Arabic Language and Culture Programme

The British Council is promoting the teaching and learning of Arabic language and culture in the UK.

A report entitled ‘Languages for the Future’ published by the British Council, ranked Arabic as the second most vital language to the UK over the next twenty years.

Knowledge of Arabic among people in the UK creates a deeper mutual understanding between our communities and those in the Arab world. Recent research into long-term language needs, looking at a variety of economic, geopolitical, cultural and educational indicators, identified Arabic as the second most necessary language for the UK over the next 20 years. However the gap between this need and current provision is particularly great: Arabic is taught in 300 or 1% of schools in the UK.

Our programme aims to:

  • Increase the number of schools in the UK teaching Arabic language and culture
  • Provide professional development opportunities, mentoring and modern resources for Arabic teachers
  • Produce fresh research into Arabic language and culture teaching pedagogy and initiate a key stakeholder committee to pave a strategic way forward to meet the UK Arabic needs

The Programme currently focuses on the following areas:

Our work in schools

To date we have given grant awards to sixteen primary and secondary schools across the UK tasked with leading the way in the development of Arabic teaching and learning. Each school is coordinating a local group of five other schools and providing:

  • Arabic teaching in the curriculum 
  • sharing of good practice with other schools
  • professional development for teachers
  • workshops/open days and taster sessions with other schools to promote the learning of Arabic.

There are 80 schools in total engaged in activities. Our current cluster schools are based in Northern Ireland, Cardiff, London, Slough, Essex, Devon, Manchester, Blackburn and Sheffield.

School activities range from introducing GCSE Master Classes in Sheffield to hosting after school clubs in Westcliff-on-Sea and supporting international school links. See how Belfast Royal Academy introduced Arabic into their curriculum and their partnership with local businesses that benefit from having Arabic expertise here.  

We have also established a network of Arabic advisors to coach and mentor teachers from the schools involved. 

Our work in research

As the programme grows we continue our research into the most effective ways of supporting schools in meeting young people’s language needs for the future. We have so far given grants to produce the following research strands, which will be available to download in September 2016:

(1) Research into teaching Arabic as a foreign language in the UK

(2) Research into Arabic language and teaching in UK schools

(3) Research into current policy and accreditation of Arabic as a modern foreign language

(4) Research into learning differences of heritage vs. non-heritage learners 

Arabic Language Conference and roundtable

We host an annual conference for Arabic educators and professionals from across the UK. The event includes workshops on how to introduce the teaching of Arabic in schools, professional development sessions, classroom tips and the chance to network with other Arabic teachers.

In 2013, the conference was chaired by Steven Fawkes, Head of the World Languages Committee, Association of Language Learning. An evening reception was attended by over 100 guests and Munira Mirza, Deputy Mayor of London, was the guest of honour.

The 8th Conference took place at the Brunei Gallery Theater SOAS on 23 March. 203 delegates attended from all over UK, as well as delegates from Qatar and the USA. Key note speakers included Professor Hugh Kennedy, SOAS, Dr Elisabeth Kendall, Oxford University and Dr Mahmoud Al Batal, University of Austin Texas.

The conference brought together a wide range of presenters ranging from primary school teachers to university lecturers as well as publishers, writers and teacher trainers.

The Arabic Language and Culture in the UK roundtable event was held at Spring Gardens, London on 21 Mar. This roundtable was to discuss the challenges related to the teaching of Arabic language in the UK, including stakeholders from DfE, FCO, Universities, schools, exam boards and publishers.  This committee has outlined some key action points and working groups are being formed.

Professional development for teachers

The Department of Education at Goldsmiths, University of London, has designed and developed a new Certificate course in Arabic teaching which is supported by the Arabic Language and Culture Programme. The course promotes a reflective, process-based and collaborative approach to professional development, integrating theory and practice and has been taken up enthusiastically by 50 practicing Arabic teachers. We have also previously arranged for these Goldsmith’s teacher trainers to visit schools in Qatar and the UAE to share professional development knowledge. 

“… a big thank you for organising and delivering a very good certificate level course in Arabic. Our teachers who attended the course found it extremely useful and as a result have improved their practice. Furthermore, they were able to share these ideas with others at our Rise Academy which resulted in a better quality teaching of Arabic language for our students. I personally would like this project to continue as it will bring a tremendous amount of benefit to our community.” Rise Academy.

Resources for teachers

The Arabic Language and Culture pack is an excellent way to introduce young learners to the Arab world while also challenging their preconceptions of Arab culture. In partnership with Qatar Foundation, we develop an education pack for primary schools. It introduces pupils to the language and culture of the Arab world and includes introductory activities, designed for non-specialist teachers, based on Arabic script, recipes, letters from children in MENA, history and calligraphy. This pack is available to download here.

Further resources that we have funded include:

(1) ‘Language League Kick-Off’ Arabic language primary school football packs being created by Routes Into Languages and Manchester Metropolitan University.

(2) A free online 10-lesson introduction course to Arabic (for KS3 students) being created by Pendragon Educational Publishers.


These will be available from September 2016.