Part 2: Why don’t we teach Arabic in UK schools?

In our current global climate, it seems increasingly evident that British schools could benefit by branching out from the classic language offerings of French, German and Spanish. With 1.2 billion native speakers of Mandarin and 250 million native speakers of Arabic across the world, all participating in the global business arena, why are British school children limited to only a small collection of European languages? In the second part of this three-part article, I will discuss the reasons for and against teaching Arabic in UK schools and consider potential next steps.


Business as usual

Arguably the most significant reason why we do not teach Arabic in mainstream schools is that we have never taught Arabic in such schools. There is an established status-quo that is difficult to shake up. If Britain were to decide on the most effective languages to teach today, we would surely move away from a small collection of European languages. 

Currently, Arabic teaching in the UK is limited to a small number of independent schools and mosques and madrassas. Apart from the independent school sector, most of the teaching of Arabic takes place in inner-city schools and is focussed on children with Muslim or immigrant backgrounds. This exacerbates the problem of integration/segregation. Furthermore, the current Arabic GCSE is designed for Arabic as a second language and not Arabic as a foreign language. There are no standard school courses or exams for CEFR levels. 

There are currently very few teachers who could offer non-European language and culture education. However, as mentioned in Part 1, there is a significant shortage of teachers of any language. This could be a great opportunity to train UK resident native speakers of Arabic to teach this subject and reduce the shortage. Here it is a question of funding and support.


Another major obstacle to teaching Arabic is that it belongs to a different language family. English, French, German and Spanish all belong to the Indo-European language family. This means that they share grammatical patterns and a large vocabulary. Conversely, Arabic belongs to the Semitic language family and introduces an entirely new vocabulary and core grammatical structure. Depending on the reason for offering languages, it could either be more advantageous to include Arabic (diversity of languages) or less advantageous (complexity of teaching and learning). 

Lacking motivation to change

Unfortunately, there is also the problem of Islamophobia, which may impede certain authorities from pushing to offer the language. As discussed in Part 1, this is itself a strong argument for teaching Arabic in British schools. 

Ultimately, many would agree that reforming languages taught in schools would be of benefit to the UK. However, to enact any change as large as this, we would require someone with the passion and motivation to deliver. It is simply too easy for our politicians to maintain the existing status-quo. 


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