Op-Ed Reaction to Khalil Ali Haider: "The Spaniards Do Not Want to Learn Arabic"

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As a person teaching Spanish to some of the most diligent, interested Kuwaiti students of the language, I couldn't help but being intrigued by this op-ed. I agree with Mr. Khalil on many points. Spaniards are very lazy at learning languages, and can't seem to be bothered. Arabic, unfortunately, is just another victim to this. More critically, however, the Spaniards don't want to learn English either. Spain has one of the lowest rates of English fluency in the entire European Union. Its really a national embarrassment for me. To be honest with you, before promoting any other second language, English needs to be invested in heavily in Spain to bring the country's citizens to international standards regarding understanding of the English language, perhaps then we can focus on other foreign languages, such as the author writes, Arabic or Chinese.

Spain also has an integration problem. In comparison to other European countries, Spain has only recently had waves of migration into the country, and its immigrant population is still relatively new. How Spain is able to integrate the children of these first-generation citizens, will depend on how well Spain can educate its people on multiculturalism, tolerance for diversity and battling of racism--which is, unfortunately, notoriously horrible in Spain, as many national public embarrassments during several international sporting competitions can attest. For a long time, Spain was an immigrant-exporting country, and the people must never forget this fact in their discussion of integration and migration in the present day.

Now, regarding the promotion of the Arabic language, something that perhaps the promoters could learn from. Spain has what we might call soft or cultural diplomacy, in the form of El Instituto Cervantes, a center for Spanish cultural promotion and language abroad. They have offices all over the world. This is similiar to perhaps the British Council. Why not begin one focused on the Arabic language?

Last month, a Spanish citizen poured icy cold water on the Arab-Spanish cultural relations and at the same time offered it a beautiful rose. On Jan. 1, 2010 Al-Sharq Al-Awsat newspaper reported that the local government in Andalusia Province's latest bill to teach the Arabic language as a second foreign language in educational institutions was met with strong oppositions.

The newspaper's correspondent Subaih Sadiq said that the bill aims at integrating Arab and Roman immigrants into the Spanish society. The concerned committee suggested allocating 25 million euro until 2013 to implement the proposal. The bill suggests teaching Arabic as a second foreign language in the Andalusia Province and urging educational institutions to open Arabic departments. 400 opponents commented on the bill through an electronic newspaper.

Some said that: "Teaching Arabic will not benefit them. The government should encourage studying Spanish instead." Others said: "We have always been studying English and French and now they want to teach us Arabic?" Others said: "There is no doubt that studying languages is important but what is the point of studying Arabic? All those who come to our country should study our language instead of teaching us their language." An extremist said: "I hope that Catholic rulers could be in power to dismiss them again."

Two days later, there were several calls to cancel the Official holiday of Granada on Jan. 2 which was the day when the last Arab kingdom in Andalusia fell in 1492. Granada celebrates the occasion at official and public levels. The Granada Society has announced that it would organize a celebration for dialogue among civilizations and against the fall of Granada as well as to honor the Gypsies, Jews and Arabs who were dismissed from Andalusia.

The Andalusia People's Society issued a statement in which it said: "We want to express our rejection of celebrating the fall of Granada and we call for cancelling this celebration and to replace it by June 26 as the National Day of Granada, which was the day when Maryana Beneida (1804-1831) was executed. Maryana was known for her opposition to oppression and autocracy in Madrid. (Al-Sharq Al-Awsat 3/1/2010).

If there was a proposal to teach the Chinese language in Spain, would the responses of Spanish authorities be the same? I don't know. Many schools in the US, and perhaps in Europe, encourage teaching Arabic. It is said that the annual salary of a translator working for the US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan is more than 180,000 US dollars. In the past we used to fear the Europeans who studied Arabic. Nowadays, the new generations in Europe have no interest in learning Arabic.
(link here)

4 Responses on "Op-Ed Reaction to Khalil Ali Haider: "The Spaniards Do Not Want to Learn Arabic""

  1. Anonymous says:

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    Anonymous says:

    Interesting article.

    To be honest, I think the author is making too much of the rejection, European countries tend to teach European languages. Very rarely will you find them teaching non-European languages, partly because of an EU recommendation that requests that schoolchildren be taught two European languages in addition to the main language.

    Many schools were already annoyed at being nudged to teach two languages (the EU decided on two so that continental schools don't just teach English and forget about other languages). Anyway, the point is that schools just don't have the resources to teach non-European languages and therefore don't bother.

    I went to a school that specialises in language teaching and although they've been teaching French, German, Latin, Spanish and Italian for a long time, they only recently started teaching Mandarin and have no plans to teach Arabic as of yet.

    Let's face it, Arabic isn't the easiest language to learn

    Anonymous says:
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    Victoria says:

    Shafiq, I agree with you too. in part because of the EU's fault, there is too much sensitivity attached to the fact that they choose not to teach arabic...its just a logistical problem, as you say. nothing personal! i thought it DOES highlight however, spain's overall stagnation when it comes to ensure they learn second languages, be they whatever.