Opening the door to Arabic language and culture

School pupils in Scotland are being offered an insight into Arabic language and culture through a programme led by SCILT - Scotland’s National Centre for Languages.

The Centre, based at the University of Strathclyde, has created courses which are being taught in a pilot programme at a total of 15 primary and secondary schools around Scotland. They include online lessons from native speaking teachers of Arabic in the UK and link-ups with native Arabic speakers overseas.

The courses offer learners the chance to explore the secular culture of Arabic nations and to receive a grounding in the Arabic language, which is a first language in more than 20 countries and is the fifth most widely spoken in the world.

Employability skills are a major focus of the course for secondary pupils in the course, while primary pupils have a focus on literacy skill development as they follow the voyages of Ibn Battuta, the famous medieval Moroccan scholar and explorer. They are being encouraged to explore the cultures of several Arabic-speaking countries, while also reflecting on Scotland’s own culture.

The courses are being run in partnership with Qatar Foundation International and online learning platform e-Sgóil. SCILT has worked with the Scottish Refugee Council to employ and train settled refugees to work as Arabic language assistants.

SCILT Director Fhiona Mackay said: “Arabic is the first language for hundreds of millions of people. With many job opportunities in Arabic-speaking countries, learning the language can be a huge advantage to the students taking this course.

“Our pilot course has received a positive response and we’ve been able to teach online during periods of lockdown. It’s an exciting way of bringing the world to our young people at a time when their ability to travel has been reduced.

“We believe there are few, if any, other courses in the world teaching Arabic in this way.”

Participating schools have received grants of £2000 to provide resources and experiences that enhance and support the language learning. The primary schools have also received boxes containing Arabic artefacts, such as books, scarves and tea sets.

One of the participating schools is Grove Academy in Dundee, where the course is being taught to S6 pupils.

Pupils in the classes said:

  • “I am enjoying the class. Not only am I learning another language, but I am getting the opportunity to learn about the Arab world.”
  • “I am finding the course helpful in improving my understanding of language and of other cultures.”
  • 'I love learning languages and learning about different cultures. Arabic is great.”

Three schools in Inverclyde - Whinhill Primary, King’s Oak Primary and Inverclyde Academy, all in Greenock – are also taking part in the courses.

Whinhill Head Teacher Elizabeth Ruddy said: “We believe that there are many advantages to learning other languages. The cognitive benefits of enhanced concentration, memory and problem solving skills are transferable across every aspect of the curriculum and learning other languages will allow our children to connect with others and open up the world for them, and most importantly deepen their connection to, and understanding of, other cultures. At Whinhill, learning other languages is exciting and engaging for our children and all benefit from this experience.”

Councillor Jim Clocherty, Inverclyde Council’s convener of education and communities, said: “We have an excellent modern languages offering in our schools and the introduction of Arabic is a great addition to that. It’s a language and culture which has been explored in some our primaries and secondaries but it’s great to see it being rolled out in King’s Oak and Whinhill primaries and Inverclyde Academy in this way through this innovative project.

“It’s particularly important and fitting with so many Arabic-speaking people, particularly Syrian families, now calling Inverclyde their home thanks to our successful resettlement schemes.”