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 ;)


  1. Hey Dania,

    I totally support your position above and so nicely expressed too.

    I would like to follow up on your last point and post scriptum comment. One of th emain development issues od the Arab world is waht is coined the knowledge gap and on eof the main reasons why this "gap" is wide and difficult to bridge is the low content production in Arabic (compared to other languages - especially English). So in fact it would be great for intellectuals and writers who value the Arabic literary heritage and would like to see it prosper, to contribute themselves in Arabic. I know to many of us it might be easier to write in English of French - but I think if we want Arabic to live and shine, lets start using this beautiful language at least in literary work (i.e. if we want to suppoert the claim that Arabic is not fit for scientific writing).

    1. Thank you for reading and commenting on this post. I absolutely agree with you, we're contributing to the problem by not using Arabic enough online and offline to create proper content and remind people why this is such a beautiful and important language to master.
      My excuse has been that I didn't have Arabic on my PC (bought in the UK) and when I installed it, not having a keyboard makes it very slow for me to type long texts, but it's a bad excuse I know. Khalas, I'll make it a point to write more starting May when my schedule frees up a bit. Hope you're already writing and publishing in Arabic :)

  2. I can relate but I definitely disagree with many of your points... Many of us weren't educated in Arabic, and it's definitely not every Lebanese's mother tongue (read a little history + Armenians are Lebanese too u know). Hell before 1991, Lebanon wasn't constitutionally an Arabic country (taef anyone?). If we live abroad, we can be and sometimes are the same as Italian American and Irish Americans... we belong we're we live and learn, what we associate with and value. Lebanese people were never strictly Eastern or Western. We can go both ways, like bisexuals. Diversity is not a crime. Multiculturalism is good thing, don't be scared. Loosing Arabic is not equivalent to loosing your heritage, for many of us it was never a part of it anyways.

    1. This post talks about Lebanese parents living in Lebanon and/or other Arab countries. Just realized I didn't specify ;), will amend the post.

      But I disagree with your comment on Armenians or Lebanese citizens of any origin. Arabic is the official language of Lebanon (and has been since way before Taef) and as such every Lebanese citizen in Lebanon (especially those born there) should speak, read and write it. I disagree with people who live in a country and decide not to learn its language. Living in London, I am shocked to see people who have been here for years, are or are trying to become UK citizens, and don’t speak English. Language is the primary tool of communication so if you’ve settled somewhere and don't learn the local language you're isolating yourself and we all know what kind of social problems this brings. Countries such as the UK and France are now trying to rectify this by insisting that people pass language tests to get their citizenship.

      I love nothing more than diversity, what I'm trying to say is that these Lebanese parents are actually reducing their kids' multiculturalism but cutting out a language that will help them better understand their own heritage and the culture of the countries around them. I'm not arguing kids shouldn't learn other languages, I absolutely believe they should, but come on, shouldn’t they know their own mother tongue!

      For those settled beyond the Arab world, I am with you that we belong where we live and need to assimilate those culture and values.

      P.S I am by no means an Arab nationalist, I am an ultra-Lebanese nationalist. I believe we need to be one modern secular stand-alone sovereign state and stop wanting to be part of a bigger Arab/Christian/Sunnite/Shiite/Socialist/Communist/ Martian/Whatever entity that most our political gangs - sorry I meant parties -are trying to gear us towards.