When it comes to teaching our children another language, the benefits are known, but the struggle is real. That has been my experience as a mother of two young boys, ages 3 and 5. When my parents immigrated to the suburbs of Washington, D.C., they feared that we would lose touch with the Arabic language. So they did everything in their power to maintain it. They enrolled my sisters and I in Arabic schools, they took us back to the Middle East every summer, and they spoke to us every day in Arabic. For them, it was natural but still challenging, as they were competing against everyone else in our lives who spoke English. Their hard work and good schooling paid off with my sisters and I learning to read, write, and speak in Arabic.
Today, as a parent myself, I have an added layer of difficulty-- getting myself to speak enough Arabic with my children since it doesn’t come as naturally to me as it did to my own parents. It’s an uphill battle, but one that I’m determined to take head on.
How? With a lot of personal effort and a little help from the Internet. There’s no question that the resources we have at our disposal today are beyond anything our own parents could have imagined. Don’t know the name of a particular animal in Arabic? Google translate will help. Looking for Arabic alphabet tracing worksheets? Pinterest to the rescue. Want to play an Arabic cartoon for the kids? YouTube videos galore.
But don't let that overwhelm you! Here are my top five tips for bringing more Arabic into your child’s everyday life:
1. Speak it.
You might not be perfect at it, you might not speak classical Arabic, but if you can speak Arabic, try to do it as much as possible with your children. If you are like me, you may have other languages spoken at home. Don’t let that stop you from trying to speak to your child in Arabic as much as possible. English comes so naturally to me, so it takes a significant awareness for me to tell myself to speak in Arabic when I am with my kids. Don’t be discouraged if you go off track! Even a few sentences a day here and there will help your child.
2. Read it.
Who doesn’t love to snuggle up with a parent and read a good book?
Books will introduce words that your children may not hear from you regularly or on a daily basis but are important in adding to their vocabulary. Don’t underestimate a child’s ability to understand unfamiliar words using images on the book or context clues. I’m always surprised that my children understand some words that I don’t use often. Hearing a book character speak in Arabic makes the language much more relatable and memorable for children. And seeing the Arabic word in the book will help as they move on to reading and writing the language themselves. We've handpicked our favorite Arabic books for you so you don't have to do all the work!
3. Play with it.
Children learn with all their senses. Adding a tactile element to your toolbox of Arabic learning is important. From alphabet blocks to flashcards, give your child a new way of experiencing the Arabic language. Use play dough to make the letters of the alphabet, or practice the letters in a sandbox (more ideas here).
4. Display it. The beauty of the Arabic script is undeniable. Most Arab homes will have some if not many decor items that include beautiful Arabic calligraphy. Children may not be able to read or recognize fancy script, but they will learn to appreciate it. You can also add kids themed Arabic art (check Etsy) or display the kids’ own Arabic arts and crafts prominently around the house. (More tips in our Arabic Around the House blog post).
5. Listen to it. Songs, apps, and short videos will help your child grasp how words sound, help them develop the pronunciation of letters, all while engaging them in a fun way. Stream the songs on your phone during a car ride and your kids will be repeating it in no time!
And on the days when mama or baba can’t get a break, get YouTube’s help. One of our favorite shows, the newly produced “Iftah ya Simsim” has sing-alongs, narrated books and important lessons that your children will enjoy.
What do you do to help your children learn and maintain their Arabic language? Share your best tips with us!