Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can; there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.
~ Sarah Caldwell ~
After English and Mandarin, Arabic is the language with the third-highest number of speakers in Australia. Nearly 500 million people worldwide are speakers of Arabic. Of course, there are many Arab dialects and these figures encompass those, even though people who are speakers of one Arab dialect may not understand speakers of another.
Modern Standard Arabic is the variant that is usually taught in schools around the globe and is the language form used in business, legal, political and various literary contexts to ensure common understanding — even for native speakers who use a different Arab dialect.
In the Australian Curriculum, Modern Standard Arabic is one of the 16 identified languages and has outcomes listed from the beginning of primary school through to high school in Year 10. Despite this, Arabic lessons are not readily offered as a foreign language choice for mainstream students in Australian schools and the language tends to be mainly taught in Muslim faith schools.
However, this does not mean Australian students cannot start studying Arabic from a young age.
Is the Study of Arabic Becoming More Popular?
Learning a language goes hand-in-hand with learning about culture — one cannot be taught without the other.
In the past, and still to a great extent now, there are people who would say that studying Arabic promotes Islam. However, the actions of a few should not discount the majority and we should be encouraging people to see language study as a bridge between each culture. In fact, when you think about it, if we applied the same negative thinking to other languages, would we be advocating the study of German, Japanese or, indeed, English?
Attitudes such as this, however, are hard to dismantle so, for Australian students, this currently means that Arabic has a long way to go before it is as readily offered in high school, let alone primary school, as many of our other 'curriculum approved' languages.
Don't despair though — there are other places you can find great Arabic lessons.
Of greater concern, perhaps, is the decline in language study overall. Data from ACARA shows that, in 2020, languages had the lowest Year 12 enrolments of all subjects — with only 10% of students enrolled in a language, compared to 30% enrolled in PE and 50% studying in the sciences.
This huge decline, down from 40% student enrolment in languages study in 1960, is at odds with jobs data, which shows a rising need for potential employees with foreign language skills.
Furthermore, many university communications faculties across Australia are cutting back their language programs — particularly courses in Asian languages.
So, where does this leave Arabic study?
Not in a good place, unfortunately. Here are a few more facts about Arabic lessons in Australia's school system:
- Arabic was first taught in Australia in 1975 — 306 Catholic School students in NSW.
- In 2001, the number of Arabic language students (in the government school system) numbered 31,844.
- In 2006, this number had dropped to 25,499 students in primary school and high school settings.
- In 2017, ACARA data showed that out of the 16 recommended languages, Arabic came in at equal ninth, alongside Greek, with 2.2% of languages students in Year 12.
- There are 46 Islamic Schools throughout Australia, and these schools account for the majority of students studying Arabic.
If your primary school does not offer Arabic as its foreign language, it is unlikely your local high school will either. However, if a student is keen to learn Arabic, there are lessons outside of school hours that are often run by community language schools, as well as the option to engage a private tutor.
Primary School Arabic Classes
As mentioned, the opportunity to learn Arabic as a primary school student is very rare, unless you are enrolled in an Islamic School.
It's not so much about the popularity of the language, but teacher supply and demand. Quite simply, if a primary school cannot find a qualified teacher whose level of Arabic is good enough to teach the language, then they simply cannot offer it.
Studies show the benefits of learning a language from a young age, however, and this applies to Arabic. The Australian Curriculum in Arabic, for Foundation to Year 6, gives students a good grounding in:
- daily phrases
- basic grammar
- expressions to use in real-life scenarios
- communication via both speaking and writing.
Students from Year 3 and beyond may learn to write and read the Arabic alphabet.
Arabic Lessons in High School
As with primary level classes, opportunities to learn Arabic in Years 7 to 10 are also rare in mainstream schools for the same reason — teacher supply and demand.
Islamic schools, along with any other high school programs that offer Arabic as a foreign language, continue to build the language skills of students in the four communication areas (teaching students to read, write, speak and listen) with a focus on advanced grammar, alphabet writing and phrases. Culture education is also a key component.
For a student in Year 11 and 12 who wishes to take Arabic as part of their Year 12 certificate will often require permission to access external lessons at another school, with a private tutor (possibly online) or at a community language school.
Extracurricular Lessons: Learning Arabic for Kids (and Adults)
Just because Arabic isn't taught in your school doesn't mean you cannot learn it — in fact, there are classes out there, just not in the formal education setting (yet).
Here are a few options that may be open to you as a student or adult learner:
- Engage a private tutor
- Take an online class
- Enrol in private Arabic classes
- Join a community group or community language school
- Ask your school to organise a cross-school timetable so you can attend classes in another location.
There is no reason why, with the proper approval, a student cannot use one of the above methods to work towards their Year 12 certificate — as long as the teacher or provider follows the curriculum.
One of the best ways to learn anything is with a private tutor.
The tutor can target your specific needs and help you perfect your linguistic skills because their attention is 100% on you.
Perhaps you're looking for a tutor to help you navigate the curriculum in order to obtain the best result possible for your ATAR? Or maybe you want to start learning Arabic for another reason, such as travel or to be able to better communicate with your neighbours who are native speakers with not much English? In all cases, there will be a private tutor through Superprof who can work with you, whether you're at a beginners level or more advanced.
There are different types of tutor sessions offered by a Superprof tutor so be sure about what you want and why.
- Face-to-face tutorials
These classes take place in a location of your choosing and it is just you and your private tutor. Everything you do in your private class — grammar, alphabet, phrases, culture analysis, writing, speaking — it's all about you as the student and nobody else. You will get regular practice and feedback aimed solely at you.
- Small-group tutorials
Perfect for the budget-conscious student or the student who wants to practice with other people at their level. Sure, you won't get the full attention of the tutor but you will get to split the cost with the other students and be able to practise with and learn from other students.
- Online tuition
Online learning is huge now and Superprof tutors have been offering it well before it became huge. An online tutor can work with students individually, or in groups of up to 4 or 5. The greatest advantage to the online tutoring world is that you and your tutor do not have to be in the same city, the same state or even the same country. All you both need is a webcam and reliable internet. An international tutor, someone who is a native speaker of Arabic, is a real possibility.
And online tuition is usually cheaper too.
Make sure you do your research and check the profile of each Superprof tutor. You will notice a wide range of prices and this is related to their experience as a teacher, the level they teach and their personal level of study (bachelor, post-graduate, master etc).
Lastly, do remember that the quality of the tutor or the class or program you take is only as effective as the work you personally put into studying and building your own experience of both the language and culture of the Arab world and Arabic-speaking community.
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