The most common reason Egyptian parents seem to give for exposing their children to English-language books instead of Arabic ones is neither the difficulty of MSA Arabic, nor the lack of quality kids books in Arabic.
I spoke this weekend with a bookseller who told me that the reason most often given is that—and I’ve heard this one, too—is that “they already know Arabic.”
Well, Isn’t It True? They Do Know Arabic….
It’s an interesting argument. But first, let’s transport it.
In North America and the U.K., “they already know English” (by and large), and yet these goofy parents continue to buy English-language books for their children—not books in Chinese or French or Arabic.
Why is that? Are U.S. and U.K. parents not as interested in the larger world as Egyptians? (Probably.) Do they not love their children as much? (Oh, I don’t know about that.) Are they doing their children a disservice by giving them books in a language they “already know”? (Um, no.)
Why should English-speakers buy English-language books for their children? First, children don’t already know the written language. No one understands and appreciates a written language just because they can speak it—and this is double the case with Arabic, where mastery of both colloquial and standard Arabics is required.
But it’s even true of English: learning to speak is not the same as learning to read and write. To master a language, one must read it, savor it, write it.
Jack of All Languages, Master of None
Behind the argument that “they already know Arabic” lurks another: Arabic will never get them anywhere in this world; if they want to succeed, they must know English.
And yes, I will grant you that, in the contemporary economy, knowledge of dominant languages is usually more valuable than knowledge of “dominated” languages.
But is a “dominant” language all your child needs to succeed? Can your child achieve perfect fluency in this second language? If so, how?
Learning Arabic Can Help Your Child Learn English….
Yes, the languages can indeed work together: A greater love for and appreciation of the Arabic language and Arabic stories can feed a love of English language and stories, and vice versa. Reading to your child in Arabic every day doesn’t rob her of exposure to English: It enhances her ability to think critically, to understand different points of view, and to appreciate written language, and to learn English.
P. Gurrey: “The teaching of the mother tongue and the teaching of a foreign language can support and assist each other.”
W. H. Ryburn: “Any emphasis laid on the mother-tongue will have a good effect on the standard of English.”
Dr. Vijay K. Sevak “If the mother-tongue is well taught, the teaching of it will help the learning of a new language.”
And, of course, all of this reading makes your child smarter.