How one educator is inspiring a love of Arabic as UN marks 11th World Arabic Language Day

Special How one educator is inspiring a love of Arabic as UN marks 11th World Arabic Language Day
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Syrian educational consultant and children’s book author Nahla Al-Malki. (Supplied)
Special How one educator is inspiring a love of Arabic as UN marks 11th World Arabic Language Day
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In some of her videos, Al-Malki discusses the misconceptions of teaching Arabic, accessing high-quality Arabic children’s books, and the joy of reading. (Supplied)
Special How one educator is inspiring a love of Arabic as UN marks 11th World Arabic Language Day
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Updated 18 December 2023
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How one educator is inspiring a love of Arabic as UN marks 11th World Arabic Language Day

How one educator is inspiring a love of Arabic as UN marks 11th World Arabic Language Day
  • Children’s book author Nahla Al-Malki fears use of mother tongue is on the wane among young Arabs in Gulf countries
  • She discusses misconceptions of teaching Arabic, accessing high-quality Arabic children’s books, and the joy of reading

DUBAI: Exactly 50 years ago, the General Assembly of the United Nations declared that it would adopt Arabic as its sixth official language. Thirty nine years later, in 2012, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization established established World Arabic Language Day on the anniversary of the world body’s adoption of Arabic.

“It is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, used daily by more than 400 million people,” UNESCO’s website states. And yet, Arabic — a millennia-old language with a wealth of written works encompassing poetry, literature, law, science and philosophy — is sadly on the decline as a written and oral language, according to some experts.

Among those who hold that belief is Syrian educational consultant and children’s book author Nahla Al-Malki. Through her self-titled Instagram page, Al-Malki aspires to motivate the younger generation of Arab children to read and speak in their mother tongue.




In some of her videos, Al-Malki discusses the misconceptions of teaching Arabic, accessing high-quality Arabic children’s books, and the joy of reading. (Supplied)

“Arabic is beautiful and eloquent. Arabic is identity and heritage. I think it’s a very important part of my identity, and more than anything, I want to make sure that my children and other children in the world feel like they are connected to that identity,” she told Arab News from Dubai, where she lives with her husband and two children.

Al-Malki was born and raised in Jeddah, where she was able to stay in touch with her mother tongue by communicating in Arabic all through the 1990s.

“Saudi Arabia is different from other places,” she said. “It still maintains that homely, cosy environment among families and community social life.

“Actually, if we’re going to link it back to language, I think that really helped me flourish. I went to Arabic schools, so the people around me were all speaking Arabic. Of course, my family at home spoke Arabic all the time. With my friends and social circle, everything was in Arabic.”

Al-Malki said she comes from a family that appreciates languages, noting that her brothers speak three languages: Italian, German and French.




Syrian educational consultant and children’s book author Nahla Al-Malki. (Supplied)

After living in Saudi Arabia, Al-Malki pursued her higher studies in Beirut, going on to obtain her English language teaching master’s degree from the University of Manchester and the University of Cambridge.

Her role as an educational consultant includes training teachers, carrying out inspections and audits at universities, and writing course books.

About seven years after she settled down in Dubai, a cosmopolitan melting pot of languages and cultures, she started noticing that her own four-year-old was moving away from speaking Arabic.

FASTFACTS

400m+ Arabic speakers worldwide.

5th Arabic is the fifth most spoken language in the world.

0.6% Share of all online content is in Arabic.

“We did end up putting my son in a British curriculum school. Suddenly, there was a huge shift. It was easier and more comfortable for him speaking English. You fall in that trap as a parent and think, ‘I’m going to speak to them in English.’ But, it didn’t feel right,” Al-Malki said.

“I enjoyed so much reading books with my children. We used to get stuck on certain characters and lines and keep repeating them throughout the day. And sadly, it was all in English.”

This eye-opening personal experience of hers was a key motivation for Al-Malki to help fellow struggling parents through social media. “I wanted to spread hope,” she said.

Since September 2023, Al-Malki has been uploading brief yet structured and useful videos guiding parents, as well as Arab-language enthusiasts, to instill a love of reading and speaking in Arabic.




Book author and educator Nahla Al-Malki says the way Arabic is being taught in the classroom requires a facelift, introducing innovation, fun, creativity — in other words, a modern mindset. (Shutterstock)

“I did not want to give them practical tips, but practical philosophies, in a non-preachy and non-guilt-inducing way, that they can follow as a lifestyle,” she said.

In some of her videos, she discusses the misconceptions of teaching Arabic, accessing high-quality Arabic children’s books, and the joy of reading.

There are several reasons why Al-Malki believes that Arabic is being spoken less on a social level, especially in major Gulf cities that tend to be more expat-heavy than the Levant region.

The real change, she says, should start with places where children spend most of their time: at home and school. The way Arabic is being taught in the classroom requires a facelift, introducing innovation, fun, creativity — in other words, a modern mindset.




Parents have to make it a priority to focus on teaching their children Arabic, says educator Nahla Al-Malki. (Shutterstock)

“I don’t want to put the blame on teachers, because they are very keen and putting (in) so much effort. But there are some basic tools that they still don’t know about,” said Al-Malki.

“They’ve been teaching the Arabic language the same way for over 60-70 years. It’s not wrong for us to question and reflect, because this generation is not the same as the one before, and things are always changing.”

Al-Malki recommends implementing “contextualized learning,” meaning, “bringing the students’ lives into the classroom and thinking about what their interests are. It’s important to read stories in the classroom that are appealing to the students.”

“In an English lesson, they’d be talking about where they traveled last summer or their favorite footballer. But in Arabic, it’s very abstract and dry.” This line of thinking can also be applied, in Al-Malki’s opinion, to children’s story books written in Arabic.




Syrian educational consultant and children’s book author Nahla Al-Malki. (Supplied)

“The main element about children’s books in English is that when you pick them up, you’re enjoying the words, the rhyming, the imagery, the laughter,” she said. “While in Arabic, most of our books are about the moral of the story.

“There are some good books, but the majority still underestimate a child’s ability to imagine and create their own stories and analyze. It’s just not as enjoyable, and I wanted to be part of that change.”

To address this insidious problem, Al-Malki plans to release her first children’s book in 2024, focusing on a central character who goes through different events.


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Al-Malki says that, at home, it is crucial for children to converse in Arabic, listen to Arabic music, and watch Arabic cartoons to make sure that Arabic is truly their mother tongue.

“It really starts at home. If I were to summarize everything, it’s all about the parents making it a priority to focus on Arabic,” she said.

“There also needs to be a shift in the mindset of thinking, ‘it’s impossible to speak Arabic.’ Every little bit counts, even if you start reading with them five minutes per day and then increase it as you go; I think it’s very important.”




At home, it is crucial for children to converse in Arabic, listen to Arabic music, and watch Arabic cartoons to make sure that Arabic is truly their mother tongue, says educator Nahla Al-Malki. (Shutterstock) 

She added: “Just because the majority of movies and books around us are in English, it doesn’t mean that we can’t speak Arabic. If you look at all the other expat communities, like the French, Chinese or German, they are still speaking their language. Why are we the only ones that aren’t?”

There are also some geopolitical factors to consider in this linguistic problem. Because of instability in many countries of the Middle East, large numbers of Arabic-speaking people are migrating, especially to Europe and North America, which can impact how often they get to use their mother tongue and are in tune with their customs.

Al-Malki also points to the class dynamics of maintaining one’s mother tongue. “When you’re speaking English or French with your children, it gives you a level of prestige,” she said.

“You are educated and better than some. It gives the implication that maybe you carry a different passport or nationality. It’s the idea of status and that English or a second language will open up all these horizons for you.”




Whether at home or in school, Arabic should be taught with innovation, fun, and creativity, says educator Nahla Al-Malki. (Shutterstock)

Despite the hurdles, there is hope. Al-Malki says that her videos are well-received by followers, some of whom are not even from the Arab world. She hopes to one day establish a larger platform that gives the community more tangible tools on how to support their children.

She also feels that some changes are starting to happen, thanks to initiatives launched in the Arab world’s publishing and design fields that seek to preserve the beauty of the Arabic language.

“When you speak Arabic, you adopt a different body language. You speak differently, stand up differently. You use different expressions. So, when we’re losing that, we’re losing the culture, the jokes, the music, the traditions,” said Al-Malki.

“There is a generation of people, parents, educators right now that are waking up to this issue and realizing that language is such an important part of identity.”

 


Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack

Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack
Updated 22 April 2024
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Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack

Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack
  • Aharon Haliva becomes the first senior Israeli figure to step down over Hamas’ attack
  • Hamas fighters rampaged through Israeli territories unchallenged, killing 1,200 on Oct. 7

TEL AVIV: The head of Israel’s military intelligence directorate resigned on Monday over the failures surrounding Hamas’ unprecedented Oct. 7 attack, the military said, becoming the first senior figure to step down over his role in the deadliest assault in Israel’s history.

Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva’s resignation sets the stage for what’s expected to be more fallout from Israel’s top security brass over Hamas’ attack, when militants blasted through Israel’s border defenses, rampaged through Israeli communities unchallenged for hours and killed 1,200 people, most civilians, while taking roughly 250 hostages into Gaza. That attack set off the war against Hamas in Gaza, now in its seventh month.

The military said in a statement that Haliva had asked to end his service “following his leadership responsibility.” Shortly after the war, Haliva had publicly said that he shouldered blame for not preventing the assault at the head of the military department responsible for providing the government and the military with intelligence warnings and daily alerts.

The military said in the statement that the military chief of staff accepted Haliva’s request to resign and thanked him for his service.

Haliva, as well as other military and security leaders, were widely expected to resign in response to the glaring failures that led up to Oct. 7 and those that made it such a devastating attack.

But the timing of the resignations is unclear because Israel is still fighting Hamas in Gaza and battling the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in the north. Tensions with Iran are also at a high following attacks between the two enemies.

While Haliva and others have accepted blame for failing to stop the attack, others have stopped short, most notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said he will answer tough questions about his role but has not outright acknowledged any responsibility for allowing the attack to unfold.


Iran says nuclear weapons have no place in its nuclear doctrine

Iran says nuclear weapons have no place in its nuclear doctrine
Updated 22 April 2024
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Iran says nuclear weapons have no place in its nuclear doctrine

Iran says nuclear weapons have no place in its nuclear doctrine
  • Tehran’s nuclear program banned the development of nuclear weapons in a fatwa

DUBAI: Nuclear weapons have no place in Iran’s nuclear doctrine, the country’s foreign ministry said on Monday, days after a Revolutionary Guards commander warned that Tehran might change its nuclear policy if pressured by Israeli threats.
“Iran has repeatedly said its nuclear program only serves peaceful purposes. Nuclear weapons have no place in our nuclear doctrine,” ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani said during a press conference in Tehran.
Following a spike in tensions with Israel, the Guards commander in charge of nuclear security Ahmad Haghtalab said last week that Israeli threats could push Tehran to “review its nuclear doctrine and deviate from its previous considerations.”
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on Tehran’s nuclear program, banned the development of nuclear weapons in a fatwa, or religious decree, in the early 2000s.


Two injured in Jerusalem car ramming attack: police

Two injured in Jerusalem car ramming attack: police
Updated 22 April 2024
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Two injured in Jerusalem car ramming attack: police

Two injured in Jerusalem car ramming attack: police
  • incident occurred on Techelet Mordechai street in Jerusalem on a day when Israeli Jews marked the start of the Passover holidays

Jerusalem: Two civilians were injured in a car ramming attack in Jerusalem on Monday morning, the Israeli police said, adding that they were searching for suspected assailants who fled on foot.
The incident occurred on Techelet Mordechai street in Jerusalem on a day when Israeli Jews marked the start of the Passover holidays.
“A short time ago, a report was received that two civilians had been run over on Techelet Mordechai Street in Jerusalem, resulting in minor injuries,” the police said in a statement.
“Two terrorists fled the scene on foot and an improvised weapon... was found on their escape route,” it said, adding security forces were searching for the suspects.
Medics from the Magen David Adom emergency service said the two injured were aged 18 and 22.
Footage from security cameras posted on several Israeli news websites showed a white car ramming into a group of people at a street corner.
The car later hits another parked vehicle after which two men step out, with one of the assailants seen attempting to fire a gun.
Seconds later, the two are seen walking away from the site.
Several car ramming attacks have been reported since last year in a number of Israeli cities and in settlements in the occupied West Bank.


Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack

Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack
Updated 22 April 2024
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Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack

Israeli military intelligence chief resigns over failure to prevent Oct. 7 attack
  • Aharon Haliva becomes the first senior Israeli figure to step down over Hamas’ attack

TEL AVIV: The head of Israel’s military intelligence directorate resigned on Monday over the failures surrounding Hamas’ unprecedented Oct. 7 attack, the military said, becoming the first senior figure to step down over his role in the deadliest assault in Israel’s history.
Maj. Gen. Aharon Haliva’s resignation sets the stage for what’s expected to be more fallout from Israel’s top security brass over Hamas’ attack, when militants blasted through Israel’s border defenses, rampaged through Israeli communities unchallenged for hours and killed 1,200 people, most civilians, while taking roughly 250 hostages into Gaza. That attack set off the war against Hamas in Gaza, now in its seventh month.
The military said in a statement that Haliva had asked to end his service “following his leadership responsibility.” Shortly after the war, Haliva had publicly said that he shouldered blame for not preventing the assault at the head of the military department responsible for providing the government and the military with intelligence warnings and daily alerts.
The military said in the statement that the military chief of staff accepted Haliva’s request to resign and thanked him for his service.
Haliva, as well as other military and security leaders, were widely expected to resign in response to the glaring failures that led up to Oct. 7 and those that made it such a devastating attack.
But the timing of the resignations is unclear, because Israel is still fighting Hamas in Gaza and battling the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah in the north. Tensions with Iran are also at a high following attacks between the two enemies.
While Haliva and others have accepted blame for failing to stop the attack, others have stopped short, most notably Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has said he will answer tough questions about his role but has not outright acknowledged any responsibility for allowing the attack to unfold.


Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package

Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package
Updated 22 April 2024
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Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package

Israel strikes on Rafah kill 22, mostly children, as US advances aid package
  • Latest bombardments came as US House of Representatives approved $13 billion in new Israeli military aid
  • Israel has carried out near-daily air raids on Rafah, where over half of Gaza’s 2.3 million people have sought refuge

RAFAH, Gaza Strip: Israeli strikes on the southern Gaza city of Rafah overnight killed 22 people, including 18 children, health officials said Sunday, as violence flared in the occupied West Bank.

The latest bombardments came as the US House of Representatives approved $13 billion in new Israeli military aid even as global criticism mounts over the death toll and dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

However, fears of wider war breaking out in the Middle East have eased somewhat after Iran downplayed Israel’s reported retaliation over its unprecedented missile and drone attack on the country a week ago.

Attention has turned back toward the war in Gaza, which Israel hit with several strikes overnight, according to the Palestinian territory’s Civil Defense agency.

Israel has carried out near-daily air raids on Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million has sought refuge from fighting elsewhere. It has also vowed to expand its ground offensive against the Hamas militant group to the city on the border with Egypt despite calls for restraint, including from the US.

“In the coming days, we will increase the political and military pressure on Hamas because this is the only way to bring back our hostages and achieve victory. We will land more and painful blows on Hamas — soon,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. He didn’t give details.

Smoke rises following Israeli strikes, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on April 21, 2024. (REUTERS)

The first Israeli strike in Rafah killed a man, his wife and their 3-year-old child, according to the nearby Kuwaiti Hospital, which received the bodies. The woman was pregnant and the doctors saved the baby, the hospital said. The second strike killed 17 children and two women from an extended family.

Resident Umm Hassan Kloub, 35, said her children screamed when they “woke up to a nightmare of an explosion.”

“Every second we live in terror, even the sound of Israeli aircraft doesn’t stop,” she said.

“We don’t know whether we will live or die. This is not life.”

“These children were sleeping. What did they do? What was their fault?” asked one relative, Umm Kareem. Mohammed Al-Beheiri said that his daughter, Rasha, and her six children, the youngest 18 months old, were among those killed. A woman and three children were still under the rubble.

The Israel-Hamas war has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, according to local health officials, at least two-thirds of them children and women. It has devastated Gaza’s two largest cities and left a swath of destruction. Around 80 percent of the territory’s population have fled to other parts of the besieged coastal enclave.

The $26 billion aid package approved by the US House of Representatives on Saturday includes around $9 billion in humanitarian assistance for Gaza, which experts say is on the brink of famine. The US Senate could pass the package as soon as Tuesday, and President Joe Biden has promised to sign it immediately.

The conflict, now in its seventh month, has sparked regional unrest pitting Israel and the US against Iran and allied militant groups across the Middle East. Israel and Iran traded fire directly this month, raising fears of all-out war.

Tensions have also spiked in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israeli troops killed two Palestinians who the military says attacked a checkpoint with a knife and a gun near the southern West Bank town of Hebron early Sunday. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that the two killed were 18 and 19, from the same family. No Israeli forces were wounded, the army said.

Later, the military said its forces shot dead a 43-year-old Palestinian woman after she tried to stab a soldier in the northern West Bank near Beka’ot settlement.

The Palestinian Red Crescent rescue service said that it had recovered 14 bodies from an Israeli raid in the Nur Shams urban refugee camp in the West Bank that began late Thursday. Those killed include three militants from the Islamic Jihad group and a 15-year-old boy.

The military said it killed 14 militants and arrested eight suspects. Ten Israeli soldiers and one border police officer were wounded.

In a separate incident in the West Bank, an Israeli man was wounded in an explosion on Sunday, the Magen David Adom rescue service said. A video circulating online shows a man approaching a Palestinian flag planted in a field. When he kicks it, it appears to trigger an explosive device.

Israel blames Hamas for civilian casualties because the militants fight in dense, residential neighborhoods. The military rarely comments on individual strikes, which often kill women and children. The military says it has killed more than 13,000 Hamas fighters, without providing evidence.

US military aid

Much of the new military assistance approved by the US House of Representatives on Saturday was expected to be used to reinforce Israel’s air defenses.

Israel welcomed the aid, while Hamas condemned it as a “green light” for continued Israeli “aggression.”

The US bill said that more than $9 billion will also be earmarked to address “the dire need for humanitarian assistance for Gaza as well as other vulnerable populations around the world.”

The boost for Israel’s defenses comes after almost all of the more than 300 missiles and drones that Iran launched toward the country a week ago were intercepted, according to the Israeli military.

Israel had vowed to respond to Iran’s first-ever attack on its territory, which was itself retaliation for a deadly April 1 strike on Iran’s embassy consular annex in Damascus.

Iran blamed Israel for that attack.

Israel’s response appeared to come on Friday when explosions were reported in the central Iranian province of Isfahan.

Israeli officials have made no public comment, and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian downplayed the incident.

He told NBC News that Tehran would not respond “as long as there is no new adventure on behalf of the Israeli regime against Iran’s interests.”

On Sunday, Israel said it will hold a “protest talk” with ambassadors from several United Nations Security Council members which voted for the “State of Palestine” to become a full UN member.

France, Japan and others backed the bid which the United States vetoed.

Israel has faced growing global opposition to the war, which has turned vast areas of Gaza into rubble while a siege has left residents without enough water, food, medicines and other vital supplies.

The population “faces famine, malnutrition, and infectious disease outbreaks,” the International Rescue Committee charity warned this week.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also come under pressure within Israel, including to reach a deal for the release of hostages still held by Hamas. Israel estimates 129 captives remain in Gaza, including 34 who the military says are dead.

Families of the hostages were among thousands attending an anti-government protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday night.

Ofir Angrest, whose brother Matan was kidnapped on October 7, called for Jewish Israelis to leave an empty chair at their traditional Seder meals marking the beginning of the holiday Passover on Monday.

“Enough! After more than six months, you’re simply disrespecting me and the families of the hostages,” Angrest said, adding that he was addressing the Israeli cabinet.

(With Agencies)