Education is the key. For everything: development, peace, health, freedom, democracy, human rights, end of racism and discrimination, global awareness, etc. It is with this leitmotiv that most of parents of arab/african migrants to Europe crossed the Mediterranean Sea: to offer to their children the oppprtunity to live in a stable environment where an education of high value is given. Studies show that the difference in education level between migrants and their children is bigger than for natives. Other studies show also that the migrant parents tend to be even more pushy with their daughters than with their sons to accomplish a grade in higher education.
Good news? Yes awesome news, but one little bad point, though. I started to notice a long ago that in general (of course this is not a general statement) that if I look around me for people like me, sons and daughters of migrant arab parents, that the higher the education level of parents is, especially the mother, the lower is the ability of their children to speak in arabic. To be more accurate, I came to the statement that this was particularely true for two categories of migrants: those coming from maghrebi coutries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia) and from Lebanon. One big exception though: it is false mainly for Syrians, for every Syrian born in Europe I’ve met, they were all speaking perfectly arabic. To illustrate my point, I remember this video I’ve seen long ago of the son of the Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri talking in front of the Lebanese Parliament, reading from a paper his speech written in arabic, with such a hesitant, with so many mistakes that the video was widely spread among Arabs. It seemed so incredible to see the son of such a famous businessman and politician, long depicted as a figure of success in the Arab world, owning even arabic speaking medias, having difficulty and making mistakes.
So the question is: why among the Arab diaspora in Europe the more (in general) moroccan/algerian/tunisian/lebanese parents are educated, the less children are able to speak arabic (not even mentionning writing)? For those who don’t live the diaspora from inside, it has to be pointed out that arabic inside arab communities in Europe is almost exclusively transmitted to children by parents, the small number of arabic courses for children being far from having the capacity of welcoming everybody (and do not even exist in every city). Anyway arabic courses do not help children to really speak arabic, I mean the arabic they would be able to speak with their family and friends, since fus’ha (classical standard arabic) is mostly used for writing; the speaking requires knowledge of local dialectical arabic (including berber languages even if of course strictly saying they are different from arabic) that can’t be transmitted by any other mean than listening and speaking on a regular basis.
It seems to be a total contradiction to imagine that a less educated father and/or a less educated mother are more likely to teach their children arabic. Actually, if you carefully analyze the situation it is not: the four country I mentionned, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Lebanon, have in common a very high tendency to value french culture. In these countries, intellectual elites tend to speak french, even when they are not together with a foreigner not speaking arabic. When you think of it, it is very absurd to be arabic native speaker born in an arabic country, going to school and losing a little bit touch with arabic (for example sciences are tought in french in high schools in Tunisia, lebanese authors like Khalil Gibran or Andrée Cheddid wrote in english or french instead of arabic), meeting your significant other and getting married, migrating to Europe and having kids (not necesseraly in that order) and… forget to speak arabic with them.On the contrary, so many of us, sons and daughters of migrant parents with lower schooling level remember speaking one language at school (english, french, german) and coming back home switching instantly to arabic. (For my case, for example, my father being egyptian and my mother tunisian, I was trained to switch instantly not only between french and arabic but also between dialectal egyptian and tunisian.)
Is it because they have been themselves to school that they are more keen to rely on school to ensure fully the linguistic education? Or maybe because education paradigms in their native countries have succeeded in implementing the idea that arabic was not so useful after all compared to something as prestigious and succesful as english or french, and that it is not a big loss that their children didn’t learn it? Or because less educated parents are less fluent in other languages than arabic, “forcing” children to keep talking in arabic with them if they want to communicate? Or because less graduated parents equals to less takening careers or a more “traditionnal type” family, then more free time dedicated to children? Certainly a mix of all these different reasons.
Anyway, this appeals to an interesting conlusion: there is certainly something educated people should learn from less educated people. They should give a bigger attention to what they transmit to their child. Parents transmit education, values, but when they are migrants they transmit also culture and language. They are the essential and sometimes the unique link for their children with their country of origin. If they want their children to “feel at home” back there, there is no other option: they cannot chose the easy path. It is twice as difficult, but worth it.