Today, I am glad to welcome a special guest on our blog: Ohood Al-Omar, director of Al-Kawthar Learning Center, particularly providing Arabic immersion programs for children in USA (Orange county).
In this article, she speaks about the challenges of teaching Arabic and the right solutions to effectively teach this language to children. It is aimed at parents, educators and teachers:
” The Arabic language is one of the most beautiful languages on earth and yet a lot of people think of it as one of the most difficult languages to learn for many reasons, here are just a few of them:
- Arabic has 28 letters.
- it has sounds that are difficult to pronounce.
- the grammar rules of Arabic and the verb conjugations are complicated.
1) Where is the problem?
One who hears and reads about the myths surrounding the Arabic language must stop and think, is the problem really in the Arabic language itself or in the way this language is being taught?
In fact Arabic, like any other language has four skills every learner must master while learning it; listening, speaking, reading and writing.
Some educators start by teaching the reading and writing skills from early childhood age and limit the children’s exposure to the spoken Arabic to a few words here and there, thinking that the children’s exposure to Arabic at this age will delay their mastery of their mother language. After the children master reading and writing, they start teaching the Arabic language to the children through short lessons and grammar drills that has no relation what so ever to the child’s environment, and does not allow them to be in learning environments where they can hear the language and practice speaking it.
This approach is difficult and unproductive, children who are taught through this method often end up with impressive reading and writing skills but very poor listening and speaking skills.
Other educators who became aware of the problem of the above method chose to tackle the problem from a different perspective, they chose to introduce the four language skills together at the same time through a cumulative curriculum that is intended to make the child master the Arabic language around the age of 18, or when they finish high school, like the curriculums we see in the market these days.
This method was a better alternative form the one before, but again the results were still not encouraging , very few students master the Arabic language through this method for two reasons:
- These curriculums are not being taught through a functional communicative approach where children learn through the immersion method that will allow them to explore the beauty of the Arabic language and give them a chance to love it.
- Lack of qualified Arabic teachers who can communicate with the children in Arabic using the correct grammatical rules throughout the school day, most of them communicate in English or Arabic dialects when explaining the lessons to the children.
2) What is the solution?
In my opinion, there is a different approach that will provide the best solution to learning Arabic, which is learning Arabic through the immersion method where the learner is totally exposed to the Arabic language for many hours (at least 12 hours /week).
Learning through the immersion method can be achieved in many convenient ways, here are some of them:
- Immersion at home with native – parents speaking only in Arabic to the child. This method provides a perfect solution for parents even if one parent only is communicating with the child in Arabic and the other is speaking another language. I personally know of a number of parents who tried this method with their children and seen wonderful results.
- Immersion at home for non-native parents where they practice with their child Arabic through fun and creative activities like (play, arts & crafts, singing, short films, field trips, etc….). there are a lot of educational Arabic resources that can be used by non-native parents to help them and guide them through their journey of teaching Arabic to their child.
- Early childhood Arabic immersion program that will give them the opportunity to listen to the different sounds of the language and to a variety of meaningful and enjoyable words and expressions through play, arts and crafts, nasheeds, stories, field trips, etc….. which will make them love the language and connect with it and want to explore more of it.
During an Arabic immersion program children get introduced to the alphabets in fun and creative ways and when they reach the age of 5 or 6 (it depends on the child’s readiness to reading and writing) it will be easy for the educator to teach them how to read and write the language that they already love and connect with.
Why should we start that early with the Arabic?
To take advantage of the children’s natural abilities of acquiring language instilled in them at this early age.
We should start with the immersion method from preschool age, and the earlier the better, some children are ready at 30 months, some are not. Every educator or parent should be able to know if the child is ready or not.
The science behind this method:
According to Dr. Abdullah Al Danan, a renowned linguistic expert and inventor of the theory “Natural Teaching Method of Classic Arabic Language” children before the age of six have an innate ability to acquire languages, and this ability allows them to figure out the language rules in natural and creative ways and generalizing them on all the words , then correcting themselves in a natural way also.
A scientist named Lemberg (1967) discovered that this innate ability starts fading after the age of six, and the brain programming starts to shift from learning languages to learning knowledge.
Dr. Dannan adds that learning after the age of six requires more effort from the learner because he needs a teacher to reveal to him the language rules, and he will need a longer time practicing how to apply those rules. http://www.khaleejtimes.com/article/20140107/ARTICLE/301079896/1002
Al Kawthar Learning Center:
At Al kawthar Learning center, located in the heart of Orange county, California we adopt Dr. Dannan’s approach for teaching Arabic, we have an Arabic Immersion program for children 3-6 years old designed to expose the child to the Fusha Arabic language through fun and creative activities.
The program is offered three days a week (Mon, Wed, Fri) , from 9am – 12am).
When students finish their first year at our center they are expected to know up to (500 words and phrases related to their daily lives).
Most of our children start understanding some words and phrases from the very first week, they learn through repetition, hand and face gestures.
After two months they start producing lots of words and phrases that they learned.
After six months most of them can ask and answer questions, name things, and even express their feelings in Arabic.
After the first year children move to the advanced program, where they learn more complicated words, phrases and grammatical structures through games and play.
This is our third year and the results are wonderful Alhamdulillah, more parents are discovering the benefits of an early start on the Arabic learning.
Arabic is one of the easiest languages in the world. It is our approach in teaching it that made it so difficult for the majority of people.
The only way to protect and improve the Arabic language is to start from the early childhood with the help of qualified and trained instructors and a good immersion program with a meaningful context that is directly related to the child’s environment. It does not matter if this program is conducted at home or in an institute, the most important thing is to be consistent , have patience, perseverance, and present it to the child in a fun and meaningful context. ”
Ohood AlOmar M.Ed.
Director of AlKawthar Learning Center
2110 E. First Street Suite # 105
Santa Ana, CA 92705
Phone: (714)785 7006
Master’s degree in Education from the American Open University Washington D.C. 2013.
Bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies and Arabic Language Arts from the American Open University/ Washington D.C. 2003.
Bachelor’s degree in Science/Biology from Al-Yarmouk University/Jordan 1986.