Boost to Arabic Learning in UK

An Arabic calligraphy exhibition hosted by Qatar Foundation in September 2014.

Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, French, Arabic, and German are the languages the UK will need most following Brexit, according to a report released by the British Council last year. Languages for the Future identified these as the top five languages for the UK’s prosperity once the country leaves the European Union, based on extensive analysis of economic, geopolitical, cultural, and educational factors.

The analysis argues that for the UK to succeed post-Brexit, international awareness and skills—such as the ability to connect with people globally beyond English—have become more vital than ever. However, the UK is currently facing a languages deficit.

The report states that the UK has reached a critical juncture for language learning and that investment in upgrading the nation’s language skills is vital if the UK is to remain a globally connected nation. It says that now is the moment to initiate a “bold new policy” which should be cross-government, cross-party, and focused on sustaining improvement in language capacity over the medium to long term.

Brexit gives even more urgency to the UK’s quest to be an international trading power beyond Europe.

Arabic is one of the top languages the British Council wants pupils to learn, even though just 5% of schools in England teach it, so very few non-Muslim children have opportunities to learn the language.

While many high schools offer Spanish and French, and the government has expanded access to Mandarin over the past three years, Arabic has received relatively little attention and teacher recruitment is a major barrier.

The British Council wants ministers to “draw on the successful practice” of the government-funded Mandarin Excellence Programme, which trains teachers at the Institute of Education to work in both primary and secondary schools.

Qatar Foundation International (QFI), which promotes global Arabic education, has pledged £400,000 ($550,000) in funding for Arabic teaching in the UK and has instituted a foundation teacher-training course at Goldsmiths University. This is much smaller, however, than the £10 million the government spent on Mandarin teaching.

Arabic’s importance was determined by analyzing job adverts, export markets, and language on the internet to determine the most important languages of the future.
The council found the proportion of companies citing Arabic, Mandarin, and Spanish as useful for applicants had risen, while fewer demand French and German. Job adverts asking for proficiency in Arabic, Mandarin, and Japanese have also overtaken demand for the previously popular Russian and Portuguese over the past five years.

The Qatar Foundation project will involve Horton Park Primary in Bradford, the Westborough School in Essex, the Anglo-European School in Essex, and another school in London.

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