Israeli researchers have found that Arabic speakers regard literary Arabic as a “second language” as opposed to a “mother tongue.”

The researchers at the University of Haifa suggest that this may partly explain the Arab children’s relatively low achievements on tests of verbal ability in that language.

The reading level of Arabic-speaking children is considerably lower than that of Hebrew-speaking children, even when their spoken Arabic is normal.

Dr. Rafik Ibrahim of the Brain Science Research Center’s Learning Disability Center maintains that the cognitive gap between literary and spoken Arabic is like that between two different languages.

Spoken Arabic, called Amiya, is learned in daily conversation, while literary Arabic, called Fuscha, is studied in school and from writing.

Ibrahim says his discovery raises concern that Arab children will continue to fall behind their Jewish counterparts in advanced levels of studies because of their difficulties with reading, and recommends that they be taught literary Arabic the way they are taught Hebrew – as a second language – and that they be exposed to Fuscha in kindergarten and even before.

He recently published his findings in the journal Psychology Research and Behavior Management.