For a multilingual education in the Gulf

Recently, Beat Sommer, head of the Swiss International Scientific School in Dubai wrote an opinion piece in Gulf News arguing that multilingualism is a powerful skill for a child to develop. That is particularly true in the context of the Gulf countries.

According to Sommer, “In today’s global economy, the ability to communicate is key, and as more companies expand internationally, the ability to communicate in another language has become a significant advantage in the workforce.”  Hence, for instance Dubai is home to more than 200 nationalities, therefore people living in this city need to be able to communicate in as many different languages as possible and understand cultural nuances.

Dubai, like the rest of the Gulf is a cultural melting pot and hub of international travel.
Being able to speak, write and read in English and Arabic is a rare quality and makes someone highly employable and multilingual residents are an asset for a society driving towards ‘non-stop development’.  It gives those people the ability to communicate in a second language, but also to relate to people from a different background equally important.  Multilingual individuals are mindful and considerate of foreign customs and etiquette et it can go a long way to bridging the cultural gap.

Of course, there are other advantages in being bilingual or multilingual as Sommer stresses: “Multilingual minds have been found to be more nimble and adaptable, they are better problem solvers and have better memories.  Their ability for planning impulse, focus and learning to discard irrelevant information is enhanced.
The bilingual brain is more flexible, it switches back and forth between two languages and allows children to think and speak in each language versus translating between languages.

From a sociocultural perspective, multilingualism helps children to grasp the full extent of the cultural diversity that exists in this world.  They can understand on an intuitive level that we are all unique individuals, with different culturally defining backgrounds and that the world can be seen and described in different ways.

The ability to speak in many languages grows cultural intelligence.  Cultural Intelligence is the capability to relate and work effectively across cultures and is key to any person who is maturing into a global citizen.”

All this for Sommer contributes to foster a “flourishing community of intelligent global citizens that are inquisitive, active and compassionate lifelong learners, and who contribute to a more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.”

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