So, the trend among international schools here in Jordan seems to be focusing on delivering all classes except Arabic, religion, and social studies in English. I’ve been thinking a bit lately about whether this is a good thing. I have to admit, it worries me a bit. On the playgrounds of these schools you hear mostly heavily accented English. Often that accent is Filipina or Indonesian rather than one of the common Arab accents. I even have friends struggling with their kids speaking this way when one of the parents is a native English speaker. From personal experience, I can tell you it’s hard to hold out. After all, that’s what they hear and what is easily understood. So, it’s natural that they slip into it.
El 3atal and I moved to Jordan to get the Beans some fluency in Arabic. It’s been a hard road… and we’re not there yet. ButterBean’s comprehension is literally better than many of her peers who have mostly Arabic at home. Her spoken Arabic is still weak, mostly because she’s shy to speak and all of her friends speak English. JujuBean is much the same. Her standard Arabic improves continually, her spoken not as much. Our reason for coming removed some schools from consideration for us. After all, places like American Community School and Modern American School teach Arabic as a second language one a week or every day, it doesn’t matter. It is taught as a language rather than being the language of instruction. So, we didn’t consider them. Now, more and more schools have popped up with this seeming philosophy. Schools like IAA and Mashreq and Amman Academy. They are all sending out affluent children whose English is likely to be better than their Arabic. And is this something that should worry us?
In a society like Jordan, movement among classes is beyond difficult. Often it seems impossible. The child of a garbage man is not going to be a CEO or Prime Minister (see Jaraad’s comment o my previous post). Moving from lower class to upper class is becoming harder, not easier, as the days pass. And, the middle class is shrinking. This means the disparity between rich and poor is becoming a larger and larger gulf. Once it was about money and social standing. Now, I think it’s beginning to include language as well. If most of the schools that enroll the majority of the affluent students teach in English and reward those skills, what incentive is there for students to learn Arabic? These students are not likely to take the Tawjihi (a whole different topic and a move I think is the right one. The government needs to be listening to the fact that its most educated population thinks Tawjihi is not the right approach). So, when, then, and why would they spend time really understanding Arabic as a beautiful language?
And if this population doesn’t learn Arabic, what will that mean for the workplace of tomorrow? Will we have a cadre of owners and managers who can’t speak the same language as their supervisors and workers? How will any company develop a common culture when there isn’t a common language? And how will private industry relate to government, which is filled with folks who completed Tawjihi and use Arabic as the language of choice? What implications does it have on that already widening gulf?
For us, our kids understanding Arabic was as much about understanding themselves as complete people, 1/2 Jordanian, 1/2 American, half English-speaking, half Arabic. I didn’t want children who didn’t understand their father’s culture, and language is a big part of that. After all, can you rail at the oldest son in America who fails to name his first son after granddad if you raised him 100% American. If you never gave him a language or cultural concept of himself as Arab, why would you expect him to be when a baby comes? So, I wonder, is language important? Or is it okay that much of affluent Jordan is writing it off as a life skill for their kids?