In the recent past, compulsory bilingual schooling was introduced in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. This development elicited mixed reaction among different individuals, some opposing the move since they considered it to offer no benefits to the students. Others were doubtful about the success of the program since it was new in the country. Furthermore, the acquisition of biliteracy in Abu Dhabi was expected by many to be a challenging exercise due to the diglossic features of Arabic and the linguistic distance between Arabic and English. Due to the vagueness of international research findings relating to the appropriate age to begin learning a second language and the indecision on the advantages of concurrent versus successive teaching of biliteracy, studies should be conducted in Abu Dhabi schools to determine the impacts of bilingual education under early Arabic/English immersion. This study was motivated by the need to determine the need for bilingualism in Abu Dhabi, and to recommend the appropriate steps that should be undertaken to enable students and the wider public to realize the maximum benefits of language traits.
The manner in which a child is brought up influences his or her language character. If a person is brought up in a bilingual or multilingual environment, he or she learns and can speak the many languages he or she is exposed to while growing up (Bonfiglio, 2018). However, if children are brought up to be monolingual, they can never grow up to be bilingual or multilingual, but may learn bits or pieces of other languages they come across in the course of their lifetime (Bonfiglio, 2018). For instance, children brought up in monolingual environments like Tunisia where Arabic is the main and official language might be able to say goodbye or hello after learning it from English speakers, though they cannot qualify to be bilingual (Bonfiglio, 2018). As such, a person can only qualify to be bilingual if he or she can communicate fluently in more than one language, a failure of which they would remain monolingual.
Numerous theories have been developed to highlight the acquisition of languages. Many of the theories indicate that every human being has the capacity to learn a language. For instance, the nativist theory explains that humans are born with something in their genes that enables them to learn a new language (Khan Academy, 2019). This component of genes is the language acquisition device (LAD), which exists in the brain and is responsible for learning a language (Khan Academy, 2019). As a result, the adoption of bilingualism in Abu Dhabi will be successful since the learners have an internal capacity to grasp new languages. On the other hand, the sociocultural theory maintains that children are brought up in different sociocultural contexts and their intellectual development is facilitated by social interaction with more skilled people (Psychology Notes HQ, 2018). This theory highlights the important contributions the society offers to the development of people (Cherry, 2018). It affirms that human learning is more of a social process. Based on the propositions of this theory, both the society and the school are critical in enabling Abu Dhabi children to master the English language.
America is widely monolingual and the existence of other languages other than English is threatened in the country. In the country, only about 18 percent of the population can speak another language (Komska, 2014). Even Spanish, a language widely spoken in the country after English, is projected to disappear by 2020 because the number of U.S-born Latinos is increasing (Komska, 2014). Many factors have led to a monolistic society in the U.S. and the complexity of attaining a bilingual or multilingual population. Only 11 of the country’s 50 states and the District of Columbia require students to have a credit foreign language to qualify for graduation (Komska, 2014). Very few middle schools offer language teaching in fewer languages. Also, bilingualism is discouraged in the country, especially conservative by politicians who consider bi- or multilingualism as a lack of patriotism (Komska, 2014). On the other hand, in Tunisia, the Tunisian dialect, French, and Arabic are the dominant languages (Tourism Tunisia, 2019). The country is supportive of the learning of many languages in its schools. Literary Arabic or Modern Standard Arabic are the official languages in the country, although posters, street lights, writings on shops and restaurants, and important documents’ contents are written in Modern Arabic (Tourism Tunisia, 2019). Children in Tunisia are taught to speak, write, and read Arabic and the language is widely used in commerce (Tourism Tunisia, 2019). Nevertheless, French is spoken by many people and children are taught this language in school from the age of eight. Darija, the Tunisian version of Arabic, is the third widely used language in Tunisia. This language, spoken by over 11 million people in the country, derives its words from French, Berber, Italian, Turkish, and Spanish, the cultures that have shaped the nation (Tourism Tunisia, 2019). The English language has also been introduced as a compulsory language in the country’s schools and is taught to students of ten years and above (Tourism Tunisia, 2019). Most of the country’s official documents are translated to English and French. The German language is also becoming common and spoken in major Tunisian cities due to the frequent entry of German and French tourists to the country, especially at its beaches (Tourism Tunisia, 2019). Due to the multiplicity of languages used in Tunisia, the country’s population is capable to interact with people from different nationalities and cultures with ease.
There is unending debate regarding the best language traits between monolingualism and bilingualism. Although there is nothing wrong with being monolingual, experts argue that it is better for one to be multilingual as this trait offers numerous advantages (Bonfiglio, 2017). For instance, a person who can speak and understand different languages has numerous brain-related benefits (Bonfiglio, 2017). Individuals who are bilingual have diverse cognitive benefits that include having a better attention span and the ability to multi-task more than monolinguals (Bonfiglio, 2017). Also, bilingual persons have reduced risk of suffering from stroke, and they have academic advantages since they are less likely to be distracted and are focused on tasks compared to monolinguals. Bilingual students normally beat their monolingual counterparts in their native language (Bonfiglio, 2017). Individuals with the capacity to speak and understand different language have numerous employment benefits and are more likely to be employed than monolinguals (Bonfiglio, 2017). As a result, by learning the English language at school, the current students in Abu Dhabi schools will be more employable than their predecessors who only studied in and learned Arabic.
Due to the various benefits associated with bilingualism, stakeholders in the education sector in Abu Dhabi should focus on promoting bilingualism. The stakeholders who comprise families, the community, academic institutions, the government, and the Ministry of Education should collaborate in enrolling language courses in the curriculum and out of school programs that can enable both children and adults to learn different languages. Language subjects and courses should be introduced from the lowest levels of the academic hierarchy to the highest level since it is easier for people to learn a language as a child (Bonfiglio, 2018). Nevertheless, it is still possible for one to learn a language in adult, therefore, there is a need for language learning programs designed for adults.
Abu Dhabi and the wider United Arab Emirates is one of the latest countries to adopt bilingualism in its academic sector. It joins the group of Tunisia which has adopted multilingualism both in their education and the normal daily interaction among their populations. However, the U.S. maintains monolingualism and does not display aggressiveness in introducing other languages in society. There is a great possibility of success in Abu Dhabi’s adoption of bilingualism in its schools based on the success of multilingualism in Tunisia. Also, the nativist theory clarifies that every individual has an innate natural capability to learn languages; therefore, if the students are taught the English language, they will grasp and perfect it. However, the administration and stakeholders in Abu Dhabi’s education sector should acknowledge the importance of the input of the society and professionals in this process. This position is upheld by the sociocultural theory which indicates that children’s intellectual development is facilitated by social interaction with the wider society and the more skilled individuals.
Bonfiglio, C. (2017). What are the benefits of being bilingual? Bilingual Kidspot. Posted on May 23, 2017.
Bonfiglio, C. (2018). Monolingualism – What is the definition of being monolingual? Bilingual Kidspot. Posted on October 12, 2018.
Cherry, K. (2018). What is sociocultural theory? Updated November 30, 2018. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-sociocultural-theory-2795088
Khan Academy (2019). Theories of the early stages of language acquisition. Retrieved from https://www.khanacademy.org/test-prep/mcat/processing-the-environment/language/a/theories-of-the-early-stages-of-language-acquisition
Komska, Y. (2014). The monolingual American: Why are those outside of the U.S. encouraging it? Pacific Standard, Posted on Jul 29, 2014.
Psychology Notes HQ (2018). Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory of cognitive development. Posted on May 2, 2018.
Tourism Tunisia (2019). The languages in Tunisia. Retrieved from http://www.tourismtunisia.com/the-language-in-tunisia/
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