – there are many other words altered enough to look like anything but English. These include timman, paicha, fuṣṣ glaṣṣ. English loan words in the Iraqi dialect are found in almost all the aspects of daily life. Here I will focus on funny or unusual borrowings but first I will start with one in English. Read more:

Israeli woman invents new typeface combining Arabic and Hebrew to promote co-existence

June 6th, 2017 by Aravit, a new typeface which manages to merge Hebrew and Arabic letters together, is being billed as a language of peace - and it’s not hard to see why. Liron Lavi Turkenich, a 32-year-old Israeli graphic designer and researcher, was inspired to see if she could combine the two languages by the bilingual road markings and other official signage in her home town of Haifa, which has a large Arab population. “It’s common to hear both Hebrew and Arabic in Haifa. I don’t speak Arabic, and one day I noticed I ignore the language,” she said in a video explaining how Aravit works. “I looked for a way to bridge the gap and that led to my project.” Read more: The Independent

Arabic translators did far more than just preserve Greek philosophy

November 23rd, 2016 by In European antiquity, philosophers largely wrote in Greek. Even after the Roman conquest of the Mediterranean and the demise of paganism, philosophy was strongly associated with Hellenic culture. The leading thinkers of the Roman world, such as Cicero and Seneca, were steeped in Greek literature; Cicero even went to Athens to pay homage to the home of his philosophical heroes. Tellingly, the emperor Marcus Aurelius went so far as to write his Meditations in Greek. Cicero, and later Boethius, did attempt to initiate a philosophical tradition in Latin. But during the early Middle Ages, most of Greek thought was accessible in Latin only partially and indirectly. Elsewhere, the situation was better. In the eastern part of the Roman Empire, the Greek-speaking Byzantines could continue to read Plato and Aristotle in the original. And philosophers in the Islamic world enjoyed an extraordinary degree of access to the Hellenic intellectual heritage. In 10th-century Baghdad, readers of Arabic had about the same degree of access to Aristotle that readers of English do today. Read more: Aeon

How One Translator Unlocks Arabic Books for French Readers

January 22nd, 2016 by Arabic literature is notoriously difficult to translate — not only for the complexity of the language but also for the variety of dialects and the challenge of making the prose accessible to Western readers. Arabic literary translators are few and far between, and the Arabic-to-English translators have become, in their world, akin to rock stars, thanks to the establishment in 2005 of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic literary translation. In France, although translators are given more recognition — their names appear on the front covers of books, for example — many of the Arabic-to-French literary translators are less exposed, and no prize specifically for Arabic-to-French translation exists yet. Stéphanie Dujols is one such translator. Based in Alexandria, Egypt, she says, “I’m far away from everything, sort of in my cave.” Dujols translates an average of one to two novels a year, primarily for Actes Sud’s Sindbad collection run by Farouk Mardam-Bey. Her translations are outstanding: seamless, informed and sensitive. Her interest in Arabic began when she was young. She lived in Tunisia from age nine to fourteen, where she began to learn Arabic “in a not very serious way, moreover it was an era when everyone spoke French very well.” Read more: Publishing Perspectives‎

Is Beirut the codeswitching capital of the world?

October 8th, 2015 by At this high-end organic farmer’s market in downtown Beirut, buyers and sellers speak a mishmash of languages, usually Arabic and English or French. Pia Bou Khater is at the market with me. At the juice stand, she switches too. “Oh, I think I have change,” she says in English, before she continues in Arabic, “3000.” Codeswitching this way is one of the characteristics that defines life in Beirut for visitors and for many Lebanese. “When I'm interacting with people, like buying things or trying to bargain, I rarely switch,” Pia explains. “I do try to often figure out what the green leafy thing in question is, like, oh, is this the same as that in English? And then the word in French comes up,” she laughs, “and I'm like oh no I don't know it in French, please stop making this difficult.” Red more: PRI

How the ‘Panchatantra’ travelled the world thanks to Persian and Arabic narrators

September 28th, 2015 by In the year 570 CE, a Persian physician named Burzoy or Burzoya (Burzawayh in Arabic) living in the Sassanid kingdom of Persia travelled to India in search of a book of wisdom: a book greatly sought by then King of Persian Khusroy I (Anoshagruwa or “the immortal”) who ruled from 531 to 579 CE. Burzoy succeeded in his endeavours, returning to Persia with the knowledge he had gained. His book was in turn written down by the king’s wazir, Wuzurgmihr and included, at Burzoy’s own request, the story of his journey to India. The object of his search: the Panchatantra (Sanskrit for five principles) and even the versions of it then existent (the early centuries of the first millennium CE) are now lost, as is Burzoy’s book, with its suggested title, Karirak ud Damanak, written in Middle Persian (Pahlavi, part of the Indo Iranian language family). The title is derived from the two jackals who appear in the first sections of the Panchatantra. More than animal fables, the stories were narratives in how to live a wise, good life, and were meant especially for princes born to rule. The similarities of stories found in the Panchatantra with those in the Aesop’s Fables and the Jatakas attest to how these stories travelled widely and orally in the ancient world. The Panchatantra is among the most widely travelled of literary texts and different versions of it exist in most of the world’s languages. Read more:

Abu Dhabi professors publish first Emirati Arabic textbook

September 15th, 2015 by The first modern standard Arabic language textbook for the Emirati dialect has been published by two New York University Abu Dhabi professors. Ramsah, which means “talk” in Emirati Arabic, is a 352-page workbook and audio guide that aims to serve as a resource for educators and students. “Arabic is the sixth most commonly spoken language in the world and a strong knowledge of both written and spoken is in high demand,” said Nasser Isleem, a language immersion specialist in Arabic studies at NYUAD. Read more: The National