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May 8, 2014

Thank you for raising the old/new debate on the language of instruction in Arab universities (“Allow us to learn in our own language, Algerian says”, News, 17 April).

The article essentially points to the limited success of the national translation policies in the Arab world. It has been pointed out that translation policymakers are representing the elite of society and not serving the best interests of “the man in the street” as Inam Bioud so correctly puts it.

Over the years, most Arab universities moved towards English and French as the de facto language of instruction, except in Syria. However, professional results do not show any direct benefits from the current modus operandi. Syrian-educated doctors, for example, are among the most successful in Australia and the US.

As the Arab world is characterised by a youthful population that is fast espousing digital technology there seems to be another revolution in the air; an educational one. There is no denying that translation will always play a decisive role and this points to “audiovisual translation studies”, which is yet to take root in Arabic. For many years, televisions in Arab cities have been subtitling foreign language programmes in Arabic but without considering screen translation as a discipline to be examined in its own right. Now there are screens everywhere: in the street, the car, school, work and at home. There is an opportunity to rectify the situation in Algeria and the Gulf states by espousing audiovisual translation, which can easily replace the not-too-successful translation programmes and campaigns.

There is no doubt that teaching Arabic at primary and secondary schools needs a facelift. However, the solution must be well orchestrated and must be multimodal at the audio and visual levels.

It needs to win the hearts and minds of 60 per cent of the population (the youth who are under 25). It must be remembered that Arabic content online is still very modest at 1 per cent of the total content. Academic institutions, and particularly translation departments, need to shift to digital technology and to content creation, which is essentially more efficient to organise, more economical to do and easier to access.

Muhammad Y Gamal

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