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

In 2016, the British Council commissioned four pieces of research into the most effective ways of supporting schools in meeting young people's Arabic language needs for the future: 

(1) Research into Arabic language and teaching in UK schools (conducted by Alcantara Communications). Please scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the reasearch.

(2) Research intoteaching Arabic as a foreign language (TAFL) in the UK (conducted by Leeds University, Edinburgh University and Goldsmiths University). Please scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the reasearch.

(3) Research into current policy and accreditation of Arabic as a modern foreign language (conducted by Leeds University, Edinburgh University and Goldsmiths University). Please scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the reasearch.

(4) Research into learning differences of heritage vs. non-heritage learners (conducted by Anna-Maria Ramezanzadeh). Please scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the reasearch.

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:

Arabic Online Beginners Course: Created by Pendragon Educational Publishers this is a free online taster course of that has been specifically designed for students in schools throughout the United Kingdom. It is ideal for secondary pupils of any age, but will be particularly beneficial at key stage 3 as it leads learners progressively towards an active use of the Arabic language and understanding of Arab culture. The course is available on desktop and laptop computers and is complemented by a Smartphone App (Android). The course can be classroom-based and teacher guided, but can also be offered to pupils for self-study. No previous knowledge of Arabic is required.

Language League Kick-Off: Developed by Routes Into Languages and Manchester Metropolitan University, this is a creative and unique initiative for young people to develop and enhance their Arabic language skills. It offers an attractive and creative approach to language learning linked to the game of football. Materials comprise of a fully integrated package of teachers’ notes, pupils’ workbook, a series of PowerPoint presentations and additional printable materials, such as flashcards.