Arab parents must help kids preserve linguistic identity

By Ghadeer Ghloum

KUWAIT: Many Arab parents intentionally choose to speak English with their children as the primary language at home, instead of Arabic. This often happens due to multiple reasons especially since English language is the most used language across the globe. Thus, parents adopt English as the primary language to equip their children with communication skills and secure wider career opportunities. However, there are also concerns by those who believe that Arab children should be encouraged to preserve their Arabic identity through preserving Arabic language and heritage. Kuwait Times interviewed Sociologist Dr Mona Al-Enezi, and Social Relations Consultant, Khadija Badr Karam, who shared their thoughts on the topic. 

Kuwait Times: What is your opinion on the growing trend of speaking with children in a foreign language inside the house among Arab families?

Dr. Mona Al-Enezi

Al-Enezi: There is no doubt that parents play a pivotal role in the linguistic development of the child, and subsequently the school and society. If the school and society speak in a foreign language, for example, English, then it is necessary to speak in English. However, if the language of the school and the society is Arabic, then there is no problem in using the foreign language at home to enhance it, while still preserving the native language, which is Arabic, as the case is in Kuwait. 

Karam: English is an important language for communicating with others in several fields and countries. It is important to master it, but using it within the family has become annoying. We should hold on to our mother tongue which is the Arabic language with its vocabulary and also our Kuwaiti dialect with its beautiful words.

Kuwait Times: What are the pros and cons that children may experience when speaking a foreign language from a young age?

Al-Enezi: It is a double-edged sword. Today, we live in a society dominated by a foreign influence in language and communication, due to the internet’s openness and other factors. Therefore, children need to learn and master the English language, while still preserving and promoting the Arabic language in the Arab community, so they can have persuasive discourse in society, especially since Kuwait still uses Arabic as the first language.

Khadija Badr Karam

Karam: There are many positives. From an academic perspective, it qualifies the child for bigger and wider areas of communication with others who speak foreign languages. The foreign language becomes the language of communication between many nationalities whereas the negatives include not mastering the Arabic language. Many students have been observed to fail in Islamic education and the recitation of the holy Quran, which means they fail as Muslim individuals to master reading the Quran, which is in Arabic. 

Kuwait Times: What are the common social challenges that can be faced when speaking a foreign language inside the house, and how can they be dealt with?

Al-Enezi: In Kuwait, the society still relies on Arabic as the mother tongue in interactions. Hence, those who do not speak Arabic face difficulties in communication and integration, as they are unable to express their ideas, leading to social isolation and social anxiety, and consequently affecting their self-confidence. The problem lies in relying on a language within the household as the primary language. Therefore, children need proper guidance from their parents. Foreign languages can be taught alongside Arabic, but not instead of Arabic. 

Karam: When a child tries to communicate with others from their family and surroundings in Arabic, the language becomes rusty, and its vocabulary may be limited. This can lead to the challenge of being bullied. Moreover, some children may face difficulty in socializing with their community and extended family.

The post Arab parents must help kids preserve linguistic identity appeared first on Kuwait Times.

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