How to Boost Arabic Learning by Playing a Tune

Music is one of the main gateways to understanding a culture and heritage. Ask Hamza Namira whose show "Remix" took him around the Middle East exploring cultural songs and their meanings, and remaking them with a modern twist. I’ve listened to all of the songs and my two boys are obsessed with his remix of the Palestinian classic song “يا ظريف الطول ” (the dabka gets us every time!).

Arabic music has always been a part of my life—it was the way my parents entertained us in the car on road trips before iPads and car DVDs became popular, and one way we learned a lot about our religion, culture, and heritage. On our annual summer trip to Jordan, our aunts and great aunts would commonly bust out with a tabla and start a dance party in the kitchen while washing dishes, or even sing together cultural songs in preparation for a wedding or graduation party.

If you’re looking for a way to enhance your child’s (or even your own) understanding of Arabic, here’s how and why you should use music in your Arabic language learning. 

  • Music will expose you to new words! Did you know the Arabic language has over forty words to describe the word “love”? Not only will you be exposing your kids to new words, but even ideas and thoughts and descriptions that may not always be found in books in the way they are found in songs. 
  • Music is easy and fun! I have yet to meet a child who does not like to listen to a song or dance to a tune. Music is energetic, engaging, fun, and quite honestly, easy. Create a playlist, turn it on when you find the kiddos restless and let them dance and sing along. You’ll be surprised at how you can diffuse a tantrum or get some cooking done while your kids do dabka around the house (I only speak from experience)!
  • Music sticks! If you’ve recently listened to a popular Spanish song that rhymes with mosquito, you know the feeling of not being able to get a song out of your head. Tunes are easy to remember and will help your child with their confidence in speaking the language. A few months ago, I found my three-year-old son sing the alphabet song we commonly played for him. I was shocked at how quickly he caught onto it and was able to sing it aloud to me. I had no idea he was internalizing all the words and was able to remember each and every one, even if the pronunciation wasn’t perfect.  

As you get your Spotify or Pandora lists ready, don’t just stick to “kids” songs! Yes, we love the alif baa taa songs just as much as you, but it’s important that kids associate Arabic with more than just the generic songs about the alphabet, the four seasons, or the nose and eyes that make up their face. Arabic music has generally degraded in quality over the last twenty years, and is one of the main reason I like to skip the new stuff and stick to the classics. Um Kulthoom, Fairouz, Ahmed Mounib’s and general cultural songs are beautiful in their words and content. Here are some of our favorites:

Fairuz: 

Star of the East "كوكب الشرق" Umm Kulthum:  

 

 Ahmed Mounib provides a beautiful glimpse into Nubian culture: 

 If you're into Arabic poetry (Jahiliyah time to be specific), I love these poems sung in classical Arabic. 

 If you have older kids and looking for a way to immerse them in a cultural understanding of their language and heritage, I found Hamza Namira’s show engaging and informative and I highly recommend it.

Do you use music as a way to help your child in their Arabic language learning? What should we be listening to that we haven’t listed above?

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