Reflections on bringing Arabic into mainstream

In the sleepy coastal town of Brixham in South Devon, students are ambitiously broadening their horizons by learning the Arabic language.

On the 10th of March 2017, five eager students at Churston Ferrers Grammar School turned up into the Modern Foreign Languages department with absolutely no knowledge of Arabic but with an open mind and a willingness to learn.

Currently, CFGS has no offering of Arabic – students can learn French, German and Spanish. The school is, however, blessed with a high-tech MFL department and some excellent language teachers, so with some good materials there is no reason why the students cannot start learning Arabic. This is the rationale behind Try Arabic! – to provide those materials.

An introduction to Arabic – how much do you already know?

Neal Taylor gave a short introduction to the language and encouraged students to think about some Arabic words that they already knew. As Arabic was a completely new language for them, they knew very few. Or so they thought. After handing out a worksheet with some Arabic words used in English (mixed together with some regular English words), students were encouraged to find the words they thought came originally from Arabic. Most students identified about ten of the twelve words. Already their vocabulary had increased by twelve new words!

Try Arabic!

Students were then shown the new Try Arabic! online course – an initiative promoted by the British Council and Pendragon Educational Publishers. After only thirty minutes, students were already able to greet each other, say their names and ask where their classmates came from and what their name was. An impressive achievement.

Students were given a link to the new online course, a QR code for the Android app and, as a gesture of appreciation, Neal Taylor also wrote their name in Arabic for them.

Said one student: ‘It’s a great incentive to now learn Arabic – and I should! I’ve been to Egypt five times’. Another student noticed that there were some similarities to her mother tongue, Turkish. Another student said, ‘It was really fun, I want to continue.’

Equally interesting was the reaction from the two MFL teachers who joined the class. One teacher said she loved the lesson and moreover it was a unique opportunity for her to experience what it was like to be a language learner again.

An opportunity for UK schools to introduce Arabic

Try Arabic! is an initiative to promote the Arabic language in British Schools. Students can access a free online course of Arabic. Essentially, any MFL teacher can support students in their learning by helping them work through a clear language learning process. The project was originally supported by the British Council and developed by Pendragon Educational Publishers, the team behind ArabicOnline.

For further information about the project, click here.

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