Revising the language menu: Arabic is silver, Kurdish would be gold

Revising the language menu: Arabic is silver, Kurdish would be gold

Almut Küppers
There is nothing wrong with offering elective Arabic courses to students at elementary schools as was announced by the government for the upcoming academic year 2016-17. 

A whole list of arguments does in fact speak in favor of adding Arabic to the menu of foreign languages.

Firstly, the Turkish language is much older than the Turkish Republic. Undeniably, Arabic had a significant influence on modern Turkish—even despite the language reform and despite the shift from Arabic to Latin letters. The Arabic language is indeed a window to the rich Turkish past, its literature, its culture, its history and Islamic science. 

Secondly, foreign languages are bridges into the world. It is important not to forget that Turkey is located between Europe and the Middle East. Up until now the foreign language curriculum has consisted of classical European languages— bridges into the European world through French, German, and English, but not into Turkey’s wider neighborhood of Arabic speaking countries. However, Turkey’s geopolitical reality also faces to the East. Therefore, it makes sense to learn the languages of our other neighbors, too. Learning Arabic can indeed promote travel, trade, and tourism into and from Arab speaking neighboring countries. 

Thirdly, for young generations, foreign languages are tools for communication. If more than two million Arabic speaking people live in the country, learning Arabic allows us to connect with Syrian refugees or Arabic speaking residents and engage in everyday communication. 

However, languages can of course be used as weapons for transmitting ideologies. During the era of the nation state in the 19th and 20th centuries, languages were abused for the sake of upholding the “one nation – one people – one language” doctrine. Schools as state institutions have massively contributed to the illusion that a nation state is a homogeneous linguistic entity, whereas in reality it has almost always been linguistically diverse.

But the idea of the nation state has become rusty in the 21st century. Advanced technology, cheap mobility and electronic connectedness spilled over national borders long ago. Inevitably, modern states have to find educational answers to rapidly increasing diversity. 

Hence, it makes sense to critically review educational practices put in place from our nation-state past as. The educational systems in many modern nation states are currently under reconstruction. One of the key elements in need of reform is indeed the language curriculum. Turkish and Arabic ought to be considered as invaluable tools for communication in the European Union because they are languages spoken by millions who live there. 

Likewise, the Kurdish language is a huge treasure for Turkish society. Instead of integrating far away languages like Chinese, Japanese, or Italian into the foreign language menu, the government should start an initiative to develop a curriculum, material and teacher training for Kurdish. The added value would be manifold, especially if taught as a language open to all students. 

Children from Kurdish speaking homes could develop their personality more holistically. Developing first languages has a positive impact on second language development too. And as studies in bilingualism show this in return can enhance self-esteem and academic achievements in general. Plus, children from Turkish speaking homes could understand the communicative value of learning other languages much better if they learned a community language like Kurdish instead of French or Russian as Kurdish is often spoken by friends or even by parents or relatives. 

The biggest impact in this, however, would be the implied message stating, “We acknowledge Kurdish as an enriching part of the Turkish society – just like Arabic.” This would be a necessary status upgrade for the Kurdish language, and what’s more, a long awaited inclusive gesture for the approximately 20 million who speak Kurdish.