Saturday, 18 February 2012

Rant: Your Kids Come In Tongues

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Excuse the rant, but dear Lebanese Moms and Dads WHAT’S WITH THE LANGUAGES! Seriously, does ANYONE speak Arabic to children in this ARAB country anymore? Everyone seems to think that the Arabic language is beneath them and their kids. I’ve been faced time and over again with yummy mummies boasting that their progeny doesn’t speak, or worse, doesn’t even understand Arabic. Why should the fact these kids are of purely Lebanese descent and live in the Arab world (mainly in the GCC and Lebanon ) be of any relevance?

I understand that some of the best schools in Lebanon and the region are of western curriculum and therefore I’m all for kids learning foreign languages from a young age to pass kindergarten assessments and be accepted in those schools. What I don’t get, though is why speaking Arabic and attending a good school have become mutually exclusive. Most Lebanese people of my generation are perfectly trilingual and that’s not because we’re extra smart but because our parents didn’t feel the urge to dissociate us from a key component our heritage.

So before you decide to sever your kid’s relationship with her/his mother tongue, please consider the following:
  • By teaching your kids not to speak Arabic, you are essentially telling them that their culture is inferior to that of the French/British/Americans etc whose language you seem to treasure.
  • By extension, you are also telling them to be racist against themselves and their own people.
  • You are bringing up your kids in cultural poverty because language is a crucial expression of culture and identity. The Institute for Advanced Study in Cultures defines language as “The fundamental institution and constitutive medium of any social order. Through language, the world and our experience in it is named, classified, and evaluated and is thus made comprehensible and meaningful ”.
  • You may be giving them a false sense of belonging to another culture and guess what, one day they will realize that in fact, they don’t belong there.
  • I often get the impression that foreign languages are associated with social status in Lebanon. First, that’s not really the case because an enormous number of people speak these languages. Second, if you’re craving social status, get a nice car or a monogrammed purse, walk around cigar in hand and don’t forget to display your iPhones and iPads everywhere. Just DON’T make your kids miss out on their mother tongue.
  • You are reducing their future chances in the job market: the Arab world stands today at over 300 million very young consumers, this means the population will increase exponentially by the time your kids hit the job market. Guess what, by not speaking/reading/writing the language like natives, they will be much less competitive.
  • Some parents think that the kid will get to learn Arabic anyway by living in the Arab world, but when the nanny, grandparents, teachers, other kids and even the man in the grocery store find themselves compelled to display their own linguistic prowess by using foreign languages with the kids, their actual need to understand and speak Arabic will be minimal.
  • Many Lebanese living in Europe or the US insist on their kids attending Arabic school on weekends. These parents understand that multiculturalism enriches a person’s life, not to mention that, with so much immigration taking place globally, a big chunk of the wold population of the future will be bi-cultural. I was born in the US and currently live in Europe and I think it’s crucial to integrate and embrace the culture of the country you live in ( language being a crucial component of that), but that doesn’t mean giving up your own heritage. If anything being aware of this heritage enables you to add richness to your life and to those of the people you interact with.
  • Last but not least, kids who don’t read or speak Arabic (or are weak at it) are missing out on a beautiful language and an amazing literary heritage.

--end of rant --

P.S I know I should be writing this in Arabic but this is the only way the moms and dads I address in this post will read it ;)