Language Education Policy Studies
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Language Education Policies in the Arab World

In the Arab world, namely the 22 member countries of the League of Arab States, the conflict between traditional and Western values is perhaps the best lens through which to view both official language policy and popular attitudes towards language. Traditional values are associated with the Arabic language and Islam, whereas Western values are linked to colonialism and imperialism, on the one hand, and to modernity and technology, on the other. The linguistic situation is complicated by the existence of diglossia, with the literary/presentational language, being the preferred medium of instruction and the media and little tolerance for efforts to elevate the status of spoken varieties of Arabic.


Language policy was dominated in the period following World War II, when most Arab countries gained their independence, by the policy of Arabization, aimed at displacing foreign languages, and especially French, from their colonial positions as the dominant languages of education and literacy. The linguistic and cultural turmoil during this period was greatest in the former French colonies in North Africa.


Arabic is today the sole official language of nearly all Arab countries, though there exist minorities with diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds, which are increasingly demanding their linguistic rights. Although pre-civil war Syria granted no special linguistic rights to minorities such as the Kurds, Assyrians and Armenians, the new Iraqi constitution recognizes Kurdish as a second official language, Morocco has now accorded the same treatment to the Berber language Tamazight (also called Amazigh), and Lebanon has always left its minorities free to teach their languages in addition to Arabic. Berber demands for linguistic rights in Algeria are now being addressed by introducing the Berber language in some schools and by recognizing Berber as a "national language", though not as an official one. In Libya, the fall of the Gaddafi regime sparked new Berber efforts to secure guarantees for their culture and language in the constitution, leading to an armed insurrection still in progress.


Throughout the Arab world, the language of instruction in primary and secondary education is essentially Arabic. Higher education is also in Arabic, though with technical subjects often taught in a foreign language (English or French). The educational system in most Arab countries is geared, whether by choice or necessity, to producing bilinguals.  (See: Muslim World, Israel.)



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produced by Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia, Conference Bamako, Mali, May 2005 (PPT)  


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This information was originally published on the website of the International Network for Language Education Policy Studies ( as

Brooks, A. (2013). Language Education Policies in the Arab World. In F. V. Tochon (Ed.), Language Education Policy Studies (online). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin—Madison. Retrieved from: (access date). 

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