It is not uncommon these days to see Saudi parents speaking English to their children especially in front of people in public places and in the presence of their friends. Another growing phenomenon is to incorporate some English words while speaking Arabic.
As with everything, there are pros and cons of talking in English to your offspring. However, parents often see only one side of the issue: While a number of them think that teaching English at an early age will enable them to learn other languages easily, others believe that children should first learn to speak Arabic properly and take English courses if needed once they’ve grown up. The second group believes that speaking English in front of people is not more than a lifestyle, but those who support talking in English believe it is very important that their children learn both languages.
Arab News interviewed several Arab parents, some of whom speak English to their youngsters.
“We are a civilized family and I consider it a freedom of choice to speak English to my kids, so I do not understand why people criticize me for it. The future is not for Arabic-only speakers,” said Eman Al-Kadi, a Saudi mother of three. She believes that learning English early in childhood will give her children the means to learn other languages in just a few years. Al-Kadi also said she expected the Arabic language to disappear sooner or later; hence there is no need to make an effort to learn it well.
“I speak to my children in English a lot, because they are studying at an international school and have English as their first language. I do not think they will use Arabic in the future very much, because English has become more important and allows them to communicate with the world.”
Al-Kadi added that she realized the importance of speaking English when she visited London with her family: “A British woman told me that my seven-year-old boy changed her point of view about Saudi Arabia. She thought his English was excellent, which enabled him to represent his country in a good way and give a correct image about the Kingdom.”
Marwa Faisal is a Saudi mother of three who only speaks Arabic to her offspring. “Saudi Arabia is the heartland of Islam, and the official language in Islam is Arabic. It is a great language, and I think it is shame to be proud of our children not speaking it correctly.” Faisal said she would be prouder if her children taught other people their mother tongue. “Learning other languages will be their choice,” Faisal added.
The Saudi mother also criticized parents who do speak in English with their children. In her opinion, parents don’t look civilized and modern if they talk in English, and she thinks it is merely a style of life. “We are living in an Arab country and surrounded with Arabic speakers, so there is no need to speak English to children, especially not in front of people.”
Ahmed Shawki, a Saudi employee and father of two, believes that there are pros and cons on everything, but thinks children can learn English without losing their Arabic identity.
“Although I speak to my children in English, I am sometimes concerned that in the future it will negatively affect them. However, I am sure it will help them at school to learn English faster, because they will not have to start from the scratch. Besides, it helps them talk to the housemaid, who knows some English, which makes their communication easier,” said Shawki.