Thought For The Day - Mona Siddiqui

The England manager Fabio Capello recently said that he only needed a hundred words to communicate with his English players. He explained that although he tried to improve his English every day, that in speaking about tactics, you don't need a lot of words because you don't have to speak about a lot of different things.

He may have a point; football is a game won with goals, not with words. And when it comes to a language, how much do you need to know to be able to express yourself? The Oxford English Corpus has a list of the 100 most common English words. The word the is at the top, and us lies at the bottom with because at number 94. But the ability to express yourself fluently and engage a wider audience requires more than just knowing words. A couple of days ago I was watching the Qatari Prime-Minster on tv in a live Q&A session with journalists. Here too was someone for whom English is not his first language. Yet he spoke gently but persuasively about the issues in the Arab world and the current crisis in Libya urging Gaddafi to step down. However controversial his position might be, the language he used was engaging.

Because knowing a language isn't just about knowing words and getting by. Language reflects and shapes what we think. Being able to speak a language fluently allows you to participate fully in society around you and not simply remain an observer. When I was growing up, I remember at times feeling slightly awkward for my mother when she needed our help with English. She knew just enough English to get by but not enough to feel that she could have a deeper conversation with anyone. She was such an able and independent person but the lack of fluency in English was almost like a disability for her which I felt held her back from achieving her true potential.

If language is a connection with the present it is also a connection with a heritage Today, I find myself relentlessly encouraging my children to speak in Urdu at home. English is their main language but urdu opens up another culture for them without compromising their principles or sense of feeling British. But language is curious - it doesn't always have to be understood to be meaningful. In Islam Arabic takes on a particular poignancy because for the majority of Muslims in the world, Arabic isn't their first language but God's chosen language of revelation; simply reading the Qur'an in Arabic incurs blessings thus keeping Qur'anic Arabic alive in peoples hearts. But for a religion to have universal meaning and continued relevance it cannot become a prisoner of any language. And it seems to me that while today the words of the Qur'an are kept alive in religious devotion, many Qur'anic principles are sadly being forgotten.

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