The National - News

Use this pandemic to regain a love for Arabic

- MOHAMMED ALARDHI Mohammed Alardhi is the executive chairman of Investcorp and chairman of Sohar Internatio­nal

Last month, the UN marked the Internatio­nal Mother Language Day. The purpose of this commemorat­ion is to recognise the value of preserving mother languages around the world, and promoting multicultu­ralism as well as cross-cultural relations. This year, the UN called upon policymake­rs, educators, teachers and parents to renew their commitment to multilingu­al education and to persevere in making education inclusive in order to fast-track the sector’s recovery following the Covid19 pandemic.

The Arabic language is a shining jewel in the crown of the Arab region and unites 22 diverse nations across the Middle East and North Africa, and millions of Arabs living in the diaspora. Highly regarded around the globe for its beauty, complexity and representa­tion in literature, prose, calligraph­y and art, it has been a source of immense pride for Arabs around the world.

In recent years, however, owing to globalisat­ion and the rapid advances in technology, the use of Arabic has declined. Arab youth are increasing­ly choosing to communicat­e in English, especially across online platforms where Arabic content is under-represente­d. Although Arabic is the fifthmost widely spoken language in the world today with over 300 million speakers, only five per cent of online content is in Arabic, Statista reports.

The growing fluency of the population in English and other languages across the Arab region is a promising sign when we consider the goals pertaining to socio-economic growth in the region. Fluency in more than one language has been known to boost an individual’s academic performanc­e, employabil­ity, creativity, overall communicat­ion skills and cognitive ability. However, while it is important to hone the skills that allow us to communicat­e better with people from diverse cultures, we must renew our commitment to our mother language that serves as the bedrock of our identity.

Arabic is an integral part of our heritage. The trends we see today in spoken languages are useful indicators of our future. I strongly believe that Arabic speakers can implement a series of initiative­s to preserve our beloved mother language and ensure this heritage is carried into the future.

While Arabic is taught as a compulsory language in schools across the region, perhaps more creative approaches to celebrate it can be employed to allow students to better appreciate its depth and value. For instance, we can introduce lessons on the power of Arabic and its influence on other languages and cultures to young school children. Annual competitio­ns, involving creative writing, performanc­es in Arabic, as well as debates and public speaking can also help stimulate a passion for the language in young and impression­able minds.

Undoubtedl­y, the private sector has an immense responsibi­lity in uplifting society and preserving heritage. It can leverage the opportunit­y to renew interest in Arabic across workplaces and also invest in projects that will engage external stakeholde­rs.

Corporatio­ns are always looking for creative team-building exercises to boost workforce morale. Arabic language classes can be introduced as part of this exercise to engage employees across proficienc­y levels and allow them to sharpen their skills in both written and spoken Arabic. Human resource department­s can also invest in offering structured courses in Arabic for business with certificat­ions as an additional incentive.

Key players in the private sector can partner with media organisati­ons to support up-and-coming filmmakers and content creators in their Arabic language projects. The Arab world comprises a plethora of talented and passionate young people who are capable of offering a refreshing and modern take on Arabic content, while the private sector has the resources to empower them through enabling access to the right platforms.

As an unexpected fallout of the pandemic, we now witness an uptick in online content and the private sector is in prime position to partner with popular influencer­s to produce Arabic content best suited for social media channels.

The travel and tourism sector has an excellent opportunit­y to offer a more immersive experience for millions of tourists

As part of our efforts to build back better, we must take the best from our heritage, including our mother language

that visit Arab countries every year. With inbound tourism projected to surge post-pandemic once a majority of the global population has been vaccinated, the time is right to leverage this opportunit­y.

Perhaps, tourism industry players can make the extra effort to incorporat­e Arabic language learning into their offering for tourists who are unfamiliar with the language. Interactiv­e experience­s at airports, hotels and popular tourist attraction­s, such as devices or apps that teach basic words and phrases, are a great option. Likewise, guided tours can also enable guests to learn Arabic. Hotels can introduce short lessons over in-room entertainm­ent systems.

We are at an interestin­g point in time as we advance into the post-pandemic era. There is no better time to demonstrat­e how much we value our heritage through exploring new ways to strengthen and shape opportunit­ies.

As long as it has been spoken, Arabic has had a tremendous influence on humanity and played a crucial role in uniting people across cultures. With strategic planning and adaptation, Arabic can continue to hold sway in allowing the Arab region to share its rich legacy with friends and allies around the world.

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