Library employees in the cities of Helsingborg and Malmö are currently undergoing state-funded training in everyday Arabic, Swedish Radio reported.
The purpose of the project is to facilitate communication between the library employees and the “large number of Arabic-speaking visitors”. The project is financially supported by Skåne County, and participation is voluntary.
“The idea was born when we had invited (guests from) different libraries where people worked on diversity,” librarian Nina Olsson at the city library in Malmö explained to Swedish Radio. She stressed that it is not mandatory and that no strings are attached. However, she expressed hope that this “diversity work” will catch on and “make ripples in the water”.
When questioned by the radio host whether easy Swedish isn't a more effective way of integration, Olsson assured that they “do that too” and emphasised that Arabic is more like a complement.
The new initiative was met with some enthusiasm. Helsingborg librarian Emelie Andersson was positive that she will make great use of the new language skills.
“Learning everyday phrases that I can use in my work makes me feel more inclusive. I work with children and youths, so I feel that it's also very good to confirm their language, their mother tongue,” Andersson said.
There was at least 155,000 speakers of Arabic in Sweden in the beginning of the 2010s. However, since then their numbers have soared, as Sweden took in 163,000 asylum seekers, mostly from the Arab-speaking Middle East and North Africa during the 2015 migrant crisis alone. Since then, Arabic is estimated to have surpassed Finnish as the country's second most widely spoken native tongue (with an estimated 400,000 speakers against 200,000 speakers of Finnish). There are book fairs, local media and national broadcasts available in Arabic, which reportedly has become the main language in some preschools, as immigrant communities tend to get clustered around major cities, such as Malmö.