By RIYADH: ABDUL HANNAN TAGO - ARAB NEWS - The Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALECSO) said the Arabic language is the mainstay of the identity of all Arabs as well as the protective shield of their culture to contain the treasures of their heritage and embrace the creativity of contemporary intellectual and literary pursuits.
ALECSO said this in a statement issued from its headquarters in Tunisia on the occasion of the Arabic Language Day, marked every year on March 1.
The statement said the Arabic language is well equipped to play the role it played in the past of uniting Arabs in the heart of a great nation consistent with its position as the lingua franca of nations and the hallmark of urbanity and progress. It called on the Arabs to reflect on the reality of their language in the light of the campaigns of alienation and the spread of dialects, warning of the danger confronting the Arab child who is not allowed to use his own language under pressure to learn other languages.
ALECSO attributed the linguistic reality to the deteriorating power of language and the absence of vigilance that ensures the integrity of the national language with a legal power to intervene immediately to protect Arabic studies. It also called for reforms to rectify the mistakes committed in the past.
The organization underlined the need for skilled manpower in Arabic able to translate scientific terms in all fields of knowledge and human activity into Arabic. It noted that teaching science and other subjects in Arabic at more Arab universities is better than teaching them in foreign languages in order to remain up to date in the era of modern technology and sciences.
According to that thinking, in the future, the use of Arabic language should remain focused on ways to take it out of this difficult situation, which has prevented Arabic from occupying its rightful place in the world of languages of most advanced nations.
In his presentation at the Global Education Forum recently in Riyadh, Ahmad Sayyed Khalil, director of the ALECSO education department in Tunisia, stressed the need for developing Arabic information and communications technology in the interest of promoting Arabic work as part of the education system in the Arab world.
“They should prepare an Arabic electronic information system for maintaining IT institutions and encouraging both public and private Arabic institutions to undertake translations from and into scientifically rich languages to enhance their creative and scientific aspects in future,” Khalil said.
In this connection, Julian Johansen, a British Arabist who works as a legal adviser and is a partner at Allen & Overy international law firm in association with Abdulaziz AlGasim Law Firm in Riyadh, told Arab News that his ability to speak Arabic made him feel more comfortable in the local environment, enabling him to review and prepare Arabic legal documentation. “I would encourage foreigners to learn Arabic as an enhancement of personal and professional life.”
Arabic gave Johansen business opportunities not only in Saudi Arabia, but also in the rest of the Gulf, where he has worked for 12 years. “When I started studying Arabic aged 19, I had no idea I would end up using it professionally, as I was simply interested in the language for its own sake. Working in Saudi Arabia has given me the perfect opportunity to maintain that interest, while using the language in my work."
Being one of the few British nationals who have mastered the language and speak it fluently, Johansen reviews and drafts contracts in Arabic and English, and vets them for grammatical mistakes before sending them out to clients. He was trained in classical Arabic at the University of Oxford, but he was able to learn colloquial Arabic during a three-year stint in Egypt, while maintaining his interest in Arabic literature.
Talking about his experience here, Johansen said some Saudi friends speak with him in classical Arabic, but others prefer to use English. However, for him, knowing the language makes him feel at ease with the local people and has other benefits too. “In the Middle East, people are very appreciative of anyone making an effort, however modest, to learn the language.”
Explaining how he benefited from speaking Arabic and working at a law office, he said, "Every day is an Arabic Language Day for me, as I use it daily in my work. I benefit from the language in two obvious ways: firstly in my line of work, as I need to liaise with people who prefer to speak in Arabic and I need to prepare documents in Arabic, and secondly, the ability to speak the language makes me more at ease in the local environment. It is good to know that if you are lost in the city, you can ask anyone for help."