Context statement

The place of the Arabic culture and language in Australia and in the world

Arabic is spoken by approximately 280 million people in 22 countries over two continents. It is the official language of the Arab world, which includes countries of the Middle East, North Africa and the Gulf region, and is one of the official languages of the United Nations. The Arabic-speaking world has a long history, and the Arabic language has evolved and flourished over time, as evidenced by the richness of its literature. Arabic is comprised of a number of dialects that reflect the cultural diversity of Arabic-speaking countries, regions and communities.

Since the end of the nineteenth century, large communities of Arabic speakers have migrated to countries such as the United States, Europe and Australia. More than 370,000 Australians are of Arab descent, living predominantly in Sydney and Melbourne. Australia has strong relationships with countries in the Middle East, North Africa, the Gulf and the wider Arabic-speaking world through family ties, trade and education.

Arabic-speaking communities in Australia comprise diverse groups, differing in ancestral origins, religious backgrounds and histories. They hold a heritage that shares common linguistic and cultural traditions, and these are the ties that bind. Arabic language and culture represent an important part of the linguistic and cultural diversity of Australia. The Arabic-speaking community has made and continues to make a significant contribution to the development and enrichment of Australian society, in areas such as commerce, agriculture, industry, health, education, journalism, hospitality, tourism and international relations.

The place of the Arabic language in Australian education

The study of Arabic provides background students with the opportunity to connect with their family heritage and to communicate with speakers of Arabic in Australia and around the world. Following the early settlement of Arabic speakers in Australia, the teaching of Arabic was established for children of Arabic-speaking migrants in after-hours school settings. Since the 1980s, Arabic has been taught in primary and secondary schools and tertiary institutions across Australia as well as in after-hours schools run by community organisations. This reflected the growing Arabic-speaking community in Australia, as well as government policies of the time supporting multiculturalism. The demand for Arabic language education in Australia has increased due to the geopolitical importance of the Arabic-speaking world and greater awareness of business opportunities.

Arabic is a Semitic language, and shares linguistic and phonological similarities with other Semitic languages such as Syriac, Aramaic and Hebrew. Classical Arabic and its successor, Modern Standard Arabic, have been and continue to be the language of religious texts as well as the basis for a rich heritage of classical poetry and literary prose. Today, speakers of Arabic come from a variety of social, cultural and religious backgrounds. Their views, cultures and beliefs are manifested in the language they use formally and informally in every aspect of their private lives and public affairs. Language is an inseparable part of their identity and the way they view themselves and the world around them.

The Arabic language has two forms: Modern Standard Arabic ( اللغة العربية الفصحى ) and colloquial Arabic. Modern Standard Arabic is the official language taught worldwide and used in formal situations, such as at school and university and in mosques, churches and official media. Colloquial Arabic is used in everyday situations, such as at home and in the marketplace, the street, restaurants, cafés, and popular and social media. Modern Standard Arabic is common to all countries of the Arabic-speaking world, while colloquial Arabic varies according to geographical location. For example, two individuals from Iraq and Morocco speaking in dialects would not easily understand each other unless they injected elements of Modern Standard Arabic into the conversation.

Arabic is a scripted language and is written from right to left. There are 28 letters, which are all consonants with short and long vowels. These vowels are represented in the forms of letters and marks called diacritic symbols which identify how words and letters are pronounced. Arabic is a highly inflectional language, with words formed according to a root system. Various vowels, prefixes and suffixes are used with root letters to create the desired inflection of meaning.

The diversity of learners of Arabic

The Australian Curriculum: Languages – Arabic is pitched to background language learners, the dominant cohort of learners in the Australian context.

The background language learner pathway has been developed for students who have exposure to Arabic language and culture, and who may engage in active but predominantly receptive use of Arabic at home. The range of learners within the Arabic background language learner pathway is diverse, defined for the most part by different waves of migration, and their use of Arabic may extend beyond the home to everyday interactions with Arabic-speaking friends and involvement in community organisations and events. Other learners may have been born in an Arabic-speaking country, where they may have completed some education.

A key dimension of the Australian Curriculum: Languages – Arabic involves understanding the interrelationship between language and culture. The curriculum is designed with an intercultural language learning orientation to enable students to participate meaningfully in language and cultural experiences, to develop new ways of seeing and being in the world from a bilingual perspective, and to understand more about themselves in the process.

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