US Arabs Don't Speak Arabic

Many Arab American families and educators are worried that the majority of US-born children from Arab origin do not speak or understand the Arabic language.

US Arabs Don't Speak Arabic

"The Arabic language for any Muslim living in America or the West is vital and crucial," Noreldeen Al-Giyash, Principle of Peace Academy full time Islamic School at Tulsa, Oklahoma, told

"From my experience in this field, I could tell you not more than 2% of American Arab Muslim children could really speak the language, understand and comprehend it," added Gyashi, an expert in education for more than 17 years.

This contradicts with an increasing tendency across the US, especially since 9/11 attacks, to encourage learning Arabic in light of a high demand for Arabic speakers.

A survey by the Modern Language Association found that after 9/11, Arabic enrollments in American colleges have grown faster than any other language except American Sign Language.

President George Bush's National Security Language Initiative aims at boosting teaching of what he described as "critical" languages such as Arabic, Farsi, Hindi and Chinese.

Arabic is the language of the Noble Qur'an and the official language of 22 countries in north Africa and Asia. It is also one of the six official languages of the United States.

Muslim Concern  

"I believe that it is important for American Arabs to speak Arabic so that they can understand the Qur'an more easily," said Habib.

For Muslim families of Arab origin the problem has a religious aspect.

"This is the language of the Qur'an that will help people understand Islam, Islamic culture and the Islamic character," said Giyash.

"I believe that it is important for American Arabs to speak Arabic so that they can understand the Qur'an more easily," agreed Sarah Habib, an eleventh grader at Peace Academy Islamic School.

"Speaking Arabic is also one way that American Arabs can preserve their culture."

Many families understand that speaking Arabic enables their children to communicate with all members of the close and extended family as well as with friends.

Omar Shaher, a US-born and an eleventh grader at El-Camino High School, agrees.

"I speak Arabic fluently and I understand the language and also enjoy it," he told IOL.

"It is very important in many reasons. It is the language of the Qur'an and without it; it is difficult to understand the meanings of the Qur'an."

Shaher, who has a dual nationality, believes he needs the language to "be able to communicate with the people and associate with the culture."

He boasts that no one was able to tell he was an American Arab when he visited the Middle East.

"When I went to Egypt and Jordan, I felt that I have lived there for many years. There was no difference for me in any way," said Shaher.

"Even the people who did not know me thought that I was from there and that is because many other American Arab teens do not speak or understand the Arabic language, which causes them a hard time over there."

He said ignorance of the Arabic languages sometimes lead people in the countries of origin to "stereotype" American Arab teens.

Parents Responsibility  

"My father and mother never allow us to speak English at home," said Shaher.

Therefore, many Muslim families and educators agree it is very important for families to help the new generations to retain their original language.

Giyash, the education expert, believes that it is the parents' responsibility to teach their children the Arabic language.

Aida Awny, a mother of three, believes that the more children practice Arabic at home, the faster they will learn the language.

"To enable your children to speak Arabic fluently, you need not to allow them to speak English at home. I am a mother of three and they all speak Arabic fluently," she said.

"It is not something easy and anyone who lives in the West could understand how hard it is to teach and keep a kid's Arabic language."

Awny said that both father and mother should work very hard to retain their kids' Arabic language.

"We really worked very hard with our kids to help them speaking and understand Arabic. It is a big effort that needs from both father and mother to be very persistent and patient."

Muslim students agree it is the responsibility of parents to teach their children the Arabic language.

"I believe that Many Arab American kids do not speak Arabic because their parents did not take the time to teach them," said Habib, herself a fluent speaker of Arabic.

"It is definitely their parents' fault."

Linda Alchami, another student at Piece Elementary School, said that because parents spend the most time with the kids and teach them how to do many things in this life, they should teach them Arabic.

"If you notice if both parents only speak English to the kids, the kid will only know barely any Arabic, which to me is sad."

Shaher, who attends a public school, only learnt the Arabic language at home.

"My father and mother never allow us to speak English at home. It is like a rule. They are very persistent and they never give up," he said.

"When you visit us at home, you feel that you are in a Jordanian or Egyptian home," said Shaher. "We also watch Arabic movies and I believe this also helps a lot."

Learning Tips

Many Muslim families send their kids to Islamic schools and Sunday schools to keep the language alive.

"Islamic schools can provide the children with writing and reading," said educator Al-Giyash.

He asserts, however, that when it comes to comprehending, speaking and using the Arabic language in daily, then the family is number one.

He said there are many ways that could help Muslim parents to develop their children's language.

"Parents need to read stories to them in Arabic and to buy them Arabic books and stories. They should also try to sit with them discussing the Qur'an and try to spot on simple words to build Qur'anic vocabulary."

Al-Giyash believes families should also make use of the Arabic satellite to help children learn Arabic.

"We could make use of the life programs on some of the Arabic channels like Iqraa, Al-Shariqa and others. We should also be careful not to mix the language when speaking to children."

Many young Americans of Arab background agree.

"The Arabic lessons I take in my Islamic school did not help me speak the language, but rather taught me to read, write etc," said eleventh grader Habib.

"Arabic is the main language I was spoken to in when I was young, which is how I learned to speak it."

Alchami said she learned Arabic through conversation, watching Arabic shows and asking questions about the meaning and roots o each word.

"The school teaches me the grammar sort of for the Arabic, but at home my mom and dad speak Arabic to me and that's how I will be able to talk back without being shy to make a mistake so it's mostly practice."

No Problem

For some children of Arab background Arabic is only seen as an additional language that people do not need to use it in the States.

"I don't speak Arabic very well, but I could barely understand it," said Mustafa Afifi, a Muslim American tenth grader.

"People need Arabic language to communicate with their grandparents and relatives overseas. For me, I don't have this problem because most of my relatives live here in the States and of course they all speak English."

Afifi does not feel sorry for not learning Arabic.

"To learn an additional language, you need to communicate a lot with people who speak that language. So, when you only speak English at home and school, you won't definitely be able to learn the language. But as I said before, I could live without it."

Alchami, the Piece Elementary School student, is surprised.

"They are trying to be Americanized, or shy to speak their parent's language."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16