Ambassador of Sultanate of Oman Abdulaziz Al-Hinai describes an initiative to build communications and cultural bridges with non-Arabic-speaking nations against a backdrop of palm groves, desert and majestic mountains
On 15 May, the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman, in collaboration with the Anglo-Omani Society in London, will host the Secretary General of the Sultan Qaboos Centre for Islamic Culture (SQCIC), His Excellency Habib bin Mohammed al-Reyami, to speak about the Sultan Qaboos College for Teaching Arabic Language to Non-Native Speakers.
The college’s mission is to contribute to the knowledge of learners with high linguistic and cultural competency in modern standard Arabic. It strives to enable learners to communicate and interact effectively in any Arab society and equip them with the language tools required to pursue studies in any Arabic educational institution.
The college’s work and experiences demonstrate that one of the best ways to promote the Arabic language and encourage learners is to find a place that maintains its original Omani character in terms of language, traditions and lifestyle. Taking into account that language cannot be studied in isolation of its culture, the college has been built in Mannah, in the Interior governorate of the Sultanate of Oman. 170km from Muscat International Airport, it is the perfect place for learning Arabic as it gives the students experience of communication with a wide range of people and dialects.
Mannah provides delightful views of palm groves and desert trees against a backdrop of majestic, high mountains with their peaks wrapped in cloud. It is strategically located at the crossroads of five governorates, with Muscat to the north, the Wusta Governorate to the south, the Sharqiyah Governorate to the east and the Dhahirah North and South Batinah Governorates to the west. The Dakhiliyah (Interior) is the Sultanate’s strategic hinterland and links Muscat with the other governorates.
Mannah is adjacent to the largest city in the interior region, Nizwa. Nizwa is one of Oman’s oldest cities and was its capital in the sixth and seventh centuries AD. The city’s role as a centre of trade, religion, education and art has been reinvigorated by the establishment of the College for Teaching Arabic Language to Non-Native Speakers, the Sultan Qaboos grand mosque, the old market and its most visited national monument, the Nizwa fort that was built in the 1668AD.
The college enhances classroom-based learning by providing further opportunities for students to experience foreign languages ‘for real’, and by using them in fun and engaging in real-life activities. The college offers six level courses and each course consists of 160 hours offered over an eight-week period. Each course contains a certain number of Standard Arabic lessons, in addition to Omani dialect and cultural workshops.
The College is equipped with high-quality technology-based programmes and uses an interactive electronic programme developed by Deakin University in Australia to provide learners with opportunities to develop their Arabic language skills and to contribute in building communication and cultural bridges with other non-Arabic-speaking nations within and beyond the classroom.
His Majesty’s plans to establish a college for teaching Arabic come in response to today’s requirements and obligations of the global openness between nations. Arabic language is the third most widely spoken language in the world after English and French respectively. Desire to strengthen cultural exchange, understanding and communication with the Arab world has brought about an increasing interest in the Arabic language, culture and origins across centuries.
UK Foreign Minister William Hague, at the reopening of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s language centre last September, said: “The ability to speak, read, listen and write in a foreign language is one of the fundamental skills of our diplomats. Without it they cannot get under the skin of a country and really understand its people.” The promotion and protection of values and international interests cannot take place without learning languages. Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) states that learning an opponent’s language could prevent their evil deeds. On the contrary, not knowing the language could deprive one from expected gains and effective and fruitful relations.
In diplomacy, language is important to survive and even more important to make sure that needs are met. Diplomacy functions around communication, negotiations and formulation of agreements. It provides knowledge and brings collaboration in doing things that one person cannot. Accordingly, Oman’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs generously supported the Anglo-Omani Society’s initiative over the past three years to provide 10 scholarships for one month of intensive Arabic language study in Oman.
Dr Elisabeth Kendall of Pembroke College, Oxford University says: “The quality of the teaching was among the best I have yet encountered in the Middle East. This, together with a very strong extracurricular programme of cultural activities and extraordinary hospitality, made this a unique and unforgettable learning experience for a group of students whom we hope may feature among the UK’s leaders of tomorrow.”
Arabic is the official language of 22 countries, the native language of over 200 million people and the liturgical language of over a billion Muslims around the world. The ‘formal’ Arabic language, known as Classical Arabic, is the language in which the Qur’an is written and is considered to be the base of the syntactic and grammatical norms of the Arabic language. The Arabic language uses the same punctuation marks as English, as well as almost the same Western rules of punctuation. It has contributed numerous words to the English language like koton (cotton) and ghazal (gazelle). In terms of writing, several languages use the Arabic alphabet, such as Persian, Urdu, Pashto and Kurdish. Arabic learners would be able to read words or sentences written in any of those languages, but not necessarily understand what they are reading.
In conclusion, maximising resources is a very important element to learn Arabic. Its different dialects make it a moderately hard language to learn. Therefore, the opportunity provided by the Sultan Qaboos College for Teaching Arabic Language to Non-Native Speakers is unique. It combines academic training with social activities for a better understanding of the culture behind the language, which is an important pillar in the learning process.