Languages have always been a part of my life.
I grew up on the U.S./Mexico border in a fully bilingual and bicultural family- speaking two languages was never even an option. The question was never: should the kids learn a second language? It was more of: Which language should the kids learn next? The expectation and the benefits were so second nature that no one blinked twice when my sisters and I tackled French, Czech, Japanese, Italian, and Arabic. This, of course, after learning both Spanish and English.
With this family life as a childhood base it should surprise no one that our worldschooling for this school year includes a third language for my kid: Arabic.
Sound scary? I know why. Articles and statistics pop up all the time ranking world languages into easiest to learn and hardest to master and Arabic always shows up amongst the latter. With its foreign script (for those used to English or the Latin alphabet), different sounds, and lack of easy access to learning materials (when was the last time you walked into a random library and saw Arabic books?), it’s no wonder that it is considered a “scary” language to tackle.
But, it isn’t.
I am not saying that it is not without its challenges. And, yes, maybe learning French would be easier. But nothing worth having ever came easy right?
At the core, learning a foreign language (whether it is the “easiest” to learn or the “hardest”) includes memorizing new and unfamiliar words, deciphering verbs and how to use them, and getting our ears/ brain to hear new sounds. How this is achieved is up to the learner.
But learning a new language is much more than verbs and vocabulary. For me, speaking several languages is about creating a connection to the rest of humanity, understanding people at their core, and being able to relate to those near and far. There are, approximately, 1.5 billion English speakers in the world. That means that by staying monolingual we would be missing out on the intricacies and experiences of 5.6 billion people in the world! With (approximately) 400 million Spanish speakers and 420 million Arabic speakers, we can now connect and understand a much larger part of the human experience. We can talk to more people, say hello to more individuals, and listen to the music and stories of more of humanity. That is why we learn languages.
So, how are we learning Arabic? In one word: Playing.
You remember all those board games and card games and silly games you used to play with your kids when they were little? They were great tools to transfer language skills and knowledge, and they still are!
We never realize how much kids are learning by playing because we just associate those activities with down time. As parents, sometimes we credit flash cards, worksheets, or rote memorization for teaching our kids the colors in their native language. But, imagine for a minute, that the times the colors really stuck for them was while playing twister, candy lane, memory, or any other of the million games you played with them during “down” time. Now, imagine the world of foreign language opportunities that open up if you just play games. What’s the fine print? It must be done in the target language.
mmm… does it really work?
Yes! Si. Oui. Ano. Hai. Si. Na’am.
For the past two months I have held an Arabic language co-op in our home. Twice a week, four kids gather in our basement and play games in Arabic.
Yes, there is also a workbook involved. We spend some time learning new letters each class, learning new vocabulary words that we need for our games, listening to Arabic, and learning to read and write in Arabic. All these activities are important and crucial to their Arabic language acquisition but the bulk of our time is definitely spent playing games.
I like examples and I like pictures and I am going to share a lot of both with you.
GAMES WE PLAY TO LEARN ARABIC
Acting/ Role Playing Games/ Charades
From the beginning my goal was to get the kids to start speaking Arabic. It sounds easy enough but I can’t tell you how many language classes I have walked into where no one is actually speaking the target language or how many friends have aced a language class but don’t want to actually speak the language.
Some people are shy, some people are self-conscious, and some people just don’t like feeling like they are on the spot. Knowing all of this I walked into the first class, acted as crazy and silly as possible, and reminded the kids that we were here to have fun- and learn Arabic. We jumped and made up silly words and created an environment where it’s ok to say something completely off tune as long as you tried. And it worked.
The kids may sometimes pronounce things in a technically wrong manner, but they always try and enjoy trying. Once they were willing to speak in Arabic, regardless of how they sounded, acting and role playing games became a permanent part of our starting routine. They greet each other, ask questions, talk about how they feel, and, yes, say things like “please bless the blue door”. If we have learned the word it is fair game in incorporating it into our talks, and the sillier the sentence the better.
Charades is a blessing in this department as well. I write out strips with vocabulary words and the kids have to either act it out or guess what the actor is trying to say. Either way they are reading in Arabic, recalling, and using their Arabic words to guess and interpret. It’s a win-win situation.
The results? Kids who have no fear of speaking new words as loudly as they can and as often as possible!
Remember dominoes? Being a kid I always associated dominoes with family game night. The goal was to match the number of dots, or maybe it was the number and color of dots? I don’t remember and not because it’s been so long since I last played, but because we have twisted and changed the rules of the game so often to match whatever our learning objective is at the moment.
In Arabic class, dominoes is a vocabulary gold mine.
First, the kids learn some vocabulary. Then, they take some notecards and practice writing their new vocabulary (with English and transliteration). Finally, they take the notecards they have worked on and use them to play the dominoes game.
In our Arabic class we divide the dominoes pieces (notecards) into two and write Arabic on one side and the English equivalent on the other, or Arabic on one side and the transliteration of another one of our Arabic words on the other, or the transliteration on one side and English on the other. The goal is to have plenty of options among the pieces and mix and match all of the options for the vocabulary.
We play for hours. Ok, not hours at a time, but it definitely keeps their interest and attention for a class session and then for several more as we add more vocabulary and play again and again.
This classic children’s game is easy to play in Arabic because it requires no instructions. Everyone knows how to play the memory game and how to achieve the ultimate goal.
As a personal bonus I always have the kids make up the game pieces (notecards) making this game great practice of Arabic vocabulary words, their transliteration and the English translations. We batch up some vocabulary (feelings, colors, numbers, greetings) and create a memory game to play and practice.
This is quite possibly the most sedentary game we play and it reflects in the length of time the kids can play. We definitely get through a whole game or two, but it is not one we can play all class- the kids eventually start wiggling too much! But i’ts a great one to create, to play once, and then to review with mom or dad in the evening.
Kids seem to love the idea of Go Fish. It’s another card game that they can create and can be adjusted to fit pretty much any vocabulary needs within the language class. Go Fish comes with the added bonus that the kids are asking questions (hence speaking in Arabic) and the whole picking up a card part keeps them focused for longer time periods.
This is the jackpot of all color and body part vocabulary learning games. Seriously. When all else fails and the kids have energy to burn and I can’t play another round of rodeo I just open up the twister game and all is great in the Arabic classroom world.
And it’s simple.
You learn the colors in Arabic, body parts (why limit it to hands and feet), right and left, and you release the kids with the twister mat! Within seconds my basement is filled with the wonderful sounds of colors in Arabic, giggling children all twisted up, and body parts and directions being practiced out loud. If you’re lucky you might even get a child who wants to take a break and can lead the whole game in an orderly manner- thus giving the “resting” child a great chance to practice pronunciation and the vocabulary words.
Sometimes I give the kids turns to be the leader (direct the game), sometimes all the kids play and it’s messy but great language learning ensues, and sometimes I lead the game. It works great either way and, quite frankly, keeps them happy and motivated to learn their vocabulary so they can keep playing.
Much like twister, the magic of this game is that it is active, fun, and full of endless possibilities. Want to have the kids practice the Arabic words for “touch something small, blue, with your left hand standing on one right foot”. Done. How about: “find five things that are big, yellow, with your right hand and hold them between your legs”. Done.
“Simon Says” can be as funny, entertaining, elaborate or simple as you, or the kids, want. They can jump three times, find different items, touch their nose, balance something on their head, sit on something, etc etc etc. The possibilities are endless. And the kids love it!
We’ve just started our Arabic journey and I know we will be playing “Simon Says” for a long time. The learning possibilities are just that endless.
This family classic is also a great way to learn and practice colors, numbers, taking turns, and asking some basic questions in Arabic. Simply pick a card and, if it has two blue squares, you say “two blue squares” in Arabic and proceed. Voila! Kids are speaking in Arabic and having fun.
Quite possibly one of the most versatile games out there, Jeopardy is now also an Arabic favorite. With as few as three weeks of study we were able to start playing this game. Categories like sounds, letters, pronunciation, introductions and colors can help you create a quality and fun game to enjoy.
Writing in Arabic can be very intimidating- especially for a child. There are lots of dots and lines and they all mean something! Except, of course, when you are starting out, when you have no clue what exactly they mean.
To help alleviate some of the intimidation I like to have the kids practice their writing in fun and creative ways (as well as in our workbook). Our first attempt at writing words in Arabic, for example, was done with construction paper, glue, and glitter. Each kid was assigned two words that they had to turn into a cute, glittery poster. They were so busy having fun and getting glitter all over the place that they lost all trepidation with Arabic writing and have felt at easy with it since.
Other fun writing activities include: having them write Arabic letters in the sand (at the beach or in a sand box, or the dirt for that matter!), forming Arabic letters with pictures like a collage, using fall leaves to create letter shapes, writing with different colored pens, and writing with watercolors.
When Mackenzie was little she learned to count to 100 in Spanish by jumping on the bed. Every night (yes, we did this before bedtime) she would hold my hands and jump up and down on her bed, gleefully counting from 1 to whatever number she had learned so far. The goal was always 100, but we were having so much fun we went way past the original goal. I let her jump and count on her bed until she outgrew the game all by herself.
Just the memories of those times together make me all sentimental. I wish she still wanted to jump on her bed. I would happily let her do it until we counted to 100 in Arabic, and then way past that number.
Unfortunately my own kiddo is not interested in that particular game anymore, but I highly recommend it for anyone with little kids.
Restaurant, Hotel, Guess Who, Jacks, Skip rope, Scavenger hunts, Basta, Directions in the playground, and any other games kids like to play throughout childhood are great tools that should not be overlooked when learning a new language. With a little tweaking they can easily be conditioned to fit into your language studies and help with vocabulary practice and speaking skills.
All these fun games we play do not, in any way, cancel out the need for other classwork (the boring stuff). I lean towards a traditional approach anyway and I do have a workbook for the kids to work through and several apps we use.
Our Arabic Workbook
Our workbook is a compilation of several free resources available online. When I started to plan the class I looked at several highly regarded textbooks. Unfortunately, I had clearly forgotten the price tag of said textbooks. At $40 to $90 each the price was prohibitive for several of our classmates. So online I went in search of alternative materials.
The treasure trove of materials that I found is amazing. A full two inch, three ring binder full of amazingness!
I was able to find several free printable worksheets for each letter, writing exercises, worksheets for colors, numbers, and other vocabulary words (some even geared towards children learning Arabic). After hours and two full days of research I was able to put together a very comprehensive workbook and class textbook for the price of printing all those pages. Definitely a win!
I am fortunate enough to have both a big blackboard and a decent sized whiteboard in our homeschool classroom. They have both been indispensable during our Arabic studies.
There’s nothing like being able to practice writing Arabic on a blackboard where you can easily erase an error, or having a place where I can write an Arabic word and then the English meaning and transliteration right next to it. For visual learners, being able to have the whole lesson on the board or all of the information easily viewable is extremely helpful.
Arabic Apps We Use
Say what you will about technology but I find it to be a godsend when it comes to language learning. There are a myriad of YouTube videos to choose from and plenty of websites with games to play. All you have to do is google: Arabic games for kids and you have your pick. I’ve checked a few out but with all our real world games we haven’t felt a need to practice with online games. If you have any you definitely enjoy and would recommend I would love to hear about it!
What we do use are the apps I’ve downloaded for free onto my iPhone. Four in particular are very useful:
Mango Language App: This fantastic language app can either be linked through your local library (for free) or as a subscription service. I like the way it is set up, how easy it is to use, and the practice it provides for the language learner. We obviously use it for our Arabic studies but it can be use for a number of other languages.
Learning Arabic: This app has turned into our “go to” alphabet sound guide. Incredibly user friendly and with great sound, we use this app every time we are introducing a new letter or reviewing a sound. Because of the set up it is also great to use for a quick listening exercise.
Hijaiya: This app has both a listening component and a writing one. I like the fact that the alphabet is said by a child (though I like the Learning Arabic sound more) and that each Arabic letter can be traced for writing practice. The best part about this app is that it has listening and writing in one easy place so that I can hand Mackenzie the phone and ask her to practice for five minutes on the go (usually while we wait for swim class to start).
Nemo Arabic: Nemos best function is the “words of the day”. A few minutes a day introduces the user to new vocabulary or, in a more relaxed setting, to the sound of new words. Because the vocabulary does not always match with what we are learning I use this app more for the listening to new words and sounds than anything else. For an older student, this would be a great introduction to extra vocabulary words (or review of old ones).
There are too many apps to mention here, many of them for free. When we started our journey I downloaded as many free ones as I could review and these are the ones that are left on my iPhone.
As the months pass and our vocabulary grows I am sure that we will delve into different games, apps and activities. For now I am enjoying listening to our little co-op laugh and play and learn how to enjoy the sounds of a very different language.
Until the next update,
Are you learning Arabic? Teaching the kids Arabic? What resources have you found helpful?
And, if you would like to follow along on our family adventures, “like” us on our Facebook page: Border Free Adventures for more pictures, stories, videos, and fun information as we worldschool our daughter.