6 Tips for Teaching Arabic to Your Kids
BY: Nadine Ismail/Ambassador Blogger
Marhaba! My name is Nadine and I am an Arab American mom. I remember a time when I said, “Of course my kids will be fluent in Arabic! We will only speak Arabic at home.” Those were my thoughts seven years ago, when my daughter Alya was nicely sheltered in my tummy and I was comfortably numb in my dreams.
Does your child dread learning Arabic? Do you struggle to balance the daily load of school, work, extra curricular activities, and teaching Arabic to your kids?
To teach any child another language is difficult, especially if it is not part of the school curriculum. Additionally, the Arabic language by itself is one of the most challenging languages in the world to learn, particularly for native English speakers.
If you are struggling to teach Arabic to your Arab American children, you are not alone.
I will share lessons that I am learning from my own experiences as a parent, as a native Arabic speaker, as a spouse and mother of native English speakers, and as an active person in our local Sunday Arabic school and Arab community. There are no easy, hassle-free solutions, but here is what works for me. Hopefully, these tips and resources may inspire you to try something that can work for you and your lifestyle.
Start it Early: I noticed that parents who start teaching Arabic at an early age find it easier to accommodate the demands of learning the language better than those who wait. Ideally, it is advised that at least one parent should commit to strictly speaking Arabic at home. In real life, it is very hard to maintain this rule as parents find it easier to communicate in English, especially when some family members are English speakers only. I have also noticed that kids who reach the 10 year mark become disengaged and tend to quit studying Arabic, whether it is at home or in a school setting. It takes even more effort to keep older kids engaged in the language.
Make Learning Arabic Part of the Routine: Learning a language should not be limited to a classroom setting. I have noticed that when I incorporate it in our daily life, it becomes a habit. Little by little, the whining voices stopped questioning why we are learning Arabic. It became a normal part of life where everyday we study English, Math, History, Science, and Arabic.
Here are 6 tips to include Arabic in your daily routine:
1. Listen to Arab Music
We listen to Fairuz in the car while driving to and from school. I have compiled a fun playlist of my favorite Fairuz songs on my smart phone, and we strictly listen to Arab music in the car. I tend to repeat the same song during the week since repetition is an effective teaching tool. In the beginning, I noticed that my daughter asked what the song was about and whether it was happy or sad. As I sang out loud, she asked me the meaning of the words.
My husband plays the oud and practices Fairuz’s song “Ya Dara Dooree Feena” about 6 times a day. He also often listens to the recording of Fairuz singing the song. The other day, he overheard our daughter repeating the chorus while getting dressed. There was zero active teaching of the song on our part, but the fact that she was repetitively exposed to the song triggered her curiosity and she began learning it unconsciously.
2. Read Arabic Books Before Bedtime
Our bedtime stories consist of English and Arabic books. My husband reads the English book and I read the Arabic book. I read the sentences in Arabic, and then translate them to English. I focus on Arabic words that my daughter knows so she can feel that she is using what she is learning.
For example: if we were studying the colors in Arabic, then I make sure to pick an Arabic book that contains these words. The book tends to take a longer time to finish, so I strategically stop reading at a very interesting part of the story. This keep her filled with curiosity so the next day, she will ask me to continue reading the book. I call it the Shahrazad method. Shahrazad is the heroine of the book “One Thousand and One Nights.” She saves her life by using her captivating storytelling techniques.
3. Play Arab Games
We tend to play Arab board games at least once a week, usually on Fridays. It is a family affair, where learning is disguised as play. We sometimes let our daughter win on purpose because we want her to feel good about herself and thus, build her confidence in speaking/writing Arabic, even if she makes mistakes.
The best kind of learning happens when the kids are playing and distracted from the actual learning process. I know this from my own experience as an “Arabic Culture” teacher at our local Arabic school. I am teaching my students (age 5-8) the first two lines of national anthems of a few Arab countries. The material is too rigid and dry; so instead, I teach them the lyrics using a tabla. They take turns singing the lyrics while jamming on the tabla. The fun part of banging on the tabla completely distracts them from the actual process of learning the lyrics.
4. Be Positive
I noticed that my daughter feels better about leaning Arabic when I give her positive feedback while correcting her Arabic homework. It was not a straightforward path, but now I make a conscious effort to congratulate her on even the smallest of wins.
For example: “I really like how you wrote letter ‘meem’ in this word,” or “I am very proud that you are trying hard to read this word and not giving up.”
It was a rocky road. One day, she looked at me and said, “Mama, I hate the word Ghalat” (which means wrong in Arabic). I could not understand why until she explained to me that when we are studying Arabic, and I correct her by saying “Ghalat,” she felt discouraged. Now, I only focus on the positive and tell her, “It would be even better if you can write the letter ‘noon’ this way,” instead of: “Ghalat, this is how you write the letter ‘noon’.”
5. Enroll in one Arabic-Related Extracurricular Activity
As parents, we are struggling to find the time needed to do all the things we think will positively shape our children. Why not pick an activity that is related to culture and/or language? It can be joining an Arab dance class, Arabic school, taking oud lessons, or joining an Arab singing ensemble, such as Aswat Youth.
If you don’t have one nearby, start your own activity with a group of friends. When kids see the parents involved, they understand that the activity is important. When you pay attention to Arabic in your kids’ lives, they will too. When you give your kids the impression that you do not have time to spend on Arabic lessons, they will not be motivated to participate. Remember that kids do as you do, and not as you tell them to do.
6. Track the Habit, Build Success
My daughter responds well to charts, so I use this awesome Arabic Progress Tracker that helps us chart her progress and eventually make Arabic learning a habit. I reached out to Maryam, the Designer behind Maryamisms, who gladly agreed to make the tracker available to everyone in two different color schemes. My daughter stamps her chart every day after she accomplishes the tasks. At the end of the month, we both can see her progress and she usually earns rewards. It also helps us incorporate Arabic learning as a daily task just as we do English and Math homework. Here are the links to the Arabic Progress Tracker:
Let me know if you tried any of my suggestions and how it worked for you. I am also eager to know how you incorporate Arabic language in your child’s life. How do you balance it all and what works well for you?
You can reach out to Nadine Ismail on Facebook at “Reinventing Nadine” or Instagram @ReinventingNadine.
Nadine Ismail of Reinventing Nadine is a blogger living in the Bay Area in California. Nadine shares on her blog and Instagram account her recipes, crafts and embroidery tutorials, and parental advice, especially raising a bilingual child.