“He who knows no foreign languages knows nothing of his own.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
There are over 150,000 Arabic speakers in the UK. Around the world, there are 420 million Arabic speakers. Of these speakers, there's a huge amount of variation between one variant of Arabic and the next, meaning that a speaker or Arabic from one country mightn't necessarily understand a speaker from another country.
Usually, when teaching Arabic, students will learn Modern Standard Arabic, a variant of the language that's used in legal, political, and literary settings to ensure that there's a version of the language that everyone can understand, even if they don't tend to use it in their everyday lives.
While Modern Standard Arabic is widely taught in Arabic speaking countries, Arabic as a school subject isn’t commonly taught in schools in the UK except for Muslim faith schools. That said, that doesn't mean there aren't any opportunities for students in UK schools to learn the language.
Here’s how you can learn Arabic in school.
Arabic: A Language That’s Been Sidelined
Students learning Arabic can be a bit of a touchy subject in the UK. There are some who believe that it overly promotes Islam whereas others see it as a cultural bridge to the speakers of the language and those who practise Islam. As we mentioned, Arabic is a language spoken by millions of people all over the world and you can't discount the validity of an entire language just because of the actions of some of the people who speak it. If that was the case, English would have a lot to answer for.
What this means for students in the UK is that it’s far from being the most commonly taught language in secondary schools. The traditionally-taught languages like French, German, Italian, and Spanish are still more popular.
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There has been a drop in popularity for some of these languages as the lesser-taught languages like Arabic, Portuguese, and Polish become more popular among the children of immigrant families and native Britons. Overall, the number of students taking languages at GCSE is dropping, though. The hardest-hit languages are German, French, and Welsh. In addition to an increase in Arabic GCSEs, more students are also studying Russian, Turkish, Spanish, and Italian.
- 3,576 students studied Arabic at GCSE.
- This is up 67% from 2011.
- Most of these numbers are still in Muslim faith schools.
In comparison to French, which was studied by 130,790 students, these numbers are relatively low. That said, these numbers don’t really consider the availability of Arabic classes at GCSE and, as we mentioned, it’s usually only in faith schools where it’s being taught.
However, there are some non-faith schools where you can learn Arabic, too, but with all the other languages available, it’s more likely that you’ll be offered GCSEs in French, German, Spanish, Italian, etc. Generally, students are taught a second language from their first year in secondary school. They’re given options later on as to which foreign language they’ll take at GCSE.
If they haven’t had the option to study Arabic earlier on at school, it’s unlikely that it’ll be an option later at school but students interested in learning Arabic can always look to lessons outside of their schools.
Learning Arabic at Primary School
Learning Arabic at primary school is incredibly rare but there are a handful of schools that offer it. Again, some parents don’t want to see Arabic being taught in primary or secondary schools. It’s unlikely that Arabic’s going to overtake the most popular languages taught at primary schools any time soon.
That said, it’s always a good idea to start learning a language from as young an age as possible. While there are plenty of benefits to learning a language from a young age and plenty of benefits to learning Arabic, few primary schools are enthusiastic about doing it. For young children wanting to learn Arabic, they’ll need to get lessons outside of their schooling either from dedicated language schools or teachers.
Arabic at Secondary School
Arabic courses at secondary school are also quite rare. In the UK, the best chance a student has of learning Arabic will be at a Muslim faith school as the language will be taught as a foreign language but also to help with the understanding and reading of the Quran. However, that doesn't mean that these are the only schools where classes are taught.
If you're interested in learning Arabic and it's taught at your school, you're very lucky as not many students will have this opportunity. Generally, if you want to get a GCSE or A Level in Arabic and aren't at a school where it's taught, you may have to take lessons outside of school or learn online.
Finished with school?
Learning Arabic Outside of School
Your Arabic journey doesn't have to end just because it isn't a subject taught at school. There are many ways for students to follow an Arabic course or get lessons either with private tutors, by studying online, or by attending classes elsewhere.
You can learn about the culture of the Arabic speaking world and the language from a private Arabic class which will sometime even be taught at your school on an evening then the regular students have all gone home.
You may be thinking that if you learn Arabic outside of school, you won't be able to get any recognised qualifications in the language. Don't worry! When it comes to GCSE and A Levels, a student can always register to sit an exam even if it's not one of the subjects they've been studying at school. Mature students can do the same if they're after a GCSE or A Level in any subject.
If you're interested in studying Arabic outside of school or university, consider learning with a private tutor on Superprof! When it comes to languages, learning with a private tutor is one of the most effective ways to improve your linguistic skills.
On Superprof, the tutors offer different types of tutorials so think carefully about which will work right for you, your learning objectives, and your preferred learning style.
Face-to-face tutorials, for example, are between just you and your tutor. This means that not only will the tutorials be tailored to you and what you want to learn, but every minute of the tutorial will also be spent focusing on you as the tutor won't have other students to worry about. Regularly practising a language and getting feedback are the best ways to learn a language and face-to-face tutorials give you an opportunity to do this.
For those on a budget, group tutorials are a good way to split the cost of the tutor's time and expertise. While you won't get the tutor's undivided attention, there will be other students in the class for you to practise speaking Arabic with. You won't get as much say when it comes to the content of the classes, but you can save some money. This option is also good for those who may feel intimidated by having to always speak to the tutor in class, especially given that their level in Arabic is going to be much higher than yours.
Finally, if you can't find any suitable tutors working in your local area, remember that you can broaden your search to all over the world. As long as you have a webcam and a decent internet connection, you can learn Arabic from tutors all over the world. This means that your tutor could be a native Arabic speaker from an Arabic-speaking country! As they don't usually have to travel, these tutors can also charge less per hour than face-to-face tutors.
Generally, the more a tutor personalised their tutorials to you, the more you'll pay for them. Of course, no two tutors are the same and you'll also pay for experience and expertise. Many of the tutors on Superprof offer the first lesson for free so you can try several tutors out before deciding on which one is right for you. You're going to be talking to them a lot so make sure that you get along with them first!
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