Welcome to the Arabic Language Discussion Forum

Being a retired professor of Arabic and Linguistics, I have elected to publish an archive on how the Arabic language is used in America and across cultures.

I hope to establish a dialogue with people interested in the language, the teaching of the language, the learning of the language, and the interaction of Arabic and English while learning the language.

I am also interested in having a discussion as to the use of Arabic within the contexts of globalization.

Arabic is very much a language that binds a culture and defines a people. This blog is dedicated to understanding how American use, learn, and teach the Arabic language, and how Arabic, in Arab countries has been impacted crossculturally.

Sep 4, 2009

Globalization and the teaching of critical languages

Copyright © 2009 Aleya Rouchdy, All Rights Reserved

Despite the fact that the US consists of numerous ethnic and racial groups, its educational system has failed terribly to emphasize the importance of learning foreign languages and cultures.

Recently, however, there were discussions in the American media about the lack of American aptitude in understanding people in different cultural settings, and on the significance of learning foreign languages. The events of 9/11, the Iraqi war and the crisis in Iran and Afghanistan spurred such discussions.

In a statement by Dr. Robert O. Slater, Director of the National Security Education Program (NSEP), before the House Armed Services Committee (9/23/2008) stressed the need "to more effectively communicate in a wide array of critical languages" and to be more "adept and adroit in regional and local culture."

The NSEP "from within" the Department of Defense has been working with the US Education Department to create programs that will train Americans to be linguistically and culturally aware of other cultures.

In 2004 the Department of Defense and the Center for Advanced Study of Language at the University of Maryland sponsored a Language Conference to address the issue of how to increase the number of Americans learning critical foreign languages. The President formally announced the plan in January 2006 as the "National Security Language Initiative (NSL).

Presently, there are many federally funded programs that academic institutions have competed for and obtained. Many institutions have created effective educational language programs (see details in the full report by Robert O. Slate ,9/23/2008).

It is obvious that the study of foreign languages in our American academic institutions has taken a different path. The discussion of international programs offerings has been politicized, and the teaching of foreign languages and cultures is considered a contribution to national security.

Some academicians are still objecting to the NSL language planning initiative. However, we are all aware that the US is a leading power in advocating globalization, and that the American education system must drastically improve the "concept of global education." Hence, we have to train Americans to be linguistically and culturally more suave and aware of other cultures.

Do you have any constructive suggestions about the teaching of a critical language, such as Arabic, in American academic institutions?


  1. As the Arabic saying goes 'Kul Lisaan be Insan', and as a multilingual I support bilingualism. However, I believe that English should be the primary language used in science and math learning,and the 'Other' language(s) teaching should concentrate on the literature and culture of their respective peoples. Today,the global economy necessitates using English as the language of communications in engineering and the sciences.

  2. The lack of bilingual communication has always been an obvious weakness of Americans in a multi-national setting.

    Other countries teach foreign languages beginning with elementary education. In the U.S., languages are usually not offered before middle school and at that point they are an elective.

    I myself was raised in a bilingual home (Arabic) and I studied French in high school. Both of these languages helped my cognitive skills in immeasurable ways. I had a great advantage over other Americans because I could understand French and German, even if I never spoke them in the business setting.

    However, now my business takes me to Asia quite often where I must rely on others to translate for me. It is a huge handicap to not speak the language that is spoken in a meeting. Quite often one is notified of decisions after the meeting. It is a great disadvantage and I really wish that I had the time to learn Chinese and possibly Korean.

    Even so my bilingual roots allow me to pick up some elements of the language and actually navigate among non-English speakers in China and Korea, in non-business settings. It is a huge advantage for me to be able to go to a grocery store or take a taxi where no one speaks English.

    The bottom line is that people should be educated as multi-lingual from a very early age. I actually believe that one extra language is not enough. I also can attest from first hand experience that bilinguals are much more able to learn an additional language than monolinguals. Furthermore the language acquisition process makes the individual much more capable of learning new things in general.

  3. The point of departure is to persuade the students in the early age to be bilingual. People won’t be interested in studying a foreign language until they know the significance of bilingualism for both their personality and career. My wife and I took a conscious decision to encourage our children to be bilinguals or even trilingual if possible.
    I remember when in high school we had to study either French or German as a second European language in addition to English, both departments were competing to convince us which language we should choose and the opportunities awaiting for us when we master such language. I recently watched a program about the health of the brain. The presenter mentioned that all studies suggest that learning other language helps rejuvenating the brain’s cells.
    I am currently learning, informally, Urdu (There are between 60 and 80 million native speakers of standard Urdu and is the fifth most spoken language in the world) because I live with Indo-Pak community whom I teach Arabic. It is really interesting to find the similarities between Arabic and Urdu in all linguistic levels; phonology, lexical, syntax and semantic. They told me I learn fast, which encourages me to learn more.

  4. Being a Chinese-English bilingual, I feel that my background, spectrum of interest and knowledge is not 1 + 1 =2 but 1 + 1 > 2. It has always been fun for me to compare the two cultures and languages, which helps me to understand each side better. When I feel down in one culture, I can alwasy, safely, use the other one as an excuse. Researchers have shown that bilingual children view the world differently from monolingual children. Actually most of the world's population is multi-lingual. But being very practical, some people are even ashamed of their multi-lingualism. I feel that in China, the ethnic mininority's languages should be strengthend too. For example, Monolian, Ughur, and Bai. In order to succeed in the Han-dominant world, sometimes, people give up their first language. It's sad. It's true that there is always a dominant lingua-franca in any community, but at least we can let people learn to cherish their own language, their very important facgor of self-identity.